Making sure products are safe

Everyone in the supply chain has some responsibility for product safety, including the product designer, manufacturer, importer, and retailer.

Product design and manufacture

Take safety into account right at the start, when you develop a product for market. If your product develops safety issues or injures someone, you may be liable for costly remedies or face potentially damaging publicity or legal action.

If you supply products to overseas markets, we recommend you get independent legal advice regarding the safety and compliance requirements in that market, as they may differ from New Zealand.

Supplying safe products

If you supply a product, you should be aware of any legal requirements relating to that product, whether you’re importing, wholesaling or retailing it.

Regulated products

Under the Fair Trading Act, the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs can:

  • create mandatory safety requirements
  • ban any product that will or may cause harm (Unsafe Goods Notice)
  • order a compulsory product recall.

You may be liable for a substantial fine under this Act if you supply any products that:

  • don’t comply with mandatory standards, or
  • are subject to an Unsafe Goods Notice (product ban).

See About regulated products for more information about mandatory product safety standards and Unsafe Goods Notices.

Unregulated products

Even if your product is unregulated, you still have to consider its safety. There is a general requirement under the Consumer Guarantees Act that all products sold in New Zealand must be safe. The best way of ensuring this is to have the product tested to the appropriate safety standard by a lab accredited to carry out that test (see Testing and accreditation below).

If you supply an unsafe product, consumers may be entitled to a refund and you may have to recall the product.

Some products have specific legal requirements

Some products, such as electrical goods or food products, must comply with specific legal requirements. If you supply these products, contact the appropriate regulatory authority — for example, Energy Safety or Food Safety — to find out what's required.

See The product safety landscape for more information.

Products used by infants and children

Take particular care with products to be used by infants and children, as they can't identify hazards and rely on others to keep them safe. Make sure you provide information with the product that clearly states the age range it's designed for.

Certain principles apply to all products intended to be used by infants and children. For example, these products should not have any hazards which could suffocate, strangle, or choke a child, or cause them to fall. The products also shouldn’t have any sharp edges or points.

The following resources may be helpful:

Warning markings on children’s products

There's a mandatory requirement that any toy for children under 36 months old (3 years) must not present a choking hazard.

Many toys carry a warning that the toy contains small parts and/or is not suitable for children under 3 years old. Some toys, particularly cheaper ones, carry this warning when they are clearly intended to be used by infants of this age. This disclaimer offers no legal protection if the toy still contains small parts and could be suitable for, or intended for use by children under 3 years old — the toy must still comply with the mandatory requirement.

Supply chain liability

Your business is your responsibility. Even if you buy products from a supplier, you must still take responsibility for every product that you sell. If an injury is caused by a product you sell, you may liable, as well as the supplier

Regulations can change and new ones can come into force. Make sure you keep up to date with your obligations and regularly monitor any developments that may affect you. You may find it useful to join an industry organisation like Retail NZ (previously the New Zealand Retailers Association) to keep updated on issues that are relevant to your business.

Retail NZ website(external link)

You also need to be able to demonstrate that you've taken steps to satisfy yourself that your products are safe. We recommend you get independent legal advice from a specialist commercial lawyer, who can advise you on your legal obligations.

New Zealand Law Society — Find a lawyer(external link)

Identifying and acting on product safety issues

If a product you have supplied has caused an injury, or a near miss, or if customer reports that it is unsafe, you must take appropriate action to prevent further injuries. Contact Trading Standards for advice.

Contact us

Have systems in place

Make sure your company has systems in place to identify potential product safety issues. For example, if a customer calls to complain about an injury or near miss relating to a product, try to find out whether the product has failed, or has been used in an unexpected way.

Don’t just handle the call as a complaint under the Consumer Guarantees Act. Investigate incidents thoroughly to establish if there's anything that could cause further incidents or injuries, and take appropriate action. Having a system in place will show due diligence on your part and may provide some defence if things go wrong.

Account for product misuse

Suppliers need to take into account ‘reasonably foreseeable misuse’. For example, a push-along toy is not designed to be chewed by an infant. However, it may be used in that way, so must not release small parts or present any toxic hazard when chewed.

ISO 10377:2013 Consumer product safety — Guidelines for suppliers

This international standard provides practical guidance to suppliers on assessing and managing the safety of consumer products, including effective documentation of risk assessment and risk management to meet applicable requirements.

See Consumer product safety – Guidelines for suppliers for information about this standard.

Voluntary safety standards

Many products are covered by voluntary safety standards, which set out minimum requirements for design features and performance requirements.

Because they're written to cover existing products, safety standards always lag behind product development, and may not cover a new product’s latest designs or features. However, they will highlight particular hazards that the product may have, and state the measures needed to minimise them.

Stating that your product conforms with a recognised safety standard can be an excellent marketing tool to assure your customers that your products are safe.

Standards to use

Joint Australia/New Zealand (AS/NZS) safety standards apply to many products. Some of these are mandatory requirements and products must comply by law.

The Standards New Zealand website has information about the standards that may apply to your product. There are 2 ways you can search:

Joint AS/NZS standards are preferable, but if none of these standards apply, use international (ISO) or European (EN) standards. Ask Standards New Zealand if you need help.

Standards New Zealand website — Contact us(external link)

Testing and accreditation

To comply with a safety standard, a product must pass all the tests specified in the standard. Testing must be done by a laboratory that's accredited by an internationally recognised accreditation body to carry out the testing to the specific standard.

This ensures that:

  • testing is carried out to the same specification each time
  • results are reliable, and
  • the certificate will be accepted by regulators.

The International Accreditation Forum (IAF) website lists the accreditation bodies in other countries and the logos to look for.

International Accreditation Forum website(external link)

Notice Icon Orange2 Alert

Certificates provided by laboratories tha are not accredited to test to a standard, or those that don't cover all the applicable tests in the standard, are not acceptable as evidence of compliance and are a waste of money.

Getting your own testing done

If your supplier can't provide you with a full certificate of compliance, you can have a sample tested by an accredited laboratory.

To find a facility that is accredited for testing to a standard:

For more information about international accreditation, read the ILAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement(external link).

Checking that a certificate of compliance is valid

If your supplier provides a certificate of compliance, check it carefully. A single page document is not a valid test certificate — a valid certificate must include the following:

  • the specific make and model of that particular product (not a range of products)
  • a photo that matches the product
  • a complete list of all the clauses in the standard, with a pass mark next to all that apply to the product (if specified tests were carried out at the request of the supplier, the certificate doesn't indicate compliance) ,and
  • the logo of an internationally recognised accreditation body — for example, Chinese laboratories are accredited by China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS) and certificates for testing to standards under their scope of accreditation carry the CNAS logo (shown below).

CNAS logo

You can often search an accreditation body's website to find out whether a laboratory that has issued a certificate is accredited for that test, and if so, who was the authorised signatory.

Certificates may be counterfeit. Some laboratories offer a search facility on their website where you can enter the certificate number and see the genuine one. Check carefully for:

  • signatures and stamps or other markings which are slightly misplaced
  • poor quality printing
  • different product or standard details on the certificate.

If this is not possible, contact the laboratory directly and ask if your certificate is genuine.

Use IANZ's directory search to find an accredited laboratory. IANZ may also be able to help you check the authenticity of a certificate. They may charge a fee for this service. Tests carried out by an accredited laboratory in New Zealand should carry the IANZ logo:

IANZ logo