Recalling unsafe products
A spate of product recalls has hit the news lately. Recently the Commerce Commission worked with businesses to voluntarily recall several brands of baby walkers they said could be dangerous. Before that a brand of children’s bikes was recalled and pre-Christmas saw the recall of a line of ham on the bone.
In the name of safety
Products are recalled to minimise the risk of injury to the public by recovering as many of the faulty products as possible. In the case of the recent examples, the baby walkers did not comply with product safety standards, putting them at risk of tipping over, collapsing or toppling down stairs. With the bikes, a faulty headstem posed a safety risk. Testing had found the ham may not reach its best before date, posing a potential health risk.
A recall also serves to reduce the cost and inconvenience to consumers and the company who makes or markets the product.
Recall or ban?
A product recall is different to a product ban. When a product is recalled, it may later be re-released to shops with the fault corrected. In the case of a ban, goods are prohibited from being imported or sold for a minimum of 18 months.
Voluntary or compulsory?
There are two kinds of recalls: voluntary and compulsory. Most recalls are initiated voluntarily by manufacturers, importers or retailers when they become aware of a fault in a product. They may discover the fault themselves or be alerted to it by retailers and/or the public. In some cases a recall will follow discussions with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs – or other relevant agencies – after reports from the public.
The Commerce Commission may become involved in prompting a voluntary recall where the product does not comply with product safety standards. It is part of the Commission’s role to enforce the standards. There are product safety standards relating to baby walkers, bikes, children’s nightwear and toys, cigarette lighters, and cots.
In extreme circumstances the Minister of Consumer Affairs can order a compulsory product recall. This is a power that is rarely used as companies are usually happy to work responsibly to serve the best interests of their customers.
Recalls are usually publicised through newspaper advertising. You’ll find recall ads in the news section of a newspaper – not the Public Notices. They should be clearly headed “Product Recall” and will include:
- a description of the product, including the batch or serial numbers
- the problem and associated risk
- what immediate action to take, for example return the product to your nearest store for a refund
- how to receive a refund or to have the product repaired or replaced
- a contact telephone number for further information.
If a recall will affect a large number of people or is topical, the media may pick up on the story and it could feature in newspaper stories, and on radio and television news. Other possibilities for publicity include recall display signs in shops that sell the product and recall ads in magazines in which the product was originally advertised.
Information is also available on the web. For local recalls see the Consumers’ Institute Consumer Online website. There is also a vehicle recall site provided by the [links] Motor Industry Association.
If a product you own has been recalled
If a product you own has been recalled, act promptly: stop using it immediately and follow the instructions in the recall ad. Don’t try to fix the problem yourself and don’t continue to use the product.
Reporting an unsafe product
Recalls and product bans may be based on information provided by consumers about safety concerns. For information on how and where to report evidence of a potentially unsafe product, visit us at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs website (see the Product Safety section).