Companies should be pro-active on product safety, not reactive.

Companies disinclined to take their responsibilities seriously should note the effects surrounding high-profile product safety matters, such as Garibaldi and Kraft foods and Woolworths' clothing, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Deputy Chairman Mr Allan Asher told a Sydney product liability conference.

"The challenge for all businesses is to fully acquaint themselves with, and understand their obligations under, the product liability and standards regime.

"The lesson to be learnt from these [Garibaldi, Kraft and Woolworths'] events is clear - product safety in Australia today is a risk and must be recognised and managed," he said.

The ACCC had recently considered becoming involved, on a representative action basis, in the Garibaldi smallgoods matter but found the persons involved satisfied with their legal advice. It also had continuing discussions with Kraft over the peanut butter matter and had acted swiftly in the Woolworths' clothing case.

The ACCC would move to take representative action which fitted its broader priorities, such as prosecuting:

a blatant breach of the law; a significant and widespread public detriment; the potential for a successful action to have worthwhile deterrent or educative effect; and/or a significant new market issue (eg arising from economic or technological change)

"For the product liability laws to be effective, it important that the rights they provide be asserted," Mr Asher said. "Where those who have suffered harm lack the resources to pursue their own rights, mechanisms for their enforcement must be available.

"Here lies an important reason for the Commission's involvement via representative actions. Without it, there would be a chance that the law would fail to achieve its full potential."

Mr Asher urged companies to 'protect themselves from liability' by reviewing the design, production, record-keeping and marketing procedures as well as customer information material. Companies should emphasise quality assurance mechanisms and have a 'culture of safety'.

To assist companies to develop the culture of safety, the ACCC has launched a new booklet, Consumer product standards and bans: a compliance guide for suppliers, see link below.

It is available from all ACCC offices in all State/Territory capitals and in Canberra, Townsville and Tamworth.