Electronics purchased online may not be as safe as you think

Comtest Group
Wednesday, 15 March, 2023

Electronics purchased online may not be as safe as you think

Every day, Australian consumers are being exposed to significant safety risks due to the lack of product testing and compliance of products that contain Lithium-ion batteries. Over recent months there has been a growing number of house fires, caused by products containing Lithium-ion batteries, this has featured on news and current affairs programs raising awareness that Lithium-ion technology is not as safe as it should be. The chemistry of the Lithium-ion battery is more volatile than traditional batteries and instances of spontaneous failure and combustion with such intensity and modality, which cannot be extinguished, pose a risk of injury, loss of life and loss or damage to property. Furthermore, there has been over 200 product safety reports (including recall notifications) to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in the last 5 years. These batteries are found in numerous household appliances, trade tools, personal transportation devices such as e-scooters and hoverboards, renewable energy storage systems, E-vehicles and personal rechargeable devices e.g. mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

With advancing technologies and the broadening global marketplace, the need to review policy and enforceable regulations is increasing in importance and now must be a high priority to prevent ongoing damage to property, injury and loss of life. Indeed, the ACCC has stated in their Lithium-ion Batteries Issues Paper, dated December 2022, that identifying potential hazard prevention strategies relating to Lithium-ion batteries is a 2022–23 product safety priority.

The online market consists of over 15%–20%* of consumer sales per annum with physical retail store outlets being used increasingly as showrooms of displays for comparison or demonstration. When a consumer purchases a product, they have trust in the regulatory authority and integrity of the manufacturer, importer and retailer that the product is safe and compliant to the Australian Standards. This is not the case in every instance.

Amongst some manufacturers and importers to Australia, there is a definitive lack of understanding of the requirements to legally and safely import and on-sell goods into the Australian market. Too much reliance on overseas test facilities, with varying levels of integrity and understanding, has allowed manufacturers and importers to consider they are compliant with Australian Standards when, in fact, they are not. Additionally, experienced and established businesses from overseas who understand and execute their responsibilities well on their home soil and local markets assume that, as their products meet the requirements of those markets, they automatically meet the requirements for Australia — the most prevalent example is the CE mark in Europe and the UKCA mark for the UK. These are commonly construed as sufficient to meet the requirements in Australia — this is simply not the case. It is important to note that the CE mark is a self-declaration of compliance, it is not a guarantee that the product has been tested to Australian Standards.

The approach of ‘buyer beware’ can no longer be a satisfactory position alone and education campaigns to assist in the awareness of what compliance means and how it is identified by the consumer is essential and of a high priority. The Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM, pictured below) is a perfectly adequate reference point for all involved in the supply chain.

The legal ramifications and financial penalties associated with failure to comply are significant, not to mention the risk to reputation. Comtest Group work with many organisations to ensure the situation is avoided and our team of engineers undertake testing and services for:

  • Battery discharge rates
  • Compatibility/suitability of components
  • Temperature measurements/charging
  • Flammability
  • Short circuit testing
  • Battery charging (circuit fault tests)
  • Over charging tests
  • Impact testing

Comtest can also provide documentation audits to ensure products have been tested to the correct standards and registration or compliance requirements have been met.

Comtest has 25+ years of experience in electrical and telecommunication safety testing and compliance.

(*Reference — Boston Consulting Group)

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