Understanding Compliance with Standards

05/07/2006
5 July 2006

This article aims to clearly explain the role of Standards NZ, as well as those of the regulator and certifiers, in ensuring compliance with Standards for consumer and product safety.

Standards increase safety, effectiveness, reliability and quality for things such as prams, children’s nightwear and cycle helmets, as well as a wide range of other products and services.

The role of Standards NZ

Standards NZ manage the development of Standards, for the good of all New Zealanders, defining specifications for manufacture, design or  construction, or test methods and processes. “Our job is to create the Standards and associated documents and to encourage their use. Getting consensus amongst a committee comprising all key interested parties ensures that the document will be of high quality and will be practical and useable,” says Rob Steele, Chief Executive Officer at Standards NZ. “It is then up to the regulator to mandate and enforce usage, if they consider that appropriate.”

The resulting Standards provide information and set quality and safety levels over an enormous breadth of areas. Standards also enhance quality and efficiency for manufacturers and suppliers and quality and safety for consumers.

Compliance with Standards is generally voluntary, but can be mandatory when cited in legislation or regulation. As Standards are developed independently, and involve industry representatives, they are often more workable and accepted among industry than prescriptive regulation.

The role of the regulator

Often there will be a regulator on the committee developing a Standard. The regulator has the power to either make the Standard mandatory, or to use the Standard as a means of compliance with their regulation. If a
regulator requires compliance with a Standard, then it is that regulator’s responsibility to ensure that products being sold comply. There is a range of ways which regulators can monitor and police compliance.

As the regulator for product safety requirements, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs plays an active part in the development of Standards and in their application to goods supplied in NZ. To achieve the required product safety, the Ministry often requires compliance with all or parts of national Standards, such as the Standards published by Standards NZ. Once put into place as regulations, a product safety Standard is enforced by the Commerce Commission. The Commission investigates
cases where there is concern that a product may not comply with the required Standard and where appropriate, takes court action.

The role of the product certifier

A regulator who specifies a Standard as a means of compliance with their regulation may require independent proof or certification that a product complies. A company known as a ‘product certifier’ – there are a number of certifiers in NZ – carries out this independent verification.

The product certifier will generally certify conformance with a performance Standard by verifying test results, then issuing a logo and certificate of conformance. In many cases the regulator will not require independent certification and it is up to the product manufacturer to decide whether to use independent certification. CEO at Standards NZ, Rob Steele says, “manufacturers may choose independent certification because they believe the use of the certifier’s ‘mark’ will give them a marketing advantage. On the other hand they may simply choose to self certify.”

Self-Certification

Self certification involves the manufacturer ensuring that the product they produce reliably meets the requirements of the relevant Standard. This responsibility falls to the local distributor in cases where the product is manufactured off-shore. As with any other product claim, they must ensure that the claim they make is true. Product performance claims are subject to fair trading legislation and the Commerce Commission will investigate and act upon false claims relating to compliance with Standards in just the same way they would
with any other false claim about a product. For Standards that are cited in regulation, the regulator also has a responsibility to monitor and act upon any cases of non-compliance.

Examples of voluntary and mandatory Standards

Prams and strollers - voluntary

Babies and small children spend a lot of time in prams and strollers and it is important to buy a safe product and to use it safely. The joint Australian/NZ Standard AS/NZS 2088:2000 Prams and strollers - Safety requirements, specifies materials, construction, performance and labelling requirements. The Standard provides manufacturers and others with minimum safety requirements, to reduce the likelihood of injury to children.

Consumers looking for a pram or stroller should be aware that because the Standard is not mandatory, not all products will comply. They should check the product labelling for evidence of compliance. Any claim should specify the number and date of the Standard, and may be independently certified (likely to carry a brand mark of the certifier), or be self declared by the manufacturer.

Children’s nightwear - mandatory

When heaters or fireplaces are used at night, we have to be careful about the safety of our children’s nightwear. Regulations in the form of Product Safety Standards for children’s nightclothes were introduced in 1987, as the high flammability of some children’s nightclothes had resulted in some serious burns.

The regulations declare national joint Australian/NZ Standard AS/NZS 1249:2003 Children’s nightwear and limited daywear having reduced fire hazard to be a Product Safety Standard. The Standard aims to ensure all nightwear garments are either designed to reduce fire danger or are made of less flammable fabrics. For example, a nightdress would catch fire much more easily than would a fitting pair of cotton pyjamas.

It is mandatory for all garments covered by the Standard to have correct labels permanently attached and visible, to allow consumers to make informed choices. The Standard specifies types of garments as being either ‘low fire danger’ or ‘high fire danger.’ High fire danger garments  are only allowed for summer nightwear, as they are less likely to catch fire from a heater or fireplace at that time. The Commerce Commission is responsible for enforcing this Standard.

Cycle helmets – mandatory

Every cycle helmet must meet an approved Standard, such as the joint Australian/NZ Standard, AS/NZS 2063:1996 Pedal cycle helmets. This Standard specifies basic performance requirements for impact and strength of cycle helmets for persons riding, or being carried on, a bicycle on a road.

Helmets that comply with this Standard are suitable for activities where the wearer may be thrown or fall from a height, particularly while mobile. Land Transport New Zealand regulates the use of cycle helmets and requires helmets to be independently certified. Helmets from every batch have to be tested and verified by an independent audit process, to ensure the requirements of the Standard have been met. The manufacturer’s quality control procedures also have to be checked. Typically helmets will carry the certification mark of the certifying body as well as “certified to AS/NZS 2063:1996” or similar.

Energy using products – mandatory

“Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) help to ensure that we all buy more efficient appliances and equipment, and certain products must comply with specific Standards for energy efficiency,” says Gleb Speranski, Senior Advisor Technical and Standards at the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA).

New Zealand has mandatory MEPS for a range of appliances and equipment, including household fridges and freezers, electric hot water cylinders and air conditioners. Gleb says, “household fridges, freezers and singlephase domestic air conditioners must also display an Energy Rating label. The star rating on the label helps consumers to compare appliances for their energy efficiency.”

Energy Rating labels are mandatory and must be displayed by suppliers or retailers at the point of sale. Dishwashers, clothes washers and clothes dryers must also display Energy Rating labels even though there are currently no MEPS requirements for them. The MEPS and labelling requirements for the above products are set out in relevant joint Australian/New Zealand Standards.

Compliance with recognised Standards is a well-accepted way of achieving safe products. The reassurance provided by Standards covers
hundreds of products for work and play. Ultimately, it is consumers that benefit the most from Standards.