The Right to Safety
Consumers have the right to safety of goods and services that are put into the consumption chain. Goods and service providers should not avail or sell goods and services that endanger the physical person, health and well being of consumers.
Therefore, goods and service providers must commit themselves and adhere to clear product safety guidelines. On the other hand, public institutions must develop and monitor health and safety guidelines which goods and service providers must follow in the course of doing business.
The main government agency which sets safety and quality standards for goods and services that are put into the market is the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). The standards set by the SABS, enable consumers and other stakeholders to insist on service and safety measures from an informed point of view.
Similarly, one of the tasks of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is to develop consumer policy and protect consumers from unscrupulous business practices. The Department of Health also ensures that goods and services consumed do not pose health risks for consumers.
Other government departments and public agencies also enforce the rights of citizens and consumers. Consumer safety is not just about hazardous products and services. It is also about the need to ensure that products and services do not negatively impact on the welfare of consumers. This indicates the diverse nature of consumer issues and the need to co-ordinate enforcement programmes.
The fact that products are legally available for sale does not necessarily mean that they are safe or healthy. For example, adults are allowed to buy and smoke cigarettes. But even tobacco manufactures no longer dispute the fact that smoking damages our health and sometimes leads to death.
Like other consumer rights, the right to safety is an important area of consumer protection which needs timeous inspection and evaluation.
Products can be contaminated and thus pose health and other safety risks from their point of origin (usually the factory) or along the distribution chain. Consumers have the power to stop unsafe products and services in many ways including boycotting unsafe products and services and by following use and other instructions.
Reading packaging for storage, use instructions and conditions, ingredients and expiry dates can help prevent the dangers associated with the consumption of unsafe products and services. Proper handling of goods, especially food, a clean and healthy environment have the positive effect of minimising, sometimes preventing contamination and the spread of harmful bacteria.
Sometimes safe products can turn to be unsafe and harmful if important instructions such as the conditions under which they should be stored, used and the dates by which they must be used are not followed.
Sometimes we may be allergic to one or more ingredients used to make a product and our bodies may react negatively when we use or consume the products.
This shows us two factors about our right to safety. The first is that the more we insist on our right to safety, the more goods and service providers will give us a better and the more risks are reduced. The second factor shown by the right to safety is that consumers have the responsibility to educate themselves about the goods and services they consume.
The consequences of consuming unsafe products and services is dangerous to our health and costly to the economy as people spend time off work and on medical bills. For example, the United States Centers for Disease Control estimate that 76 million Americans suffer illnesses from food-borne diseases, leading to more than 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations annually. This translates in about US$5 to US$6 billion spent in direct medical expenditures and lost productivity.
There are statutory and regulatory bodies which, among other responsibilities, lay down safety standards and regulate the activities of service providers.
(sourced from http://www.ncf.org.za)