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Stay out of jail by navigating product safety in China!

 

Product Safety in China: Is My Product Safe?

Physical SafetyOK

When people ask “is my product safe?” most of the time they are asking the question because they want to make sure the product won’t hurt anybody and to be sure they are not at risk of a lawsuit. We could call this “design safety”.

Meaning, for example, the product has no pinch points, sharp edges or dangerous materials. If your product is in the concept or design stages, it is very important that not only can your design engineers come up with something that appeals to the market place, but is also needs to be physically safe. Imagine spending thousands of dollars on a design only to learn that it is not fit for function or unsafe.

Regardless if you design in-house or outsource the engineering, make sure your design and engineering team are fluent in DFM and that they have a solid understanding of the regulations in your marketplace. And that brings us to regulatory compliance.

Compliance

Broken car 300x180
As mentioned above, not only should we be thinking about physical safety, but we also need to make sure that our product can be imported into our market with no complications. For example, the safety regulations for a toy, electronics, or piece of furniture can be radically different in Jordan, Jamaica and Japan. You risk wasting a lot of money if your product is not engineered from day 1 to meet those standards.

Who can you trust?

Since standards are constantly updated and vary from country to country, you are at great risk to simply take your suppliers word for it. They want your order, so of course they will say “sure it is safe.” But if the product is not safe from a physical safety or regulatory compliance point of view, and God forbid, somebody gets hurt….who are the lawyers and government officials in your marketplace going to come after? An overseas supplier in China? No way, they will come after the importer of record. And that means you.

So as buyers, it is our responsibility to confirm the product is safe. Assuming you had it engineered right, the next step is to take the prototype or sample and get it to a reputable testing lab. The big international labs stay up to date on the latest rules and regulations for all the major markets. As they have offices in China, you need not send your widget back home to be tested. Plus even the testing costs are less in China, generally speaking.

Most new importers don’t realize they can take their widget to a lab and say “I want to import this to X country, how much will you charge me to test that this product and packaging fully conforms with all standards?”. The sales guy at the lab will pull out a giant book full of protocols and prices and in a few minutes you may learn that it really doesn’t cost that much to confirm your product is safe.

Can I sleep well at night?

Well before you start patting yourself on the back for working so hard to make sure your product is safe. Don’t forget that at the lab, you simply confirmed that one unit was safe. Now you need to make sure that when full production is running, every unit that comes off the line is safe.

But it is not realistic to send 100% of production to the lab for testing, so as buyers we need to come up with a realistic factory audit, production inspection and product testing plan. The factory audit may take place once or twice a year to confirm that the shop is being managed with a Quality 1st mentality.

In other words, they are running their factory in a well-documented and “safe” manner. Production inspection should be taking place with every order before the goods ship out of China. You or an independent inspector will go to the site of production and verify what is coming off the line is safe. In this case, safe means that it matches the specs set by the master sample which was tested by the lab to be safe.

Unfortunately, you still can’t call it a day just yet. Because, unless the order is tiny, the inspection will not be 100%. It will be based on a statistically reliable sample size, using an AQL chart. While the inspector can easily check the physically properties of production pieces, it is hard for them to check the chemical properties. So some parts should be picked at random and send to the lab.

How many pieces to send to the lab each production run is a hard question to answer and there is no universal formula and if you ask that question to your government, your lawyer, a testing lab and the inspection partner you may get four different answers. But if something goes wrong in the market place and a person is hurt, you will certainly be called upon to show your audit, inspection AND testing records. So being able to show you have a plan in place is a big step in the right direction. Getting caught without a well-documented plan or recorded results will exposure you significantly if the case ever went to court.

Regulatory Compliance in China: Questions Importers Must Ask!

Regulatory Compliance in China Questions Importers Must Ask

One of my good friends is a compliance officer in the US headquarters of a major international brand. He is responsible for making sure the products his company imports are safe and meet corporate, market and governmental standards.

He is also the go-to-guy in his company when there are problems with quality and safety issues. He asked not to be mentioned by name, but was kind enough to let me share with you the following insider information about regulatory compliance in China.

Readers of my blog typically have two types of concerns when it comes to compliance:

Import/Customs Clearance and Compliance

Import/Customs compliance into US/EU/AUS to make sure they have all the right paperwork and forms filled out. That’s fairly easy to arrange but the next part is harder…

Regulatory Compliance & Safety

While importers may bring in all sorts of different product, from electronics to furniture, they all have concerns about regulatory/safety compliance. The labs are pretty good at saying “you need to test this product in the following ways to ensure the SAMPLE is compliant”, but these buyers are left in the dark when it comes to how to set up a Compliance Program to ensure that if, God forbid, some customer got hurt and the courts asked the importer to explain their compliance system, the importer would be covered. It’s not enough to say “I sent the sample to the lab” because the lawyers will say “that’s just one sample, how did you confirm there was not a change to form, fit, function that could impact safety of the product when production was taking place at the supplier or even sub supplier level?” So these importers need help setting up a comprehensive system that coordinates documentation, sample collection/testing and monitoring of the Chinese factories.

Regarding Import/Customs Clearance and Compliance

Importer should also make sure they get the legal requirements down to the country and even state level, especially in the US there are many state laws. For example, the product could get in to the country legally, but then be found to be illegal in a certain state.

Regarding Regulatory Compliance and Safety

This side of things is much harder since you have to make sure all the products coming off the production line in China are really the same as the approved sample. And most important, that approved sample need to be compliant!

The easiest option, but perhaps the more costly optional, is having a product certified compliant, that assumes an appropriate certification exists! Certification encompasses the product design (usually you need to provide the product specs and design), testing and also periodic audits and reviews. Again, it will cost more if the category is optional and there are many categories that don’t have any certification at all.

Without certification, the way to tackle it is to make sure you have setup a procedure on how and when products are tested and inspected. From the physical testing/ safety side you’ll want products tested on each design, and from chemical side you’ll want a test anytime the material changes and at a minimum once per year.

If you’re using factories where you don’t have full trust or transparency (meaning you can’t be sure about their material), you’ll probably want to have a product tested each production run at least on the chemical side. If you have full control of the material you’ll want to test in coming material and probably randomly select finished product since sometimes the manufacturing process can add restricted chemicals.

You should also look at how samples get to the lab. If the supplier sends the samples rather than having a buyer representative pick them up, then there is risk that the supplier will send a “golden sample” which is sure to past the lab test, but may not represent the quality of the products coming off the assembly line!

Regardless, at the very least, you need a well-documented process of what you do when, and make sure you follow it and keep all papers. God-forbid there is a recall or legal action, if you don’t have a well-written process, you will find it hard if not impossible to win a court case. This needs to be considered part of doing business, if the buyer wants to be in the import-export game!

How about product recalls?

It’s essential to understand the requirement for a recall. If you do get customer complaints about issues with the product, there are requirements with what you need to do especially if anyone gets hurt. So there should be a process in place for a recall, and you need to have good tracking of all products and where they are in the supply chain.

Any other things we should be asking about in terms of compliance?

One other item to consider is social compliance. Making sure the factories are audited and comply. More and more there are also environmental audits requested by major retailers. So you have to worry about that as well.

Regulatory Compliance in China: Questions Importers Must Ask!

Regulatory Compliance in China Questions Importers Must Ask!

One of my good friends is a compliance officer in the US headquarters of a major international brand. He is responsible for making sure the products his company imports are safe and meet corporate, market and governmental standards.

He is also the go-to-guy in his company when there are problems with quality and safety issues. He asked not to be mentioned by name, but was kind enough to let me share with you the following insider information about regulatory compliance in China.

Readers of my blog typically have two types of concerns when it comes to compliance:

Import/Customs Clearance and Compliance

Import/Customs compliance into US/EU/AUS to make sure they have all the right paperwork and forms filled out. That’s fairly easy to arrange but the next part is harder…

Regulatory Compliance & Safety

While importers may bring in all sorts of different product, from electronics to furniture, they all have concerns about regulatory/safety compliance. The labs are pretty good at saying “you need to test this product in the following ways to ensure the SAMPLE is compliant”, but these buyers are left in the dark when it comes to how to set up a Compliance Program to ensure that if, God forbid, some customer got hurt and the courts asked the importer to explain their compliance system, the importer would be covered. It’s not enough to say “I sent the sample to the lab” because the lawyers will say “that’s just one sample, how did you confirm there was not a change to form, fit, function that could impact safety of the product when production was taking place at the supplier or even sub supplier level?” So these importers need help setting up a comprehensive system that coordinates documentation, sample collection/testing and monitoring of the Chinese factories.

Regarding Import/Customs Clearance and Compliance

Importer should also make sure they get the legal requirements down to the country and even state level, especially in the US there are many state laws. For example, the product could get in to the country legally, but then be found to be illegal in a certain state.

Regarding Regulatory Compliance and Safety

This side of things is much harder since you have to make sure all the products coming off the production line in China are really the same as the approved sample. And most important, that approved sample need to be compliant!

The easiest option, but perhaps the more costly optional, is having a product certified compliant, that assumes an appropriate certification exists! Certification encompasses the product design (usually you need to provide the product specs and design), testing and also periodic audits and reviews. Again, it will cost more if the category is optional and there are many categories that don’t have any certification at all.

Without certification, the way to tackle it is to make sure you have setup a procedure on how and when products are tested and inspected. From the physical testing/ safety side you’ll want products tested on each design, and from chemical side you’ll want a test anytime the material changes and at a minimum once per year.

If you’re using factories where you don’t have full trust or transparency (meaning you can’t be sure about their material), you’ll probably want to have a product tested each production run at least on the chemical side. If you have full control of the material you’ll want to test in coming material and probably randomly select finished product since sometimes the manufacturing process can add restricted chemicals.

You should also look at how samples get to the lab. If the supplier sends the samples rather than having a buyer representative pick them up, then there is risk that the supplier will send a “golden sample” which is sure to past the lab test, but may not represent the quality of the products coming off the assembly line!

Regardless, at the very least, you need a well-documented process of what you do when, and make sure you follow it and keep all papers. God-forbid there is a recall or legal action, if you don’t have a well-written process, you will find it hard if not impossible to win a court case. This needs to be considered part of doing business, if the buyer wants to be in the import-export game!

How about product recalls?

It’s essential to understand the requirement for a recall. If you do get customer complaints about issues with the product, there are requirements with what you need to do especially if anyone gets hurt. So there should be a process in place for a recall, and you need to have good tracking of all products and where they are in the supply chain.

Any other things we should be asking about in terms of compliance?

One other item to consider is social compliance. Making sure the factories are audited and comply. More and more there are also environmental audits requested by major retailers. So you have to worry about that as well.

Is your Product Compliant with Government Standards?

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Exclusive Video!
Q&A with Mike Bellamy at the Australian International Sourcing Fair in Melbourne (Nov 2014).

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Topic: How to confirm if your product is compliant with government standards

If you are unable to view the video due to firewall issues, here are links to related articles:

Product certification and compliance in China – The key steps

PassageMaker’s assembly inspection facility passes BSCI audit with flying colors

About the speaker: For over a decade Mike Bellamy has been an advisor to both small and fortune 500 companies wanting to do business in China. Mike has overseen the sourcing of over 200 production classifications, ranging from components for medical and automotive applications to finished products such as toys, textiles and hardware.