Avoiding Dangerous Toys
Amy Movius, MD
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Kids love toys! And who doesn’t love seeing the excitement and joy of a child playing with a well loved one? Anyone with a child on their holiday list has likely noticed there is a seemingly endless array of toy choices these days. Not surprising when you consider there are an estimated 3 billion toys sold yearly in the United States.
Toys aren’t all fun and games, however. Despite mandatory and voluntary safety standards, not all toys are created (literally) equal. In 2009, at least 12 children died from toy-related causes, and more than 250,000 – a quarter of a million – were treated in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries.
WATCH (World Against Toys Causing Harm) is an organization devoted to raising awareness and providing information for consumers to use when purchasing toys. They also publish a “Top 10 Worst Toys” list yearly. The list is by no means inclusive but does illustrate many hazards of currently available toys which are, unfortunately, not new. These include (1) choking from small parts (2) strangulation from ropes/cords (3) impact or puncture injuries from rigid/plastic parts (4) electrical injuries and (5) items marketed as toys that shouldn’t be. Some examples of each will follow.
- Choking Hazards
16 of the toys recalled by the CPSC in the last year were for posing a choking risk from easily detachable small parts or affixed small parts that can break off easily. The children most at risk are younger because they are very oral in their behavior. However these detachable or affixed pieces are not necessarily considered “small parts” by the toy industry and so not labeled as such.
- Strangulation Hazards
These can result from necklaces, cords, ribbons, etc that can be wrapped around a child’s neck, including items such as guitar straps. The industry standard for cord length for crib or playpen cords is 12 inches, however there are pull toys (including one of the 10 worst list) marketed for these same young children with much longer cords.
- Impact/Puncture injuries from rigid parts
Several of the toys on the list illustrate this very well. One is a popular movie figure holding a 4 ½ inch rigid plastic sword that activates when a level is pushed. It is marketed to children over 3 and there is a warning of small parts, but no mention of the (obvious) risk of eye/impact injury.
Sometimes electronic toys, with heating elements, are labeled for children as young as 8
- Toys that Aren’t Toys
Air powered rifles are the prime example. They are actually weapons and not recommended for anyone less than 16yrs.
Warning labels, while useful, are not a sole reliable means for determining a toys safety. Some warning labels consist of removable sticker labels and others omit some risks or contain warnings that are impossible for the marketed child to use. Examples include:
- A foam bow and arrow, for age 8 and up, whose warning states bow should not be pulled back at “more that half strength” and “anyone at close distance to the target should be alerted”
- A trampoline, for age 3 and up, whose “only function is for controlled bounce (exercise) in young children.
- An action figure, for age 4 and up, with a flip open blade up to 2 feet that warns “do not aim toy at anyone…do not hit anyone with toy…do not poke anyone with toy…do not swing toy at anyone”.
How exactly do they envision these toys being used? In some instances, the marketing seems solely targeted at protecting the manufacturer, not the children using.
Likewise, toy recalls basically occurs after an already marketed toy (which should have passed existing standards) has been shown to cause harm – i.e. children have already been hurt. Many consumers are never aware a recall notice has been issued for a toy already in their home. In the past year, there has been at least 28 toy recalls, accounting for over 3.8 MILLION toys in circulation in the US alone. There are no particularly safe brands or stores either. A quick scan of the CPSC's list of recalled toys includes items found on the shelves of big-box stores, specialty stores, and dollar stores alike.
In the end, families and friends must carefully examine the toys we buy for children. Considering the specific toy as well as the nature and maturity of the child for whom it is intended. It is always the season for safety!
- http://toysafety.org/worst ToyList.shtml