December is the biggest present-giving month of the year, and come Christmas morning, children up and down the country will be waking up to see if they have made it onto Santa’s ‘nice’ list, eager to play with all the new toys they receive. These gifts will have been purchased by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many other relatives and friends, sent with love and the hope that the child will get hours of pleasure playing with the toy. No one wants the child receiving their present to end up injured, blind or dead because of the gift they gave, but every year, many children are unfortunately hurt, injured and some tragically die because of presents that were unsafe and/or illegal.

December is designated National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, and although this started in the US, more and more people around the world are recognising the need to raise awareness of the safety of toys to protect and safeguard our children.

In 2019, The British Toy & Hobby Association (BTHA) published a report called “Don’t Toy With Children’s Safety” into the safety of toys it had purchased online from several large online retailers including Amazon, eBay and AliExpress. It makes sobering reading for anyone who has ever purchased toys online and is even more relevant when we know that 58% of toys are now bought from online sites rather than in person, in high-street stores. Of the toys purchased:

  • 49% failed to comply with UK safety requirements
  • 22% of the toys in the study had serious failures that could threaten the physical safety of children

Some of the most common issues found included:

  • The existence of small parts and small balls in toys for under-3s which can be a choking hazard
  • Easily removable button cell batteries which can cause death by burning through the oesophagus if swallowed
  • Overly powerful magnets that can cause serious injury or death if swallowed, by sticking children’s intestines together
  • Non-conformity issues included a lack of traceability warnings
  • Counterfeit copies
  • Lack of warnings markings and/or appropriate labelling

According to the report:

“Currently, online marketplaces that allow third parties to sell products through their platforms have limited insight into the quality and safety of those products and little incentive to assume any responsibility for them because of the lack of accountability.”

Another one of the problems perceived by the writers of the report suggests that people assume that just because they can buy the products, they assume they must be safe and compliant with all relevant legislation, but this is far from the truth. In reality, a lot of online sellers are either not traceable at all, or they are not within the UK or EU meaning that it is often unclear if they are conforming to any kind of country standards, and even more difficult to prosecute breaches or enforce standards.

In the UK, Toy Safety Regulations 2011 are made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. They prescribe “Essential Safety Requirements” regarding general principles including the design, construction and composition or toys, and also particular risks including physical and mechanical risks, flammability, chemical and electrical properties and hygiene, to name but a few. A “toy” is defined as “Any product or material designed or clearly intended for use in play by children of less than 14 years of age” but does not include such items as children’s fashion jewellery or Christmas decorations. Therefore, these items are not covered under the same rigours standards as toys but are sometimes given to children as presents unknowingly.

In order to combat the risks, there are a number of things that you can do, and advise the parents of your children to do, before buying presents online, and definitely before giving them to children to play with.

How to reduce the risk when buying toys

  • Buy from suppliers with a good reputation for safe and reliable toys. Many will be members of trade associations such as the BTHA whose rules require them to meet high standards
  • If buying toys online, try to read the reviews about the quality of the toy and its suitability – remember that the price may be a clue to the quality of the item
  • If buying toys second hand, extra care needs to be taken
  • Look for the CE symbol and UKCA mark or the voluntary BTHA’s ‘Lion Mark’ which shows that the toy meets regulatory requirements
  • Check the recommended age range and don’t buy or give toys designed for older children to younger children, especially those aged 0-3
  • Check labels on costumes to ensure they are not flammable

In general, try to avoid toys with the following:

  • Strong, small magnets and toys with removable button batteries which can cause severe harm or death if swallowed
  • Loose pile fabric or hair which sheds easily or long ribbons on toys and long neck ties on children’s costumes
  • Small components or parts which detach too easily
  • Sharp points, edges or finger traps
  • Ropes or cords or that can heat up
  • Things which are not marked nontoxic

Once purchased, and before giving them to children

  • Always check toys to make sure there are no loose, sharp or broken pieces that could hurt children
  • Read instructions and any warnings about their use
  • Dispose of plastic wrappings immediately before they become dangerous playthings
  • Some children, especially under 3s, or those with special needs are more vulnerable to choking, and less able to cope with some toys than older children
  • Be aware of things like deflated balloons and dispose of these safely
  • Encourage children to play with one toy at a time, to be tidy and put toys away after play. This applies whether at home or at school or playgroup. Many accidents are caused by people tripping over toys left lying around, particularly on staircases
  • Check toys periodically to see that they have not become dangerously worn or sharp
  • Keep chargers out of the reach of children and only use under adult supervision
  • Supervise children’s craft projects including things which need scissors and glue and things like chemistry sets
  • Have children wear the right eye protection for sports (face shields, helmets, eye guards)

Toys are meant to be fun so make sure that the gifts you give are safe, and enjoy them together for extra special quality time.

References and more information

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