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Toy Safety

2007 has seen an unprecedented number toy recalls in the US, including famous playthings like Thomas the Tank Engine and Polly Pocket playsets.  Many of the recalls are from leading manufacturers like Mattel and most of the toys were imported from China.
Most of the recalls have been for excessive levels of toxic lead, dangerous small magnets, and choking hazards.

Not really what us parents want to hear given the large number of toy-related injuries that occur in children on an annual basis. For example, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 200,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 2005 alone. Twenty deaths occurred in children less than 15 years of age that year; the majority from choking on toys such as a ball or balloon.
On November 20, 2007, the 22nd annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety, titled “Trouble in Toyland” was released. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for  children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

In this section, I will summarize some of the findings from the US PIRG Report followed by tips on how to choose the right toy for your child, proper use of toys and what dangers to look out for.

The full Toy Safety Report can be found at http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Toys/Toy-Safety-Publications/.

Choking Hazards

  • Tiny toys and toys with small, removable parts can be swallowed or become lodged in a child’s windpipe.
  • According to the report, overall, manufacturers and toy retailers are doing a good job of marketing and labeling small balls, balloons, small toys and toys with small parts, ensuring either that the bin in
    which the toy is sold or the toy packaging is labeled with the required choke hazard warning.
  • PIRG researchers,however, still found toys for children under three with small parts and toys with small
    parts for children under six without the statutory choke hazard warning.

Of note: Choking on small parts, small balls and balloons remains a leading cause of toy-related deaths and injuries. Between 1990 and 2005, at least 166 children died after choking or asphyxiating on a toy or toy part; nine children died in 2005 alone.

What do I do if my child is choking?

Here are the steps recommended by the American Heart Association to prevent airway obstruction in an infant (less than 1 year age):

  1. Hold the infant face down on your forearm, with the infant’s head in your hand (rest your arm on leg or lap for support).
  2. Deliver up to 5 back blows with the heel of your free hand.
  3. Turn the infant over and give up to 5 chest thrusts (on the lower half of the breastbone).
  4. Alternate 5 back blows and 5 chest thrusts until the object is expelled or the infant becomes unresponsive.
  5. If the infant becomes unresponsive, begin CPR.
  6. Each time you open the airway, look for a foreign object (remove it if seen – do not do a “blind finger sweep”).
  7. Continue rescue breaths and chest compressions.
  8. Phone 911 after about 1 minute of rescue support.

Here are the American Heart Association’s steps for clearing an airway in a child older than 1 year age:

  1. Ask “Are you choking?” If yes, ask: “Can you speak?” If no, tell the child you are going to help.
  2. Kneel or stoop to stand behind the child, wrapping your arms around the child.
  3. Make a fist with one hand; hold it with the other hand against the center of the child’s abdomen, between the navel and ribs.
  4. Provide abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) until the object is expelled or the child becomes unresponsive.
  5. If the child becomes unresponsive, begin CPR.
  6. Each time you open the airway, look for a foreign object (remove it if seen – do not do a “blind finger sweep”).
  7. Continue rescue breaths and chest compressions.
  8. Phone 911 after about 1 minute of rescue support.
  9. Parents may want to take a CPR class to learn more about these skills and basic life support.

For more details, click on Foreign body ingestion and aspiration.

Neodymium iron boron (NIB) Magnets

  • Over the last few years, one child died and many others were gravely injured after swallowing tiny but powerful magnets now commonly used in magnetic building toys, other toys and magnetic jewelry.
  • If a child swallows more than one of these magnets, the magnets can attract to each other, cut off blood supply to part of the intestine, cause intestinal perforation or blockage and lead to life-threatening infections.

Note: these magnets are so small that if swallowed you would not expect to see early warning signs of a swallowed foreign body such as choking, gagging or drooling.

After hours to days a child with multiple magnets in their stomach/intestine may develop abdominal pain and vomiting which, without the history of the ingestion, could easily be diagnosed with just a viral stomach infection only to worsen if an intestinal blockage or perforation occurs.

To see a photo of one of these banned products, click on NIB photo.

Lead in Toys

    • The wave of recalls of lead-tainted toys, jewelry and other children’s products has led to intensive scrutiny of current regulations, which only clearly ban lead in paint.
    • Based upon the overwhelming scientific evidence of the serious danger that lead poses tochildren and the lack of a compelling need to include lead in children’s products, the the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently recommended banning lead below trace amounts (no more than 40 parts per million) in children’s products.
    • The AAP further recommended that a children’s product be defined as one used by or with children under the age of 12 years in order to provide a standard that protects the most children possible throughout periods of rapid brain development.
    • US PIRG Report findings: Some children’s toys and jewelry may contain high levels of lead.
      In one case, they found a piece of jewelry that contained 65% lead by weight. We also found toys that exceeded lead paint standards by 50-500%.
    • Good News: A bill, titled, “the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act“ is in the first step in the legislative process. This bill represents an important step toward reducing children’s exposure to lead in consumer products. It establishes uniform federal standards for lead content where none have existed.  The legislation reduces the allowable lead content of paint from the current level of 600 parts per million to 90 parts per million.  The 600 parts per million standard was established in 1978 and based on an outdated understanding of the harms of lead poisoning.
    • To keep this all in perspective though, it’s important to note that lead paint in homes, not toys, is by far the main cause of lead poisoning in kids. Still, it’s important to become an informed consumer and to keep lead from affecting your kids.
    • It’s better to be safe than sorry because children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults, since young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths; their growing bodies absorb more lead; and children’s developing brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

      What if my child has played with a toy recalled because of lead?

    • Coming into contact with a toy containing lead once or twice probably isn’t cause for too much concern. It’s continual exposure over a period of time that usually causes lead poisoning.
    • However, if your child had a toy that was recalled because of lead, throw it away immediately and call your pediatrician.  Depending on the amount of exposure and the condition of the toy, he/she may just give you reassurance or recommend a blood test.For more details, click on Lead poisoning.

Other Toy Dangers

Despite the concerns for choking hazards, NIB magnets and lead in toys, I would like to point out that riding toys, such as non-powered scootersaccounted for more injuries than any other category of toy—related injuries (29%). Therefore, I would like to emphasize parental supervision and protective equipment for children who use these toys in order to help prevent injury. Some others:

  • Sharp edges: Toys made of brittle plastic or glass can break easily, exposing sharp points and edges. Wooden, metal, and plastic toys sometimes have sharp edges due to poor construction.
  • Loud noises: Toy caps and some noise-making guns and other toys can reach noise levels that can damage hearing. The law requires the following label on boxes of caps producing noise above a certain level: “WARNING – Do not fire closer than 1 foot to the ear. Do not use indoors.”
  • Sharp points: Broken toys can expose dangerous prongs and knife-sharp points. Pins and staples on dolls’ clothes, hair, and accessories can easily puncture an unsuspecting child. Even a teddy bear or stuffed toy can be assembled with wires that can cut or stab.
  • Electric toys: Electric toys that are improperly constructed, wired, or misused can shock or burn. Electric toys must meet mandatory requirements for maximum surface temperatures, electrical construction, and prominent warning labels. Electric toys with heating elements are recommended only for children over age 8. Children should be taught to use electric toys cautiously and under adult supervision.
  • Propelled objects: Projectiles – guided missiles and other flying toys – can be turned into weapons and can injure eyes in particular. Children should never be permitted to play with adult lawn darts or other hobby or sporting equipment with sharp points. Arrows or darts used by children should have soft cork tips, rubber suction cups or other protective tips to prevent injury.
  • YoYo Waterballs: These banned products are still available online and numerous reports of eye injuries and near strangulation have been documented. For photo, see YoYo Waterball 

Safe Toy Recommendations

AAP recommendations for the best toys for kids:

  • The best toys are those that encourage the interaction of a child with a parent in supportive, unconditional play.
  • Toys are never a substitute for parental attention.
  • Parents should avoid toys that discourage children from using their imaginations.
  • A good toy need not be expensive.
  • Parents should use books and magazines to play with their children.
  • It is important that parents limit video game and computer game use to less than 1 to 2 hours a day, and young children should only be allowed access to the Internet under adult supervision.

In addition to stressing the importance of holiday decorating and fire safety through its Operation Decoration campaign,Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), in cooperation with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is working for a safer world by reminding children and adults that toys can pose certain safety risks.

To play it safe this holiday season, and all year long, the safety professionals at UL and the NFPA offer the following tips and precautions for toy safety:

    1. When shopping for toys, especially electrical toys, look for markings that indicate the product has been tested for safety by an independent, third-party product safety and certification organization, such as UL.
    2. If you spot a UL Mark on a toy, it means that samples of that toy have been tested (dropped, pulled, tugged at, and generally torn apart) by UL engineering staff and found to comply with appropriate safety requirements.
    3. Pay close attention to the recommended age designation marked on the toy or its packaging.
    4. Always make sure the child’s age matches or exceeds the manufacturer’s recommended age specification.
    5. Before children play with a new toy, read the manufacturer’s warning markings, and, if applicable, the use and care booklet.
    6. Make sure you and your children understand the proper way to play with the toy.
    7. Immediately discard plastic packaging and gift-wrapping — these materials can pose a suffocation hazard.
    8. Check toys periodically for broken parts and potential hazards. A dangerous toy should be repaired immediately or thrown away.
    9. Sharp or splintered edges on wooden toys should be sanded smooth.
    10. Check outdoor toys for rust and weak or sharp parts that could become hazardous.
    11. Parts from damaged toys can break off and become a choking hazard for the child or for younger siblings.
    12. If several children are present at your holiday gathering, make sure that the younger ones are not allowed to play with age-inappropriate toys that siblings or cousins might have received as gifts.
    13. If a toy requires assembly, make sure a responsible adult assembles the product by completely following the manufacturer’s instructions.
    14. Keep deflated and broken balloons away from small children.
    15. Infants and toddlers can easily get them caught in their throats and suffocate.
    16. Electric toys can become a shock hazard if they’re misused. Never allow your children to use electric toys near water unless they are specifically designed to be used in the water (such as remote controlled toy boats.)
    17. Watch television newscasts and scan newspapers and consumer magazines for information on toy or other household product recalls.
    18. You can also visit the CPSC Web site at www.cpsc.gov to learn about their product recalls.
    19. Whenever possible, complete and return product warranty and registration forms to the manufacturer.
      If a product is recalled, the manufacturer can use these forms to contact you directly.
    20. In the event of an emergency, make sure you have telephone numbers for the appropriate law enforcement agency, fire department and poison control center (1-800-222-1222) posted near every phone in your home.
    21. When choosing a toy for a toddler or infant, make sure it:
      • Is too large to be swallowed (page 7 of the US PIRG Report discusses how this can be approximated)
      • Does not have detachable pieces that can lodge in the windpipe, ears, or nostrils.
      • Will not break easily, leaving jagged edges.
      • Has no sharp edges or points.
      • Has not been put together with easily exposed pins, wires, staples, or nails.
      • Is labeled “non-toxic.”
      • Can’t pinch fingers or catch hair.


      O – 18 Months




      pounding and stacking toys
      squeak toys
      floating tub toys
      picture blocks
      strings of big beads
      crib-gym exercisers
      push-pull toys
      small take-apart toys
      nested boxes or cups
      stacking toys and rings
      books with rhymes, pictures, jingles
      musical and chime toys

      18 months – 3 years

      ride-on toys to straddle
      hobby horse
      push-pull toys
      sandbox toys
      blocks of different sizes and shapes
      wading pool and sandbox
      child-size play furniture
      play appliances, utensils
      homemade materials
      doll furniture
      simple dress-up clothes
      stuffed animals
      simple puzzles
      take-apart toys with large parts
      clay and modeling dough
      large crayons
      blackboard and chalk
      simple musical instruments
      finger paints
      non-electric trains
      tea sets

      3 – 6 years

      additional dress-up outfits
      bathing and feeding dolls
      puppets and theaters
      storekeeping toys
      toy phone and toy clock
      housekeeping toys
      toy soldiers
      farm, village, and other play sets
      small trucks, cars, planes, boats
      simple construction sets
      domestic toys
      race-car layouts
      larger tricycles
      other wheeled toys
      backyard gymsets, jungle gyms
      printing sets
      coloring books
      sketch pads
      story books