Choosing Safe Toys
Millions of toys are out there, and hundreds of new ones hit the stores each year. Toys are supposed to be fun and are an important part of any child’s development. But each year, scores of kids are treated in hospital emergency departments for toy-related injuries. Choking is a particular risk for kids ages three or younger, because they tend to put toys in their mouths.
Manufacturers follow certain guidelines and label most new toys for specific age groups. But perhaps the most important thing a parent can do is to supervise play.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) closely monitors and regulates toys. Any toys made in—or imported into—the United States after 1995 must comply with CPSC standards. Don’t forget to sign up for the CPSC Toy Hazard Recalls to get e-mail notification of any toy recalls (cpsc.gov).
Click on HealthyStuff.org to see if your kids’ toys are safe or toxic. They have a search field on the top right where you can enter the name of the toy to see if it’s in their database. If it is, it will tell you if the toy’s chemicals are of low, medium, or high concern. On the site, you can also read many interesting articles about toy safety, and even take action to e-mail our lawmakers about creating new laws to protect our kids.
Try to be smart about your toy purchases. If you’re shopping for toddlers or babies, who tend to put things in their mouths, try to purchase wood vs. plastic toys. Here are some other guidelines to keep in mind when toy-shopping:
Toys made of fabric should NOT be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant. Flame retardant has been linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems, and impaired fertility. If toys are gently used and are missing their labels or have labels without the disclaimer, it is better to be safe than sorry—it’s one toy your child can do without!
Stuffed toys should be washable.
Painted toys should be covered with lead-free and toxin-free paint like Real Milk Paint contains simple ingredients such as milk protein, lime and earth-based pigments for color. Tung oil is also safe.
Art materials should say nontoxic.
Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package, which means that they’ve been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
Steer clear of older toys. Family hand-me-downs might have sentimental value and are certainly cost-effective, but they may not meet current safety standards and may be so worn from play that they can break and become hazardous.
Make sure a toy isn’t too loud for your child. The noise of some rattles, squeak toys, and musical or electronic toys can be as loud as a car horn—even louder if a child holds it directly to the ears—and can contribute to hearing damage.
If a toy’s not safe, it doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles it has. When shopping for your baby’s playthings, follow the rules below. Once toys are at home, check them frequently for loose or broken parts.
Always follow all manufacturers’ age recommendations. Some toys have small parts that can cause choking, so heed all warnings on a toy’s packaging.
For Five and Under
Toys should be large enough—at least 1¼” (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2¼” (6 centimeters) in length—so that they can’t be swallowed or lodged in the windpipe. A small-parts tester, or choke tube, can determine if a toy is too small. These tubes are designed to be about the same diameter as a child’s windpipe. If an object fits inside the tube, then it’s too small for a young child. If you can’t find one of these products, a toilet paper roll can be used for the same purpose.
Avoid marbles, coins, balls, and games with balls that are 1.75 inches (4.4 centimeters) in diameter or less because they can become lodged in the throat above the windpipe and restrict breathing.
Battery-operated toys should have battery cases that secure with screws so that kids cannot pry them open. Batteries and battery fluid pose serious risks, including choking, internal bleeding, and chemical burns.
When checking a toy for safety, make sure it’s unbreakable and strong enough to withstand chewing. Also, make sure it doesn’t have:
Sharp ends and small parts like eyes,
wheels, or buttons that can be pulled off.
Small ends that can extend into the back of a baby’s mouth.
Strings longer than 7 inches.
Parts that could become pinch points for small fingers.
Most riding toys can be used once a child is able to sit up well while unsupported—but check with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Riding toys like rocking horses and wagons should come with safety harnesses or straps and be stable and secure enough to prevent tipping.
Hand-me-down and homemade toys should be carefully evaluated. They may not have undergone testing for safety. Do not give your infant painted toys made before 1978; they may have paint that contains lead.
Stuffed animals and other toys that are sold or given away at carnivals, fairs, and in vending machines are not required to meet safety standards. Check carnival toys carefully for loose parts and sharp edges before giving them to your infant.
Never give balloons or latex gloves to a child younger than age 8. A child who is blowing up or chewing on a balloon or gloves can choke by inhaling them. Inflated balloons pose a risk because they can pop without warning and be inhaled.
Never give your infant vending machine toys, which often contain small parts.
Keep older kids’ toys out of baby’s reach.
Check toys periodically to ensure that they are maintaining their structural integrity (Look for splinters, loose screws, or sharp, rough, or broken areas, etc.
Check the www.cpsc.gov for the latest information about toy recalls, or call their hotline at (800) 638-CPSC to report a toy you think is unsafe. If you have any doubt about a toy’s safety, err on the side of caution and do not allow your child to play with it.
Internet Toy Purchasers Beware
In a year when about 46% of consumers plan to purchase holiday gifts online, World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (W.A.T.C.H.), urges parents to look discerningly in their virtual ‘shopping carts’ and know what safety traps to avoid:
Limited Product Information Online: Not restricted by bricks and mortar and, in many cases, regulations, consumers buying toys on the Internet are already at a disadvantage as they are unable to touch and physically inspect a toy and its packaging at the time of sale for more obvious hazards. As a result, once the toy is obtained, parents should thoroughly inspect the toy and it’s packaging prior to putting it into the hands of a child. Caregivers should not be lulled into a false sense of security that a toy is safe because of a familiar brand name on a package.
Inconsistent Warnings and Age Recommendations: Some toys available for purchase online may have retailer warnings and age recommendations that are inconsistent with those supplied by manufacturers. In some cases, the warnings may be omitted from the Internet description completely. Such omissions and inconsistencies regarding important safety information can lead to misinformed, and potentially dangerous, consumer purchases.
Recycled Toys—Internet Buyers Beware: As toy themes popular in the 70’s and 80’s are reappearing, such as “Star Wars” and “Jurassic park” inspired figurines, toys manufactured in past decades are in greater demand today. The Internet, an ever-growing frontier of “second-hand” toy buying opportunities, is largely devoid of regulations, safety protocols, and checks and balances. Consumer-to-consumer sales on e-commerce sites such as Craigslist and eBay are often inconsistently monitored, if monitored at all. Parents need to inspect these toy purchases for dangerous hazards and stay away from any toys that may have been recalled, caused injuries, or are defective.
For more information about dangerous toys, visit toysafety.org.
Courtesy of Nemours