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Playing It Safe: Guarding Against Toy-Related Injuries

A California company recalled two children's books because the plastic binder bolts could separate and, if swallowed, cause a young child to choke.

A California bicycle company recalled thousands of brakes and handlebars that had been installed on mountain bikes because of reports the parts failed, injuring riders.

A Georgia toy importer agreed to pay a $45,000 fine to settle allegations it imported toys that did not meet safety standards. The toys for young children contained small parts that presented choking and aspiration hazards.

These are a just few of the toy-related dangers recently uncovered by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Over the years, CPSC standards have greatly improved toy safety. Today, toy manufacturers must comply with federal toymaking regulations on such things as:

  • small parts that could lodge in the throat
  • sharp points and edges
  • paint and toxic materials.

Toy manufacturers are responsible for assuring their toys meet CPSC regulations; however, the CPSC does not approve specific toys for sale to consumers. When the CPSC identifies dangerous toys, it issues a recall notice to remove them from the marketplace. Manufacturers may also be subject to fines for selling toys that violate CPSC regulations.

The CPSC often learns about dangerous toys from consumers who report injuries or deaths, and by conducting on-site inspections of manufacturers and importers to check for compliance with regulations. But even after a dangerous toy has been recalled by the CPSC, consumers who previously purchased the toy are not individually notified about the recall.

The majority of toys on the market are safe if bought for the appropriate age child and used as intended. However, despite governmental and industry efforts, the next toy you buy at a toy store or a garage sale could pose a danger to your child, as could a toy that is in your child's toy box. Of course, you cannot encase your child in a bubble. But you can and should take every precaution to minimize the risks your infant, small child and even preteen mayencounter.

Put simply, you must learn how to identify dangerous toys and then select toys carefully. In addition to avoiding dangerous toys, it is also important to supervise your child's activities in your own home and outside your home - where your child trades and plays with toys you didn't select. Some general guidelines are described below, along with resources for more detailed information.

Baby Toys

Choking continues to be the cause of the largest number of toy- related deaths, according to the CPSC. An infant's mouth and throat are extremely flexible and can stretch to hold larger shapes than you'd expect. Always make sure an infant's toys are bigger than your child's fist. Keep in mind that to a young child, everything is a toy.

Toy Chests

Children can become trapped in toy chests. Any toy chest should be designed and intended for holding toys. Most new toy chests are. If you are buying one, whether new or used, get the type with a spring- loaded lid support that will keep the lid open in any position and will not require adjustment. Or select one with sliding panels, a lightweight, removable lid, or no lid at all. The chest should have holes or spaces in front, sides or under the lid to provide ventilation.

Toys on Wheels

Bicycles are a major source of childhood injury. Of the 604,000 bicycle-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in 1993, two-thirds involved children.

Any child old enough to pedal a bike or ride with you in a bike child seat needs a helmet. Maryland law now requires anyone younger than 16 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.

Be sure the two-wheelers you buy properly fit your child or they'll find them difficult to control. The CPSC recommends that children younger than 6 ride a bike only under adult supervision. Children younger than 9 lack the skills to avoid dangerous traffic situations and should stay away from streets.

Skateboards and in-line skates can also be hazardous, especially if children don't wear helmets and other protective equipment. Be sure to supply safety equipment with the bike, skateboard or skates and insist they be worn.

Age Grading Toys

Toy manufacturers follow the age-grading guidelines of the CPSC, which consist of four main criteria:

  • The physical ability of a child to handle and play with a toy;
  • The mental ability of the child to understand how to use a toy;
  • The play needs and interests of youngsters at various stages of their development; and
  • The safety aspects of a toy.

When a manufacturer recommends that a toy not be given to a child under a certain age, follow that advice no matter how "advanced" your child may be. The age recommendation on the package of a toy is a minimum one. When a label says a toy is "not recommended for children under 8 years of age," that does not mean that every 8- year-old is mature enough to use it safely.

Guidelines for Choosing Safe Toys

Even the most cautious parent sometimes buys a poorly designed toy or children' s accessory, or selects something inappropriate. Child safety advocates have developed some guidelines for safe toy buying. You can minimize dangers by following these rules:

  • Read the label and follow the manufacturer's agerecommendations.
  • Avoid over-complicated toys. Be certain you - and when necessary, your child - understand the directions or instruction on a toy.
  • Avoid toys with sharp edges, small parts or strings.
  • Check on what material is inside stuffed toys. Beans, chopped walnut shells or little plastic pellets can cause accidents if the toy is torn open and they fall out.
  • Inspect older toys for wear and tear.
  • Every toy isn't for every tot. Teach your older children to keep their toys out of the reach of younger children.

Want to Learn More About Toy Safety?

For a more in-depth explanation of how to choose safe toys, including toll-free phone numbers for many toy manufacturers, order the Consumer Protection Division's free, 6-page brochure "Playing it Safe." To order a single copy, send a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope to: Consumer Protection Division, 200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202. Ask for I'll Buy That! Issue 11 on toy safety.

October 1995

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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