Charles A. Smith
Cooperative Extension Service
Kansas State University, Manhattan
Skates, tricycles, toy trucks and cars, wagons and balls are among children's favorite playthings. But in one year, according to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates, there were 150,000 toy-related injuries serious enough to require hospital emergency room treatment.
Falls are the most frequent kind of accident, but many serious injuries result from children swallowing small parts or placing tiny toys in noses or ears, from exploding gas-powered toys, from flammable products, and from sharp edges.
Each year, some 5,000 new toys enter the market-place. The holiday season finds over 150,000 different kinds of toys for sale in approximately one million stores. Despite the efforts of manufacturers, retailers, safety inspectors, and others, it is impossible to examine every toy. But it is possible for parents and other relatives to check every new toy they buy and every old toy around the house for possible hazards.
The following suggestions can help you keep playtime a safe, fun time.
SELECT TOYS WITH CARE
- Choose carefully. Look for good design and quality construction in the toys you buy.
- Watch out for toys that have sharp edges, small parts, or sharp points. Avoid toys that produce extremely loud noises that can damage hearing and propelled objects that can injure eyes.
- Buy toys that suit the child's age, interest, and abilities. Avoid toys that are too complex for young children. Many toys have a suggested age range to help you choose toys that are appealing as well as safe.
- Be a label reader. Look for safety information such as “Not recommended for children under 3 years of age,” or “non-toxic” on toys likely to end up in little mouths, or “washable/hygenic materials” on stuffed toys and dolls.
- Check with parents before you buy a child a toy that requires close supervision – electrically operated toys, shooting toys and games, chemistry sets, and the like. Remember, too, that younger children may have access to toys intended for older children once the toy has been brought into the home.
- Look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) seal on electrical toys. It indicates the electrical parts have been tested for safety.
TEACH PROPER USE OF TOYS
- Check the instructions and explain to the child how to use the toy.
- Always try to supervise children while they play. Learn to spot “an accident about to happen.”
- Check toys periodically for broken parts and potential hazards. A dangerous toy should be repaired immediately or thrown away. Sharp or splintered edges on wooden toys should be sanded smooth. Use only non-toxic paint on toys or toy boxes. Check outdoor toys for rust and weak or sharp parts that could become hazardous.
- Teach children to put their toys away so the toys do not get broken and so that no one trips and falls on them.
- Toy boxes, too, should be checked for safety. A toy chest should have a lightweight lid that can be opened easily from within. For extra safety, be sure there are ventilation holes. Watch for sharp edges that could cut and hinges that could pinch. Attach rubber bumpers to the front corners of a toy chest so little fingers won't be caught by a slammed lid.
- Toy shelves are another storage possibility. Open shelves allow the child to see favorite toys and return them to the shelf after play. Be sure the shelf is sturdy and won't tip over if the child climbs on it.
SEVEN TOY DANGERS
- 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.
- Small parts: Tiny toys and toys with small, removable parts can be swallowed or become lodged in a child's windpipe, ears, or nose. The squeakers in some squeeze toys can be removed and possibly swallowed. The seams of poorly constructed stuffed dolls or animals can break open and release small pellets that also can be swallowed or inhaled.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wrong toy for the wrong age: Toys that may be safe for older children can be extremely dangerous in the hands of little ones.
EXTRA CARE FOR TODDLERS' TOYS
Choose toys for very young children with extra care. Playthings that are safe for older children can be hazardous to little ones. Keep in mind that toddlers trip and fall easily, and that, with infants, “everything goes into the mouth.”
When choosing a toy for a toddler or infant, make sure it:
- Is too large to be swallowed.
- 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.
TOY SAFETY LAWS
Although any toy can be dangerous if misused, some toys that enter the marketplace are either unsuitable for children, or designed or constructed in a way that poses hazards to a child. Toys and other products intended for use by children that present electrical, mechanical, or heat hazards can be banned from sale. Since 1970, more than 1,500 hazardous toys and other items have been removed from sale, including:
- toy rattles containing rigid wires, sharp points, or small, loose objects that could become exposed and cause cuts or other injuries.
- any toy with noisemaking parts that could be removed by a child and swallowed or inhaled.
- any doll, stuffed animal, or similar toy having parts that could become exposed and cause cuts.
- lawn darts and other sharp, pointed items intended for outdoor use that could cause puncture wounds, unless they have included appropriate cautions, adequate directions, and warnings for safe use and are not sold by toy stores or stores dealing primarily in toys and other children's articles.
- toy guns or caps that cause noise above a certain level.
- “baby bouncers” and similar articles that support very young children while sitting, walking, or bouncing, which could cause injury to the child such as pinching, cutting, or bruising.
- toys known as “cracker balls” that could break off and cause injury.
A 1973 regulation specifies maximum temperatures and requires reliable electrical construction for electrically operated toys. Electrical toys must have warning labels indicating they are not recommended for children under a certain age. In the case of toys that contain a heating element, the toy may not be recommended for children under age 8.
Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers have legal responsibility for making sure they do not sell dangerous toys. Safety inspectors check factories, warehouses, and retail stores to insure compliance with the law. Imported toys, too, are checked for safety hazards.
However, safety standards and regulations cannot cover every situation, and among the thousands of toys entering the marketplace each year, some unsafe toys are likely to reach the consumer. Careful toy selection and proper supervision of children is still – and always will be – the best way to protect children from toy-related injuries.
GUIDE TO SELECTING AGE APPROPRIATE TOYS
O – 18 Months
pounding and stacking toys
floating tub toys
strings of big beads
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
blocks of different sizes and shapes
wading pool and sandbox
child-size play furniture
play appliances, utensils
simple dress-up clothes
take-apart toys with large parts
clay and modeling dough
blackboard and chalk
simple musical instruments
3 – 6 years
additional dress-up outfits
bathing and feeding dolls
puppets and theaters
toy phone and toy clock
farm, village, and other play sets
small trucks, cars, planes, boats
simple construction sets
other wheeled toys
backyard gymsets, jungle gyms
Learners will be able to:
- Identify and give examples of seven toy dangers;
- Identify at least five toys banned under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act;
- Identify at least five suggestions for toy safety.
1. When you first pick up a toy, what should you look for to ensure that the toy is safe? What would you look for in a bicycle, stuffed animal, dolls, squeeze toys, metal truck, or electric train?
2. Give an example of an unsafe toy. What makes this item hazardous for a child?
3. Why are there so many toy-related injuries during childhood? Who is responsible for the problem – manufacturers, parents, or children?
4. What kind of educational program is needed to help parents and children learn more about toy safety? What kinds of suggestions would you offer to parents to protect their children?
CHECKLIST FOR EVALUATING TOYS
Does the toy have sharp, cutting edges?
Is the toy constructed so small parts could be removed and swallowed?
Will it make loud noises that can damage hearing?
Does the toy have hidden sharp points or prongs that might be exposed?
Is it a throwing toy with a sharp point?
Is it an improperly constructed electric toy?
Is it inappropriate for the child's age?
Information on toy safety was adapted from material provided by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Listing of recommended toys was adapted from “The World of Children's Play and Toys,” C-600.