< Dec. 02, 2009 > -- During this season of joy and wonder, it is hard to think that a toy - an object meant to inspire whimsy and fun - might instead cause injury and death. But it happens.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) counted 18 toy-related deaths and another 232,900 injuries among children younger than 15 in 2007, the most recent year they have tallied.
But hope is growing among toy safety advocates that help is on the way.
The recall of 45 million toys and other children's products in 2007 because of toxic levels of lead has prompted regulators and businesses to redouble efforts to protect children from unsafe toys, says Liz Hitchcock, public health advocate for US PIRG, the national federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.
A new law passed in the wake of the lead recalls gave the safety commission increased regulatory powers, backed up by funding increases for the agency.
"We have seen very positive signs from the CPSC that they are developing the regulations and are hiring the staff to enable them to keep unsafe toys off the shelves," Hitchcock says. "The agency now has the tools it needs and the will to be a greater protector to consumers."
Toy sellers also appear to be placing a greater emphasis on safety.
"We have seen some very hopeful signs from retailers who don't want to get stuck having to participate in a recall of a product," Hitchcock says, noting that she has heard good things about tougher policies on manufacturers that have been implemented by Target, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us. "Retailers don't want to sell a product that's going to hurt a kid."
All of this is good news, but it does not change the fact that parents still need to be vigilant about the toys their kids play with.
That includes using the age label on toy packaging when deciding whether a toy is appropriate for their children.
Many people misread the label's intent, assuming that it is meant as an assessment of what ages will best enjoy a toy, says Sarah Hecker, a spokeswoman for Prevent Blindness America, which sponsors December as Safe Toys and Gifts Month.
The label is actually a warning about the appropriateness of a toy for safety reasons. Each toy has been assessed to determine if it poses a choking hazard or some other potential danger to younger children.
Other toy hazards to be aware of include:
- Children younger than 3, in particular, should not be given toys with small parts that can break or fall off.
- Parents of more than one child also should be aware that the toys they buy for their older child could fall into the hands of the younger child.
- The packaging that toys come in can also present a choking hazard from all kinds of screws, ties, and plastic bits and pieces.
- Small balls and balloons pose choking hazards as well and should not be given to young children.
- Worries about toxin levels in toys have not been erased. Parents should continue to be concerned about the levels of lead and other chemicals in toys.
- Any sort of wheeled toy, be it a bike or a scooter or rollerblades, needs to have a helmet and other safety equipment to go along with it.
People who do not have children of their own or who have children of relatives and friends to buy gifts for also should be aware of toy hazards. If you are buying a gift for the child of a friend or relative, a gift certificate or cash might be a better option.
"It's OK to give gift certificates, especially for older kids," Hecker says. "That way, they and their parents can choose a gift that's appropriate to them."
Always consult your child's physician for more information.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.
Billions of toys to amuse children of all ages are sold each year in the US. Unfortunately, toys also are associated with thousands of injuries each year, some of which result in death.
Children under age 3 are especially at risk for injury from toys. Injuries can range from falling, choking, strangulation, burning, drowning, and even poisoning. However, the leading cause of toy-related death is choking, usually on latex balloons.
Injury often results when a toy is misused or used by children who are too young for that particular toy. An example is a toy with small parts, designed for older children, which can cause choking when those small parts are ingested by a curious toddler.
Knowing what dangers are associated with certain toys and age groups can help you better protect your child from toy injuries. When selecting toys for your child, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has the following recommendations:
- Under age 3: Kids this age tend to put everything in their mouths, so their toys should not have small parts that pose a choking danger. No marbles or balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter and no uninflated balloons.
- Ages 3 through 5: Avoid toys made of thin, brittle plastic that might break into small pieces or leave jagged edges. Carefully read packaging labels on art materials, including crayons and paint sets, for any safety precautions that should be taken.
- Ages 6 through 12: Bicycles are popular among kids this age. But buy a helmet along with the bike. Then, of course, make sure the helmet is on the child's head whenever the child is on the bike. Also, teach older kids to keep their toys - which are more apt to have small parts, sharp edges and the like - away from any younger children in the household. And getting them to put toys away when not in use will go a long way toward preventing accidents from kids (or adults) tripping over or falling on them.
A final suggestions: Supervising your child's play, in addition to following the recommendations made by toy manufacturers could save lives.
Always consult your physician for more information.