Most parents and grandparents enjoy buying toys for children. However, some toys can be more hazardous than fun. Caution should be taken when buying toys or receiving toys for your child from friends and relatives. A toy that is a lot of fun for a five year-old can become very dangerous in the hands of a one year-old.
A major danger to infants and small children when they are playing with toys is choking. Small toys or parts of toys can break off and end up in a child’s mouth, creating a choking hazard. When purchased, toys should have an age recommendation on the packaging, though you should never assume this to be 100% accurate for all children. In Canada there is a report produced by the Canadian Toy Testing Council that is published every year in the fall. The Toy Report is a useful volume that covers toys for children aged newborn to ten years old. It is available at large magazine stands and you should be able to find a copy of it at the library.
1. General Tips for Toy Safety
- Before you buy the toy, or accept it as a gift, remember to check it for potential dangers. Toys should be washable, have smooth edges, have no removable pins or buttons, and have no springs to catch fingers, toes or hair.
- Inspect your child’s toys regularly for wear and damage.
- Do not try to "challenge" your child with toys that are designed for older children. Toys can be dangerous if not age-appropriate. Think about whether a younger child in the house may have access to the toy. Older children can be taught to keep their toys where younger siblings cannot reach them.
- Supervise your child’s play. Young children, especially, have not yet learned how to play well together and can easily hurt each other.
- Show your children how to use the toys properly. Teach them to watch for danger in toys and to let you know if something is broken or hazardous. Teach your child that some toys can be unsafe.
- Watch for broken or cracked rattles. Many rattles contain beads which can be easily swallowed or aspirated (inhaled) into a lung.
- Use the toy gauge, available from Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada, to check that you baby’s toys are large enough that they will not cause choking. (See Chapter Three, Choking, Suffocation, Strangulation and Drowning for additional information about choking and strangulation dangers with toys.)
- Make sure your infant cannot reach the mobile in the playpen or crib. By four to five months your child will grab hold of anything in reach. Once he can roll over and push himself up, it is time to remove mobiles. Mobiles pose a strangulation hazard if the child can reach them and pull them down.
- When a baby can stand, remove all toys from the crib that could entangle clothing and cause strangulation.
One toy I came across was a stuffed dog with a hard plastic nose. The nose was attached to the dog by a sharp serrated piece of metal which was easily pulled out.
- Avoid toys with buttons or removable eyes and noses that may pose a choking hazard.
- Remove ribbons from stuffed animals. A baby may pull a ribbon off and put it into his mouth and choke on it.
- Balloons are not toys! Keep children from sucking or chewing on inflated or uninflated balloons. Keep uninflated balloons away from children. Get rid of broken balloons at once; make sure you have all the pieces of a broken balloon. Adults should inflate balloons for children rather than allowing the child to do it.
- Foam toys can be dangerous if pieces are torn and the foam is put into little mouths. Be especially vigilant with stuffed toys; they can develop tears or ripped seams which will expose the stuffing.
- Caution is needed with second-hand toys; they may not meet safety standards. For instance, old toys could be painted with lead-based paint, which would be a hazard. (See Chapter Four, Poisoning.)
- Keep batteries away from children. Small button-type batteries that are found in some toys, calculators, and watches have been swallowed or choked on by children.
- Toys that shoot, especially those using darts or arrows, should never be pointed at another child, adult, or pet. Many injuries have been caused by these toys. Children should be discouraged from playing with them.
- Teach children to put toys away after use. Toy boxes without a lid or ones that have sliding doors or panels are the safest. If your toy box does have a lid, make sure that it has holes in two or more adjacent sides to prevent suffocation of a child who may become trapped inside.
- Toys left on the floor or stairs are a danger to children and adults alike (See Chapter Two, Falls).
2. Tricycles and Other Toddler Riding Toys
Once a child has mastered a tricycle or a riding toy, they are very mobile, they can move very rapidly, and injuries can happen very quickly. Riding toys are fun; make them safe fun.
- A helmet reduces the chance of a head injury. Remember that helmet must be worn when using all riding toys.
- Stability is important. The wheels of tricycles and riding toys should be spaced wide enough apart to keep the toy stable.
- Extreme caution is needed when driving in or out of the driveway. Many children have been killed when someone has driven over them. Remember, children are small and hard to see when you are in the driver’s seat! Walk around the vehicle before you get into your motor vehicle, and then proceed with caution.
- Do not allow the child on a riding toy anywhere close to the stairs.
- Many fatalities have resulted when a child on a riding toy has rolled into the street. Keep children on riding toys off sloping driveways and off the street.
- Many riding toys are very low to the ground and very difficult to see. A flag on a tall flexible pole attached to the riding toy might make it a little bit more visible.
3. Hand-crafted Toys and Gifts
Hand-crafted toys and gifts are fun to receive, but they must also be safe. Because of their uniqueness and because they are usually made by local craftspersons, they are not covered in the Canadian Toy Testing Council’s report. As a parent, you must rely on the sensibilities and knowledge of the toy maker, and your own awareness of what makes a safe toy. Manufacturers and vendors of hand-crafted toys are responsible for ensuring that these items are safe and meet the requirements of the Hazardous Products Act.
The Hazardous Products Act and Regulations are intended to reduce hidden dangers to consumers. Of special concern are mechanical hazards which could result in poisoning or injury if materials are ingested or in contact with skin; and flammability hazards associated with the materials used to make the toy or gift. Whether you are a craftsperson making one special item for a child in your family, or are producing toys and gifts for the marketplace, make them safe.
When you are purchasing, or when you are designing and crafting toys, keep these points in mind:
- Toys intended for use by children under three years of age should not contain separable parts or small pieces which could pose a choking hazard. Buttons, ornamentation, or other small pieces must be securely attached.
- Stuffing material must be non-toxic, clean, and free of hard or foreign matter. Beans or plant seeds are not permitted. Manufacturers or importers of upholstered or stuffed articles should check with the provincial Consumer Affairs office for more information on the Upholstered and Stuffed Articles Act.
- Wooden toys must have a smooth finish to prevent slivers.
- Toys should not have sharp edges or sharp metal points which could harm children.
- All screws, nails, staples, and other fasteners must be properly secured and countersunk or covered if necessary.
- Toy boxes with lids, a common craft item, should have holes in two or more adjacent sides to prevent the suffocation of any child who may become trapped inside.
- Play furniture should be firm and level.
- Push and pull toys with a shaft-like handle that is 3/8 inches (.95 cm) in diameter or less should have a protective tip on the handle to prevent a puncture wound.
- Rattles should have all ends or protrusions large enough so that they will not easily fit into a child’s throat. They should not contain plant seeds as a noisemaker.
- Coatings such as paint or varnish must not contain lead, barium, or other toxic elements.
- Toys sold in plastic bags that are 14 inches (35.6 cm) or larger in circumference, require a warning to alert parents to the suffocation dangers associated with plastic bags. Remember, plastic bags are not toys and should never be given as a play thing to a child.
Copyright 1995 Safety Health Publishing Inc.
Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter / paramedic and best selling author of the book "Kids for Keeps: Preventing Injuries to Children". Martin speaks across North America on the topic of injury prevention. His talks are humorous, but still have a strong underlying safety message. For more information, call him at (403) 225 – 2011 or visit his website at www.safete.com.