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Noyes Health / About Noyes / News / Article

Toy Safety

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The year was 1968 and for Christmas, I received my favorite game, KerPlunk. I loved that game. It and pick-up sticks were my go-to activities. Both time-tested beloved games required skinny, pointed, sharp sticks and the one, small marbles. Not exactly child friendly! I can definitely remember those sharp sticks being used as weapons in our house. My sisters and I would poke (stab) each other and you know how it goes, someone always got hurt (usually me as I was the youngest.) This is nothing new under the sun. My own children, now in their 20s, recently revealed the misuse of toy parts…think Legos becoming missiles aimed at the other sibling. What has changed are the standards for the toy industry. Those standards have changed over the years in response to childhood injuries and deaths due to unsafe toys. Consider that even with improved standards, 188,400 children under the age of 15 years were seen in emergency departments for toy-related injuries in the year 2011; that is 516 children every day. According to Safekids.org, more than a third of those injured were children 5 and under. Choking is a particular risk for kids ages 3 or younger because they tend to put objects in their mouths.

Standards in the last two decades have improved. As of 1995, any toys made in or imported to the United States must comply with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Being aware of the safety standards is important, but perhaps more important is a parent’s judgment and supervision. When choosing a toy, consider the child’s temperament, habits, and behaviors. Consider the child’s age and development and always read the instructions and warning labels to make sure it is right for the little one. In addition, parents or caregivers should supervise play and watch out for unsafe use of the toy or choking hazards. Remember age levels for toys are determined by safety factors not the child’s intelligence or maturity. This means that even if your child is “advanced,” the toy still might not be safe for him or her due to physical size or dexterity. Kidshealth.org offers the following age-specific guidelines for choosing the right toys:

For Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

  • Toys should be large enough — at least 1¼ inches (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2¼ inches (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 a choke tube, 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 a baby or toddler, make sure it's unbreakable and strong enough to withstand chewing. Also, make sure it doesn't have:

    • sharp ends or small parts like eyes, wheels, or buttons that can be pulled loose

    • small ends that can extend into the back of the mouth

    • strings longer than 7 inches (18 centimeters)

    • parts that could become pinch points for small fingers

Toys should be large enough — at least 1¼ inches (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2¼ inches (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 a choke tube, 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 a baby or toddler, make sure it's unbreakable and strong enough to withstand chewing. Also, make sure it doesn't have:

sharp ends or small parts like eyes, wheels, or buttons that can be pulled loose

small ends that can extend into the back of the mouth

strings longer than 7 inches (18 centimeters)

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.

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.

For Grade-Schoolers

  • Bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and inline skates should never be used without helmets that meet current safety standards and other recommended safety gear, like hand, wrist and shin guards. Look for CPSC or Snell certification on the labels.

  • Nets should be well constructed and firmly attached to the rim so that they don't become strangulation hazards.

  • Toy darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups at the end, not hard points.

  • Toy guns should be brightly colored so they cannot be mistaken for real weapons, and kids should be taught to never point darts, arrows, or guns at anyone.

  • BB guns or pellet rifles should not be given to kids under the age of 16.

  • Electric toys should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.

Bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and inline skates should never be used without helmets that meet current safety standards and other recommended safety gear, like hand, wrist and shin guards. Look for CPSC or Snell certification on the labels.

Nets should be well constructed and firmly attached to the rim so that they don't become strangulation hazards.

Toy darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups at the end, not hard points.

Toy guns should be brightly colored so they cannot be mistaken for real weapons, and kids should be taught to never point darts, arrows, or guns at anyone.

BB guns or pellet rifles should not be given to kids under the age of 16.

Electric toys should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.

The following websites offer more in-depth information about toy safety:

Consumer Product Safety Commission – https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/toys/

Kids Health – http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/safe-toys.html

Safe Kids Worldwide – https://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/toy-safety

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.

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