Santa and those nimble little elves can be seen just about everywhere these days. And with the frequent appearances of St. Nick and endless store advertisements, our children and grandchildren are reciting mile-long Christmas wish lists. But even with lists, choosing presents that are both fun and safe can be confusing for the average shopper.
When selecting toys and games, do you automatically trust manufactures to make sure their products are completely safe? Or do you check out the design and construction of all toys to make sure they really aren’t hazardous?
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are approximately 150,000 toy-related injuries serious enough to require emergency-room treatment each year. The commission is responsible for monitoring the safety of children’s products. While government oversight of such products has reduced the number of child injuries and deaths, tragic events continue to occur. Dangerous children’s products remain on the market and they don’t all have “made in China” stamped on them. For instance, in one year alone, the commission recalled or investigated nearly 100 dangerous products.
Each year, some 5,000 new toys enter the market. Despite the efforts of manufacturers, retailers, safety inspectors and others, it is impossible to examine every toy. But it is possible for parents and relatives to check every new toy they buy and examine old toys around the house for possible hazards.
Buyers should take the time to read labels. Look for and heed age recommendations, such as “not recommended for children under 3.” Look for other safety labels including: “flame retardant or flame resistant” on fabric products and “washable/hygienic materials” on stuffed toys and dolls.
Children are curious, inventive and can be very unpredictable. This can lead to trouble when they use toys in ways other than they were intended. When buying toys, it is important to do so with care. Keep in mind the child’s age, interests and skill level. If the first thing the child always does is take everything apart, make sure the parts can’t be swallowed, inserted into ears or noses or used to injure others. Consider large “construction” or build-it toys, such as blocks, that create other toys and come apart easily.
Be sure that all directions and instructions are clear. Immediately get rid of plastic bags, wires and protective wrappings on toys before they become deadly playthings. New toys intended for children younger than 8 years of age should, by regulation, be free of sharp glass and metal edges. Older toys, however, can break to reveal parts small enough to be swallowed or to become lodged in a windpipe. The law bans small parts in new toys intended for children younger than 3. This includes removable small eyes and noses on stuffed toys and dolls, and small, removable squeakers on squeeze toys.
Think big when choosing toys. All toy parts should be larger than a small child’s mouth to prevent injuries, including choking.
Some noisemaking guns, toy caps and other toys can produce sounds at noise levels that can damage hearing. The law requires the following label on boxes of caps that produce noise above a certain level: “Warning: Do not fire closer than one foot to the ear. Do not use indoors.”
Caps that produce noise that can injure a child’s hearing are banned. It might be wise to give serious thought to buying toys that represent weapons.
Beware of toys with long cords or strings — they may be dangerous for infants and very young children as the cords can become wrapped around an infant’s neck, causing strangulation. Never hang toys with long strings, cords, loops or ribbons in cribs or playpens where children can become entangled. Remove crib gyms from the crib when the child is old enough to pull up on their hands and knees.
Guided missiles, projectiles and other flying toys can be turned into weapons and these can be dangerous to the eyes. Each year, toys and home playground equipment cause more than 11,000 injuries to young eyes. Children should never be permitted to play with adult lawn darts or other sporting equipment that has sharp points. Arrows or darts used by children should have soft cork tips, rubber suction cups or other protective tips intended to prevent injury. Check to be sure the tips are secure. Avoid dart guns or other toys that might be capable of firing articles not intended for use in the toy, such as pencils or nails.
Good luck on your shopping trips to find safe toys for your loved ones. Have a safe and healthy holiday season.
Ratcliffe is a consultant with the Georgia Coastal Public Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.