Toy safety group cautions against trending toy hazards

By Sarah Readdean
Boston University News Service

What do Tummy Time Prop & Play, My Lil’ Baby Feed & Go Set, and Light-Up Heel Skates all have in common? 

Going by the names, they seem like fun toys to keep kids entertained and maybe even help with their development. In reality, each of these toys, along with seven others, have been deemed as 2021’s “10 Worst Toys” by the Massachusetts-based organization, World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. 

“As a child, when people would give myself and my siblings gifts, we always got sweaters because everyone was afraid to give us toys,” said Joan Siff, president of W.A.T.C.H., and daughter of founder Edward Swartz.

W.A.T.C.H. released its annual 10 Worst Toys list on Nov. 17, cautioning parents to “beware of the danger of purchasing potentially harmful toys.” The list highlights the hazards presented by each toy, states the warnings provided by the manufacturer and offers a “W.A.T.C.H. OUT!” message of caution.

Siff said families of children who have been injured tell her that their lives would look different had they known about a certain hazard.

“They don’t want other families to go through what they went through,” Siff said. “So really, sharing information and awareness, you can save lives.”

The list is a “practical guide” to some, but not all, of the hazards children’s toys can pose, Siff said, adding that many are hidden hazards. Among her concerns are head, face and other impact injuries; choking, ingestion and suffocation.

Children aged 12 and younger were treated for an estimated 144,700 toy-related injuries in 2020, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Between 2018 and 2020, 51 children were reported to have died from toy-related incidents.

Since before government regulations and toy safety conversations were common, there have “definitely been improvements,” Siff said, “but similar hazards reappear year after year.”

“Similar hazards [as] toys that were on the list 10 years ago, 20 years ago, is really infuriating because we’re talking about children’s safety,” Siff said. “Why are those still showing up on shelves?”

W.A.T.C.H. highlighted the recent rise in battery ingestion and wheel-related injuries. Siff attributes the trend to the COVID-19 pandemic because children spent more time at home and doing outdoor activities.

Outdoor and sports toys is the largest category of toy expenditures, with $2.9 billion in sales in 2021 as of August, according to a report by The NPD Group, a market research company.

The product label on “My First Hoverboard,” a wheeled toy on W.A.T.C.H.’s list, cautions that failing to follow instructions “can result in death or serious injury.”

“Warnings and instructions are necessary and important, but this does not mean manufacturers can absolve themselves of responsibility by simply adding a label to a toy,” the W.A.T.C.H. press release states.

Battery-related injuries in children under 15 increased by 93% from an estimated 858 injuries in 2019 to an estimated 1,654 injuries in 2020, according to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report. Siff said again that this is likely due to children spending more time at home where toys and other devices contain batteries.

On the list is “Squeakee Minis Poppy the Bunny,” containing three button cell batteries, which the toy’s warning states “can cause internal chemical burns in as little as two hours and lead to death.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ “Toy Buying Tips for Babies & Young Children” also urges consumers to “avoid toys with button batteries or high-powered magnets.”

“In determining toy safety, the features of the toy should be considered as well as how the toy might be used or abused, and the amount of supervision or help needed for safe play,” the AAP website states.

Siff said parents should remain vigilant when selecting toys, regardless of assumptions that may be made based on the brand name or retailer.

“Understandably, toy shoppers have a false sense of security that if they find a toy on a store shelf or online that it’s going to be safe, because toys are made for fun, toys are made for children,” Siff said.

The organization also warns of the disadvantage of purchasing toys online, where consumers can’t inspect the toy and its packaging to recognize potential hazards that should be avoided.

In the last year, CPSC recalled 14 different toys — more than 10 million units of toys — that could cause injury or death, according to the press release, which states that recalls “are reactive, not proactive.”

Siff added that recalls may not reach everyone who owns the recalled toy, thus leaving some in homes, schools and secondhand shops.

“Even one injury to one child is too many, particularly when the injury is preventable,” W.A.T.C.H. states. “Toys are embellishments of life, not necessities, and there is no excuse for manufacturing, importing, and distributing a toy that can kill a child.”

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