Safety first when buying toys

Consumer Reports News: December 10, 2012 11:53 AM

It's such fun to watch your child rip open a holiday present and find just what he was hoping for. But as a savvy consumer, you should know that toys are frequent hazards. In 2011, the most recent year for which the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has statistics, an estimated 262,300 toy-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments and there were 13 deaths related to toys.

This past November, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar announced at Port Elizabeth, N.J. that more than 2 million units of dangerous or violative toys and children's products were seized in 2012 and were prevented from reaching the hands of children.

Safe toys are a serious matter, but choosing safer toys isn't hard. The shopping tips below can help avoid injury. Whether you have youngsters, little-kid visitors, or even pets, use the guidelines below and share them this holiday season and all year long.

Avoid magnets and toys that have them. Small magnets can be accidentally swallowed by children and they can do tremendous harm in the body. The CPSC recommends keeping toys with magnets away from children younger than six. After there were an estimated 1,700 ingestions of magnets from magnet sets between 2009 and 2011, the CPSC in September proposed rules that would ban their sale. Consumers Reports believes that these super-strong magnet products should be prohibited from being sold. At a minimum, the CPSC recommends keeping high powered magnets away from children younger than 14.

Avoid marbles, small balls, and small pieces. If something fits through a toilet-paper tube it's a choking hazard and a small child should not have access to it. Marbles and small balls are especially difficult to remove from the throat once lodged there. (Uninflated balloons or balloon pieces are also a common choking hazard.)

Follow age recommendations, and your judgment. Age recommendations may not be a guarantee, but are a good start when choosing toys. One game we purchased when our daughter was 3 was good for "3 and up" but had several dozen small pieces, so we waited at least 6 months before we let her play with it. Use your judgment, and always err on the side of caution. See the CPSC's "Which toy for which child" guides for children birth to age 5 and ages 6 to 12 for more details.

Does that thing look safe? Some toys look like trouble--and sometimes they are. One cringe-worthy example is the case from 2010 of some ride-on toys that caused injuries to kids who fell against an "ignition key" on the bar running from the handlebars to the seat. To keep dangerous toys out of your home, think about your child's abilities and developmental level, and what could potentially go wrong with a toy you're considering buying.

Buy new, not used. The latest toy safety standards are not a guarantee of safety, but are more stringent than ones from the past.

Clean up packaging immediately. Plastic wrapping and other toy packaging can present suffocation and choking hazards. Carefully clean up everything before you lose yourselves in holiday morning playtime.

Keep younger siblings in mind when buying for older ones. Keep your older child's toys out of reach of a younger child until your baby or toddler isn't around (like at naptime), then account for and put away all pieces when he wakes up. Or avoid buying toys with tiny parts altogether until your little one is older.

See more of our Toys buying advice, plus playroom safety tips, here.

Artemis DiBenedetto


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