Every year in November, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) comes out with their Dangerous Toys of the Year Awards. Each year, they name the top 10 toys that caused the most injuries or posted the biggest risk of causing injury in the months leading up to it. And each year, our children are at bigger and bigger risk for injury.
What is the Consumer Product Safety Commission? It’s a watchdog agency overseeing all consumer products, everything from children’s toys and games to house paint, charcoal grills, ATVs and cotton candy machines. One year, their recall website even listed a wooden organ bench made by Allen Organ Company due to a risk of collapsing because not enough glue was used in manufacture.
Toys are reviewed carefully, both by most national, reputable companies and by the CPSC. One of the responsibilities of the toy manufacturers, and specifically, their legal departments, is to do a final check on their toys, especially infant and toddler toy lines, to make sure they didn’t break into small parts. Most even carry around what’s called a “truncated right cylinder,” a pocket-sized tall cylinder with a tilted shelf inside. If a toy breaks into components smaller than the bottom of that cylinder, it can be swallowed by a child younger than 3. That’s how age ratings are determined – it has nothing to do with how smart your child is; it has everything to do with whether it’s a danger to your child if it breaks or comes apart.
The toy companies are also responsible for testing the safety of any products they bring in from overseas manufacturers; reputable toy companies take that testing very seriously. To meet CPSC standards, companies are required to test random samples of all products they sell, whether they’re manufactured in the US or not. They need to test for safety of the overall product, component parts, paints, stuffing and the like.
We spoke with one lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, who worked with Coleco back in the days of the Cabbage Patch Kids(R) doll craze. She related an experience that showed the seriousness of these inspections, especially for items manufactured overseas. Coleco, which is now part of Hasbro Toys, was investigated by the CPSC over potentially flammable dolls. The CPSC took dolls sold in stores as well as dolls sold at flea markets and in newspaper ads and tested them for flammability. The genuine Coleco dolls were within CPSC limits for flammability. The dolls purchased from flea markets and elsewhere caught fire rapidly. On further investigation, the CPSC found those dolls were stuffed with rags used to clean up machines in the factory and were soaked in cleaner made from petroleum.
Most plastic toys are made of injection molded plastic. Plastic pellets are loaded into large machines and heated until they melt. The plastic then passes into toy molds, where they are allowed to set and cure. The parts are then passed to the cooler. Once at the appropriate temperature, they’re either fitted to other parts of a larger toy or packaged as individual parts themselves, such as game pieces.
How do you know if the toy you choose is safe? Here are some tips:
- Buy only age-appropriate toys. Again – toy ages have nothing to do with how smart the child is. They are rated for a certain age because they may break into small parts that pose a choking danger to children younger than three.
- Look at the manufacturer. It really does pay to buy from a national toy company with control over its offshore manufacturing plants. China has been notorious for not allowing US-based companies to have inspectors on-site in their plants, so stay away from toys manufactured in China.
- You do get what you pay for. Less expensive plastic toys tend to be made with less plastic, posing a greater risk of breaking and becoming small parts. Most of those cheaper toys are made by no-name companies working just under the CPSC radar.
- Do your research. Look carefully at the CPSC’s annual Dangerous Toys list before buying new toys and older lists when buying used. Toys recalled in previous years may turn up in used stores and online without any notice about their being recalled.
- Use common sense. The saying today is that common sense is not so common any more. If you don’t like the look of a toy, don’t put a child’s health and safety at risk.
It’s easy to shop for toys, but it’s not so easy to buy safely. Check with the CPSC, use common sense and have a safe gift-giving season.