Toys are supposed to be fun and are an important part of any child's development and as Christmas approaches parents will be pressurised into buying many of the latest crazes for their children. But it's sobering to learn that thousands of children are injured by toys every year.
Falls and choking cause most toy-related deaths and injuries in children. Choking alone causes one third of all toy-related deaths - most often from balloons.
Children 4 years old and younger account for almost half of all toy-related injuries and almost all deaths.
Children younger than age 3 are at the greatest risk of choking because they tend to put objects - especially toys - in their mouths.
Riding toys - including bicycles and scooters - cause many injuries in children.
Toy manufacturers do follow certain guidelines and label most new toys for specific age groups but with many of the toy shops and Christmas markets flooded with cheap Asian imports you cannot always be sure that you are getting a properly tested product.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do - beyond reading labels and inspecting toys carefully - is to supervise your child during play.
How toys are tested for safety
Toy companies regularly test toys for safety by consulting with child development experts and by actually testing toys with infants and toddlers who play at lab facilities. Toys may go through more than 100 tests - all designed to recreate the wear and tear on a toy by an active child.
Toy companies also turn to childhood and development experts to decide which toys are appropriate for each age group. For children younger than three, the main concern is that small parts can present a choking hazard. Most of the time, safety - not a child's actual level of intelligence and development - is the reason for the recommended age range that is listed on a toy.
Whenever buying a new toy, always read labels to make sure the toy is appropriate for your child's age. You may think that because your child seems mature for his or her age, he or she can handle a toy that was meant for an older child. However, you're not doing your child a favour by buying a toy for an advanced age group. Remember, the age-appropriate level for a toy is determined by safety factors.
Always look for toys that appear to be well constructed and that clearly include age recommendations on the labels. Toys made of fabric should be labelled as flame-resistant or flame-retardant. Stuffed toys should be washable. All toys should be painted with lead-free paint, and art materials (including crayons) should say non-toxic somewhere on their packaging.
Also, if a new toy is shrink-wrapped, be sure to immediately discard the plastic wrapping after opening the toy for the first time. Small children, especially toddlers, may look at plastic wrap as something new and fun to play with and put it into their mouths and choke. Christmas gift wrapping, ribbons, and bows can be hazards as well.
For infants and toddlers:
Look for toys that are sturdy and well made. Children this age like to pull and twist toys and often try to put them in their mouths. Make sure that eyes, noses, buttons, and other parts that could break off are securely attached. Check toy cars to make sure wheels are on tight.
Avoid buying toys intended for older children that may have small parts and pose a choking hazard. Make sure squeeze toys, rattles, and teethers are large enough - even if squeezed down into a smaller, compressed shape - to avoid becoming lodged in your baby's mouth or throat.
Regularly inspect your child's toys to make sure they are not broken or do not
have broken seams where small removable parts (such as squeakers in squeeze toys) could be exposed.
Avoid toys with cords or long strings. These present a strangulation hazard to very young children, as cords or strings
can get wrapped around the neck. Never hang a toy around a toddler's neck. Also, never hang toys with long strings or ribbons in a playpen where children could get entangled in them.
Don't give your child uninflated or broken balloons. Be sure to deflate and put away all balloons (or dispose of balloon pieces) after a party. Always supervise children while they play with balloons.
Avoid marbles, coins, balls, and games with balls that are 1.75 inches (4.4 centimeters) in diameter or less because they present choking hazards.
Avoid thin plastic toys that might break into small pieces and leave jagged edges that could cut your child.
For older children:
If you buy your child a bicycle, scooter, skateboard, or skates then be sure to purchase a helmet that meets safety standards, look for the ISO mark that confirms European safety standard. Teach your child how to wear equipment properly. Sporting goods stores can help you properly fit your child's bike helmet and other safety gear.
Toy darts or arrows used by children should have soft tips or suction cups at the end. These toys should never have hard points that could cause facial (especially eye) injuries.
If you think you have been sold a toy that does not conform to safety standards then contact your local OMIC (consumer) office and they will take the matter up on your behalf.