Safe toys

Who will keep our children's toys safe?

At this time last year, news reports that literally millions of toys were being recalled had many parents worried. Unacceptably high levels of lead, scary chemicals and potentially dangerous magnets had been found in children’s toys, including some aimed at babies and toddlers. What quickly became clear was that not just the toy manufacturers, but also public safety organizations had dropped the ball. At the time, compliance with safety standards was largely voluntary, and no one had the legislative muscle to enforce them.

Aside from the recalls, parents wondered, What are they going to do about this?

The US and Canadian governments have begun to answer back. South of the border, where many major toy manufacturers are headquartered, the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 recently became law, giving the existing voluntary standards as much force as US federal law. What’s more, it will reduce the maximum allowed lead content over a three-year period, and also begin to control levels of harmful phthalates found in some plastic toys.

Meanwhile, the Toy Industry Association, a not-for-profit organization of producers and importers of toys sold in North America, has been working with the American National Standards Institute on a Toy Safety Certification Program. Starting in late 2009, we’ll start to see special seals on packaging that indicate a particular toy has met safety standards outlined by the association. A new website will also list toys that have been certified as safe.

Here in Canada, the federal government has initiated a Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan that will make it possible to enforce product recalls and hold importers responsible for the safety of goods they bring into the country. Fines for companies that don’t comply will increase, and there will be more safety information sent out to the public. There’s no word yet on whether a US-style law and certification process is coming.

The new US and Canadian initiatives will help keep toys safer, but parents should always share some of that responsibility. Here’s what you can do at home:

• Choking on small parts is still the biggest safety concern. Pay attention to age recommendations and avoid small parts for children under three.

• Inspect toys regularly and discard any you can’t fix.

• Educate yourself about potential safety hazards. Our Toy Safety Checklist is a good place to start.

• Check the Health Canada website to stay on top of the latest toy recalls (log on to healthycanadians.ca and click on Food & Consumer Product Safety).

FILED UNDER: