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By Jim Adler December 1, 2016

The holiday season and the toys it brings children should be fun, not frightful. Yet more than a quarter of a million toy-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms last year, reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s why December is Safe Toys and Gifts Awareness Month, as declared by non-profit group Prevent Blindness America.

Among toy injuries last year, the CPSC — which oversees toy safety and testing — says 72 percent occurred to children under 15 years old. Also, 44 percent of all toy-related injuries were to the face and head, and a third happened to children younger than age 5.

JAMA Ophthalmology also published a recent study which determined that baseball, basketball and air guns are the most common causes of sports-related eye injuries, causing nearly half.

Tips for Toy Safety

With such alarming statistics in mind, Prevent Blindness offers the following tips for child safety when it comes to toys and gifts:

  • Avoid buying toys that shoot or have parts that fly off.
  • Ensure that a toy is right for a child’s age and ability. Also consider whether other smaller children may be in the home and have access to an older child’s toy.
  • Avoid buying toys with rigid or sharp points, spikes, rods or dangerous edges.
  • Buy toys which can withstand impacts and not break into dangerous shards.
  • Look for “ASTM” printed on a toy or its packaging. That means the toy meets the national safety standards set by standards organization ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials).
  • Don’t give toys with small parts to young children, who tend to put things in their mouths, raising the risk of choking.  If any part of a toy can fit in a toilet paper roll, the toy is not appropriate for a child under age 3.
  • Don’t buy toys with long strings or cords, especially for infants and very young children, since they can become wrapped around a child’s neck.
  • Always dispose of uninflated or broken balloons immediately, since they are a choking hazard to children.
  • Magnets, like those found in magnetic building sets and other toys, can be extremely harmful if swallowed. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect a child may have swallowed a magnet.
  • Use bicycles, scooters, skateboards and inline skates only when wearing protective helmets and hand, wrist and shin guards, as KidsHealth.org advises.
  • Read all warnings and instructions on a toy’s box.
  • Always supervise children and show them how to use toys safely.

The Mayo Clinic also urges consumers to:

  • Keep kids safe from lead injury by being alert to toys which may contain harmful lead or lead paint. Lead is second only to arsenic as a dangerous household toxin.
  • Be wary of toys with tiny “button” batteries, which a toddler could swallow.
  • Don’t give children markers or crayons unless they are labeled “non-toxic.”

Precautions After Gifts Are Opened

Non-profit Child & Family Services also advises adults on these precautions after gifts are opened:

  • Immediately discard plastic wrapping or other toy packaging before such items become dangerous playthings for curious children.
  • Supervise all battery charging, which can pose thermal burn hazards to young children. Heed all battery charger instructions, and be mindful that some chargers lack mechanisms to prevent overcharging.

Product Registration Cards Are Important

Also important are product registration cards which come with toy products. The U.S. Congress requires that such cards be placed with durable infant or toddler products so that consumers can register with the manufacturer and be alerted if any toy recalls are made.

Look for a postage-paid registration card attached to the surface of any infant or toddler product. The registration card will have the model name and number; date of manufacture; and the manufacturer’s name and contact information.

Write your name, address, phone number and e-mail address on the registration card and mail it back to the manufacturer. The manufacturer then will keep your contact information on file so that you can be notified readily of a product defect or other safety information.

History of Dangerous Toys

Dangerous toys have menaced children virtually since the invention of toys. While toys’ risks may be inadvertent and unexpected, that doesn’t change the fact that toys have injured and killed many children for many years.

The consumer group Take Justice Back lists the “10 Most Dangerous Toys of All Time.” These include:

  • The 2007 CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit, whose powder contained 5 percent of harmful asbestos
  • The 2007 Hannah Montana Pop Star Card Game, which had dangerous levels of lead
  • The 1990 Cabbage Patch Kids Snacktime Doll, whose mechanical jaws could chew on kids’ fingers
  • Lawn darts, which have killed at least three children.

While such toys have been recalled, some potentially dangerous gifts remain widely available, including:

  • Drones of any size
  • Hoverboards
  • Combustible Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones
  • BB guns, which led to the infamous line “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” in the 1983 film A Christmas Story

Jim Adler & Associates believes strongly in children’s product safety and urges everyone to be alert to dangers in toys so we can make this a safe and happy holiday season.

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