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Consumer Toy Safety

Thursday, 3 December 2009

According to the annual Deloitte consumer survey of Christmas spending:

Books (52%), clothes (49%) and gift vouchers (46%) are the most favoured presents adults in Ireland would like to receive this year - and somewhat reflects the presents they prefer to buy (books 55%, gift vouchers 55%).

The average spend per household in Ireland this festive season will be €1,110.

Of this, €660 will be spent on gifts, €265 will be spent on food, and €185 spent on socialising.

This year, Irish consumers advised that they would spend nearly 30% less on gifts, 6% less on food and nearly 22% less on socialising.

61% of Irish people will prepare a budget for their Christmas shopping this year.

Of this 61% grouping 36% will be first time budgeters this Christmas

Some 42% of adults would like to receive cash as a present this year, but only 19% of people will actually give it.

With regards to buying gifts for teenagers, most people will give music gifts (31%) and gift vouchers (29%), followed closely by books (28%).

Some 35% of people will specifically buy gifts on the internet this year. The main reasons cited for doing so include more product choice (72%), the ease of home delivery (67%) and to avoid crowded stores (63%).

Tina Leonard, our consumer expert
This time two years ago we were coming to the end of 4 months of product recalls from Mattel/Fisher-Price where millions of Dora, Polly Pocket, Barbie and Diego toys and accessories were recalled worldwide, due in some instances to scares relating to levels of lead in the paint and in others due to detachable magnets that could be swallowed by children.

Of all product recalls, toys form the number one category and because of this, market surveillance authorities have made this issue a priority. As over half of all recalls relate to products made in China, the EU's rapid alert system for products has been extended to China and last year the EU hosted a product safety summit involving China and the US following the Mattel/Fisher Price recalls.

Last December an EU voluntary code of safety checks was signed with retailers, and brand new stricter legislation, the Toy Directive, was signed by the European Parliament in the summer and will come into force in 2011. Due to the problems with magnets, new legislation is in place requiring all toys with magnets to carry a warning.

As for Mattel/Fisher-Price, last year they installed new certification processes and spot checks in their factories and in those of their suppliers.

RAPEX

The EU has a rapid alert system in place Europe wide and internationally, called RAPEX, so that all Member States can take action when they see a problem product or toy heading for distribution in their Member State.

Whenever a Member State enforcement agency comes across any dangerous product or one that requires a recall, this information goes onto the system for all countries to access and take a decision.

Last year there were 1,872 products in the RAPEX system (1,600 in 2007) and this year looks to have a similar number. Only a percentage of these will affect Irish consumers.

When the National Consumer Agency sees an entry which includes Ireland as a distribution destination, they will contact all product / toy retailers and distributors who stock the product. There may be a public warning / recall notice issued if many have already been sold so that consumers can get information on how to give the toys back.

Other times, the toys may still be in transit to Ireland or few have been sold and so the customers who bought them can be contacted individually.

Toy recalls or safety warnings may also come from investigating consumers' complaints or from the manufacturer / seller themselves in Ireland.

Recent problems
. In late October French customs officers in Le Harve seized 15,759 toys, worth €135,599 that were on their way to Dublin.

. These were action figures, play sets and masks that came from China and were bound for an Irish company who planned to sell them to street traders and markets in the run up to Christmas.

. French customs said the toys contained a "dangerous" level of phthalates, a chemical used in plastics to increase their flexibility. The level of phthalates detected in the masks was apparently 300 times above what is considered safe. The use of phthalates has been banned in the EU since 2005.

. Furthermore the toys had a logo resembling that of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) but instead read "World Wrestling Stimulate Tournament" and so the French authorities consider them as counterfeit.

The CE mark
Toys are defined in law as a product or material designed or intended for use in play by children of aged 14 and under. Under EU product safety law all toys must carry the CE mark. This mark should be on or attached to the product itself or on the packaging. It has to be visible and easily readable and can't be rubbed off. The CE mark means that the toy complies with the safety standards.

Note: All products / toys are assessed by the manufacturer / EU importer / distributer so this is self-assessed, although spot checks by enforcers can take place.

Other info that has to be on toys

. The name and address or trademark of the manufacturer or importer to the EU.
. Instruction for use (if required)
. Advice on the safe use of the toy
. If the product has detachable parts it should be marked "unsuitable for children under 36 months". (SS Under 36 months Symbol)
. Any particular hazard that exists should be listed on the packaging.
. A warning sign if there is a magnet in the toy.

Other things for you to check

. Make sure the product is strong and resilient and won't break easy.
. Make sure the product is made of materials that don't burn easily.
. Buy the product from a reputable seller and take extra care if buying at a street market or car boot sale.
. Make sure the toy is suitable for your child's age and pay attention to the 'minimum age' warnings.
. Be particularly careful when buying an electrical toy. Electrical toys with more then 24 volts cannot be sold in Ireland. Make sure the safety instructions are clear and precise.
. If buying a bicycle or go-kart there should be adequate breaks and guards for chains. Make sure there is adequate lighting if being used on public roads.

Use your common sense

. Be alert for sharp edges and detachable parts
. Check wooden toys for nails and screws that stick out.
. Consider safety implications if there is a younger child in the house who may be at risk from the toy.
. Are fold-away toys likely to trap children's little fingers?
. Does the toy smell strange? If it does it could mean that too many chemicals were used when it was made.

Any additional information

Some recent toy recalls

. 12 Nov: Dunnes Stores recalled the witched hat as a precautionary measure due to a possibility of the wire in the brim protruding.
. 21 Sept: Miniamo Children's Melamine Cutlery Sets was recalled as small parts could break off and cause a choking hazard. 350 sets were on the Irish market.
. 4 Sept: Smiley Knitted Bunny was recalled as the eyes could detach causing a potential choking hazard. A very limited number were on the Irish market.
. 6 Aug: Kawasaki / Rockway Bicycles were recalled as a percentage of these could be defective. The problem was with the chain wheel causing the chain to slip when riding.

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