A Cabbage Patch doll, a Nerf blaster and a Marvel Black Panther slash law are on the naughty list of toys this holiday season.
The annual list of the holiday’s worst toys include playthings that have the potential to harm children, according to World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.). The consumer advocacy group said the 10 toys on its 2018 list can cause injuries such as choking, strangulation, blunt force trauma or eye damage.
At this year’s press conference at Franciscan Children’s in Boston, Consumer Advocates Joan Siff, President of W.A.T.C.H., and James Swartz, Director of W.A.T.C.H. and a nationally known trial attorney, illustrated some of the classic safety hazards that continue to re-appear year after year. These traps include poorly designed toys and inconsistent and inadequate warnings, cautions and age recommendations. Swartz and Siff also provided up-to-date information about toy recalls and stressed the necessity for more stringent oversight of the toy industry.
For over four decades, W.A.T.C.H. has tackled the issue of dangerous toys in the hope of bringing about change and reducing injuries to children. Nonetheless, dangerous toys remain on store shelves, in catalogues, and on e-retailers’ websites. Shockingly, classic toy dangers, such as small parts, strings, projectiles, toxic substances, rigid materials, and inaccurate warnings and labels, continue to be manufactured by the toy industry in newly designed packaging.
Injuries & Deaths: According to the latest statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there were an estimated 240,000 toy-related injuries in the U.S. in 2016, and a reported 35 children died from toy-related incidents from 2014 to 2016. Between 1990 and 2011, there was a 40% increase in toy-related injuries. One child is treated in a U.S. emergency room every three minutes for a toy-related injury.
Toy Recalls: Recent toy recalls are a further reminder that not all toys are safe. The recurrence of many known hazards in toys in the past year is clearly suggestive of a broken system that needs fixing before more children are harmed. The CPSC, in the most current compiled data, reports there were 28 toy recalls in fiscal year 2017. In the recent 22-month period between January 2017 and October 2018, an estimated 3.5 million units of toys were recalled in the U.S. and Canada. Recalls were issued for toy defects including choking, mechanical hazards and fire hazards that could injure children. Recalls are important safety measures, but they are reactive not proactive. Many consumers never receive notice of toy recalls. Once these toys are on the market, they can reappear for resale online or in a child’s toy box. In addition, not all unsafe toys are necessarily recalled; enforcement agencies, such as the CPSC, may have limited resources to police such a large industry, existing standards may be inadequate, and regulations may lag behind new technology (exploding lithium batteries in hoverboards come to mind–a hazard previously addressed by W.A.T.C.H.).
Dangers of Online Purchases: With online sales expected to surge 17 to 22 percent this 2018 holiday season, parents face the disadvantage of not being able to touch and physically inspect a toy and its packaging for warning signs of obvious hazards at the time of purchase. Also, consumer-to-consumer (i.e. “second-hand”) online sales provide additional opportunities for the purchase of recalled toys and toys with proven defects.
Hidden Choking Hazards: Consumers may expect that there are sufficient checks and balances in place to prevent dangerous toys from reaching store shelves or e-commerce sites, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Even toys that pass existing safety standards can be dangerous. Toys with small parts are one of the many hazards that continue to unnecessarily put children at risk. Small parts that could detach during play or long pieces that could be mouthed and occlude a child’s airway are examples of less obvious hazards. On the 2018 “Worst Toys” list, both the Zoo Jamz Xylophone and the Nici Wonderland Dollhave parts that could be potential choking hazards for young children. So far, this year alone, there have been 8 toys recalled due to choking hazards, representing nearly 400,000 units of toys in the U.S. and Canada. Considering choking is one of the most significant contributors to toy-related injuries and deaths, this is unacceptable.
First Line of Defense– Safe Design and Manufacture: Many toy-related injuries and deaths could have been prevented with better-designed, manufactured and marketed toys. In a toy industry generating approximately $26 billion dollars in sales annually across the nation, safety concerns must be a priority, not an afterthought. The difficulty in purging the market of goods that have been recalled shows that the burden must be on manufacturers and retailers, not consumers, to identify the known hazards before their products enter the channels of commerce. Many of the toys recalled in the last year not only put children at risk of serious injury or death, but also are evidence of substandard manufacturing practices and inadequate pre-market testing. The best weapon in the fight to prevent injuries to children continues to be preventing unsafe toys from reaching consumers in the first place.
Shop Defensively: Unfortunately, even toys that are in compliance with current industry or regulatory standards have proven to be hazardous, further demonstrating the inadequacy of existing standards. So what can parents do to arm themselves against toys that could injure children? Since there currently is no full-proof safety net in place to prevent dangerous toys from reaching consumers, the message for parents this holiday season is to think defensively when it comes to toy safety. For starters, parents can avoid many toy-related hazards by remaining cautious, identifying safety red flags, knowing what classic safety traps to look out for, inspecting new and old toys for defects and poor design, and learning to identify hidden hazards. W.A.T.C.H. cautions toy shoppers not to be lulled into a false sense of security that a toy is safe because it has a familiar brand name on the package or it’s available from a well-known retailer.
Working Together to Keep Kids Safe: Advocacy and awareness makes a difference, particularly because most toy-related injuries are preventable. Thanks in part to the efforts of W.A.T.C.H., toy safety has become an active conversation that has led to significant changes in the industry. While regulations, such as the Consumer Product Safety Act of 2008, are a step in the right direction, regulations should be a floor, not a ceiling, for toy safety. As a result of advocacy, the industry and regulators continue to be held accountable to make safety a priority and millions of toys have been re-designed, recalled, or otherwise identified to consumers. There is more work to be done to prevent needless and tragic injuries to children as a result of poorly designed and manufactured toys. A key message today is to let consumers know that while there are dangerous toys being sold in retail stores and online, awareness this holiday season and year-round can truly save lives. Behind each injury and fatality is a real child and family whose lives are often permanently affected. Even one injury to one child is too many, particularly when the injury is preventable.
Nickelodeon Nella Princess Knight Pillow Pets Sleeptime Lights, $20
What: Plush that beams night-sky images on the ceiling.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Contains accessories that can be removed and swallowed; batteries may leak acid.
Likely real-life hazard: Child hypnotized by light display will throw a tantrum because you forget to bring it to grandma’s, and no one will get any sleep.
Nerf Vortex VTX Praxis Blaster, $35
What: Rifle firing plastic discs.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Eye and facial injuries.
Likely real-life hazard: Hurt feelings all around when a friendly Nerf battle devolves into a wrestling match and a dent in the wall.
Marvel Black Panther Slash Claw, $10
What: A rigid plastic claw that fits easily over small hands.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Eye and facial injuries.
Likely real-life hazard: Eye and facial injuries. “Mom, it’s a slash claw, not a wave-in-the-air claw.”
Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel Superstar Blade, $30
What: A spring-loaded plastic blade.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Impact injuries to face and body.
Likely real-life hazard: Explaining to the other parent just how the play date went wrong, even though you stressed sword safety to your youngster.
Cabbage Patch Kids Dance Time Doll, $15
What: A cherub-faced doll wearing a headband and tutu.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Headband can be removed and ingested, particularly by oral-age kids.
Likely real-life hazard: Starting a lifetime collection of Cabbage Patch Kids with the mistaken notion it will increase in value, leading to Cabbage Patch hoarding and eventual bankruptcy.
Zoo Jamz Xylophone, $15
What: An easy-to-play electronic musical instrument aimed at infants up to 4 years old.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: A drum stick that can block a child’s airway if mouthed.
Likely real-life hazard: Sharp plastic shards littering the carpet when you seriously cannot take another electronic chirp or beep from a xylophone that doesn’t know when to shut up.
Nici Wonderland Doll: Miniclara the Ballerina, $25
What: An plush, big-footed doll holding a kitten.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: The plush kitten may be removed and ingested.
Likely real-life hazard: None. Just toss the cat; your child will never miss it. Nobody would.
Stomp Rocket Ultra Rocket, $20
What: Plastic rocket that can soar as high as 200 feet when inflated launcher is stomped.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Serious eye and face injuries.
Likely real-life hazard: Some kid, perhaps yours, will weaponize the rocket, aiming it at the child slow to scatter.
Cutting Fruit, $30
What: Magnetic fruit can be halved with dull plastic knife.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Blunt trauma and puncture wounds.
Likely real-life hazard: You will question your 2-year-old about the stash of pacifiers you found in his drawer, but he refuses to talk.
Chien A Promener Pull Along Dog, $15
What: String attached to a wooden dog on wheels.
W.A.T.C.H. warns: Entanglement and strangulation.
Likely real-life hazard: Child will become increasingly cranky when she can’t find the “on” switch.