Playing It Safe



We all know that toys are fun. From building blocks and dolls, to puzzles and action figures, toys bring laughter and learning to kids of all ages and are a critical component of their healthy development. But as a member of the medical community (and in many cases, also a parent, grandparent, or caregiver) you may find yourself wondering from time to time if children’s toys are truly safe. The good news? Toy safety is a top priority and year-round commitment that is shared by industry, government, medical professionals, and child development experts.

Leading the charge are toymakers and retailers who work day-in and day-out to ensure that all toys sold in the United States, no matter where in the world they are made, comply with our nation’s strict federal safety standard: ASTM F963 – Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety. ASTM F963 is one of the most respected and widely used toy safety standards in the world, and includes more than 100 requirements and tests that cover mechanical, physical, electrical, chemical, microbiological, and material safety in order to protect children at play. First developed in the 1970s, the standard was adopted by ASTM International in 1986. Since 2008, federal law has mandated that all toys sold in the U.S. are tested and certified compliant with F963.

Over the years, the standard has protected children in countless ways, as it relates to possible hazards that may not be recognized readily by the public, but may be encountered during the normal use (or misuse) of a toy. The standard is continually reviewed by a multi-stakeholder expert group that includes industry, medical and child development experts, government, consumer representatives, engineers, and testing labs, and was most recently revised in late 2016.

“ASTM F963-16 – the latest iteration of what is widely considered the ‘gold standard’ for children’s products – is a compilation of efforts throughout the past five years to explore emerging safety issues, new product features, and new ways that toys are being used that may pose a risk to children,” says Joan Lawrence, senior vice president of standards and regulatory affairs at the Toy Industry Association (TIA) and chair of the ASTM Subcommittee on Toy Safety, which continually looks to ensure that the standard supports safety and reflects the latest information on risk.

Changes made in the 2016 edition of ASTM F963 include, among others:

  • added requirements to the already-extensive section on battery safety;
  • added tests for normal use and foreseeable misuse;
  • enhancements to requirements for toys involving projectiles;
  • new requirements for materials and toys that could expand if swallowed;
  • new requirements and clarifications related to microbiological safety;
  • clarifications to existing requirements related to heavy elements in toys;
  • inclusion of the standards for toy chests within the mandatory toy standards; and,
  • clarification of requirements and supplemental guidance for oral impaction hazards.

“New toys are invented all the time. It’s important that we continually review the standard and usage data, to ensure that the safety standards keep pace with innovation,” adds Lawrence. “The fact that most of the recent changes are subtle enhancements to the existing requirements is evidence of the commitment and expertise of the subcommittee and the continued relevance and protectiveness of this well-regarded standard.”

Over the years, emerging safety issues have been effectively identified and addressed in the toy standard. These requirements have served as a model for standards in other countries – and in other industries. For example, it was the ASTM Toy Safety Subcommittee that first addressed the hazards of small, powerful magnets if swallowed, and developed a toy standard to eliminate the risk of ingestion. Toymakers were also the first to recommend a requirement ensuring that small batteries used in toys are inaccessible to young children, more than a decade before coin and button cell batteries were identified as an issue in other consumer products.  And the recently revised edition of ASTM F963 now addresses materials and toys that expand when exposed to liquid, with new requirements that eliminate the risk of gastrointestinal blockage if these items are ingested.

In 2013, the ASTM Subcommittee on Toy Safety was recognized for its ongoing efforts when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission presented the group with the Chairman’s Safety Commendation Award, a prestigious honor for having saved “countless lives” over its 30 years of work.

Toy Safety is a Shared Commitment
As the not-for-profit trade group representing all businesses involved in creating and delivering toys and youth entertainment products for kids of all ages, the Toy Industry Association counts among its members more than 950 toymakers, retailers, inventors, designers, testing labs, and others that work year-round to bring safe and fun play to children. For its part, the Association works with the larger safety community on the development of protective standards and provides the industry with resources and support to ensure compliance.

The Association also educates the public about the many benefits of toys – and the importance of safe, supervised play. Its “The Genius of Play” movement offers families expert advice and tips for bringing the many developmental benefits of play into kids’ lives. And via its website, the Association brings critical awareness to parents and caregivers about safe toy selection, supervising play, and other safety issues that might arise during playtime, such as wearing appropriate safety gear during active play and keeping small toys and small toy parts out of the hands of children under three (and those who still mouth toys).

“Keeping kids safe during playtime is a responsibility that is shared by industry, government, and consumers. Through our combined efforts, we help ensure that kids avoid accidents and injuries so that they may reap the full benefits of play – including improved cognitive, social, and physical skills,” says Lawrence.

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