Toy Safety: Addressing Potential Risks Before Products Hit Store Shelves

From conception and design through to production, safety is built into every aspect of every toy before it reaches store shelves – and the hands of children. With about 3 billion toys sold in the U.S. each year (and new toys invented all the time), the toy community is committed to working with pediatricians and other medical professionals, government, consumer groups, and child development experts in the continual review and revision of our country’s most important toy safety standard – ASTM F963, Standard Consumer Safety Specification on Toy Safety.

First developed in the 1970s and adopted by ASTM International in 1986, ASTM F963 is today one of the most respected and widely emulated toy safety standards in the world. It includes more than 100 requirements and tests that cover the mechanical, physical, electrical, chemical, microbiological, and material safety of toys and is helmed by the ASTM Subcommittee on Toy Safety, a multi-stakeholder expert group that continually ensures the standard supports safety and reflects the latest information on risk.

Although the standard was voluntarily used by the toy industry for decades, since 2008, federal law has mandated that all toys sold in the U.S. are tested and certified compliant with F963. The standard was most recently updated in 2017.

ASTM F963 has been recognized by U.S. Congress, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and other regulatory bodies around the world as the gold standard for product safety. In 2013, the Subcommittee on Toy Safety received the CPSC Chairman’s Commendation Circle Award in recognition of its work in protecting children over the previous three decades.

Over the years, the standard has protected children in countless ways, as it accounts for 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 Subcommittee’s work often goes beyond what is required by the ASTM process in the interest of children’s safety – the group has even instituted a standard working group on emerging issues to review incident and recall data in order to identify emerging issues, if any, and direct standards development accordingly. It also regularly looks to other international standards for toys in search of opportunities for potential alignment.

“Our efforts to continually identify potential hazards – and respond quickly with a standard to eliminate said hazards – have directly improved product safety and helped keep children out of harm’s way,” says Joan Lawrence, chair of the ASTM Subcommittee on Toy Safety and The Toy Association’s SVP of standards and regulatory affairs.

The following are just a few examples of emerging hazards previously identified by the Subcommittee and now addressed in ASTM F963:

  • Magnets – In 2006, the Subcommittee quickly identified an emerging issue posed by the ingestion of certain small, rare earth magnets found in toys. In record time, they developed a standard to make these small magnets inaccessible to children, thereby bringing international awareness to the risk associated with rare earth magnets in other products – a hazard that was previously unknown, even to the medical community. This standard was subsequently emulated in other international standards and by the children’s jewelry category.
  • Batteries – For more than two decades, ASTM F963 has included a requirement making small batteries inaccessible to children through use of a locking mechanism on all toys. This requirement, which now serves as a model standard for other product categories, was created long before the issue was raised in 2011 regarding the potential to ingest small batteries found in other non-toy products in the home (such as television remote controls, hearing aids, etc.).
  • Hemispheric/Spherical-Shaped Toys
    In response to incident data, the Subcommittee developed the first standards to address certain hemispheric, cup-shaped objects that posed a suffocation hazard and toys with spherical ends which posed impaction hazards to young children.

Each of these examples demonstrates how the toy standard has served as a model, risk-based standard, providing increased safety protections for toys that exceed those for many other common household products that children might have access to.

Safety is a Shared Responsibility

Parents, grandparents and caregivers also have a vital role in keeping kids safe at play. That’s why The Toy Association has created – to provide families with tips for selecting appropriate toys for their children and supervising play.

Making sure children play with age-appropriate toys is an essential element in the safety equation, and it is easy to do by checking and following the age guidance and other safety information on toy packaging. It is important to note that age-grading is not about how smart a child is — it’s safety guidance based on the developmental skills and abilities of children at a given age and the specific features of a toy.

Many parents are aware of the issue of choking hazards — but many don’t know that the risk doesn’t end with infancy. Children up to three years of age, and those who tend to mouth objects, should not have access to small parts, whether from toys or other items around the home (such as coins, buttons, batteries, etc.).

Age-grading and other labeling on toys helps guide parents to products that are specifically designed to be developmentally appropriate and safe at a given age. And of course, proper toy use and adult supervision during play is always crucial.

“Getting children to play is easy – keeping them safe and accident-free takes education, awareness, and care,” says Lawrence. “The toy community is proud to work for and with parents as we all strive to bring the value of play to children – while keeping them safe.”


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