Toy manufacturers, retailers and importers must make sure that they manufacture, advertise or sell safe toys that meet the safety standards set by Health Canada. Sometimes unsafe toys do make their way onto store shelves and into homes. You may also have older toys that are no longer safe, or the way the toys are being used may expose children to hazards.
Here are some tips to help you choose and use toys safely.
When Buying Toys
- Purchase age appropriate toys. Toys for older children may contain small parts or present other hazards that make them unsafe for younger children.
- Read and follow age labels, warnings, safety messages and assembly instructions that come with the toy.
- Look for sturdy, well-made toys.
- Look for toys that come with contact information for the manufacturer or importer.
After Buying Toys
- Always supervise children and teach them how to use toys safely.
- Promptly remove and discard all toy packaging like plastic bags, plastic wrap, foam, staples and ties. Also remove and discard any temporary plastic film used to protect toy mirrors from scratching during shipping. A child can suffocate or choke on these items.
- Keep all toys, especially plush and soft toys, away from heat sources like stoves, fireplaces and heaters. The toys could catch fire, causing injury or property damage.
- Check toys often for hazards like loose parts, broken pieces or sharp edges, and repair or discard any weak or damaged toys.
- Make sure that toys attached to child care items such as cribs, playpens and strollers are installed properly and check regularly that they are still securely attached.
- Remove mobiles and toy bars from cribs as soon as a baby begins to push up on hands and knees.
Young children, especially those under three, frequently put objects in their mouth. Small toys, small balls or small loose or broken toy parts are choking hazards. Keep them out of reach.
- Know how your child plays. Small toys can be dangerous for older children if they still tend to put non-food items in their mouths.
- Check squeeze toys to make sure that small squeakers or reeds are not removable.
- Check toy cars, trucks and other vehicles to make sure that wheels, tires or other small parts are not loose or removable.
- Check stuffed and plush toys to make sure that the eyes, nose and other small items are firmly attached and cannot be pulled off.
- Check that infant toys like rattles and teethers have handles or parts that are large enough that they will not get stuck in an infant’s throat and block their airway.
- Avoid toys with cords that are long enough to wrap around a child’s neck, especially stretchy or sticky cords. The cords could strangle a child.
- Check that the toy does not have sharp points or edges. These could cut a child.
- Store toys and games for older children separate from those for younger children.
- Children should not have access to airtight storage bins, trunks or boxes. If a child climbs into one, they could suffocate.
- Use a toy box without a lid, or one with a lightweight lid that will not fall on a child.
- If the toy box has a lid, remove it or check to ensure:
- the box has air holes for breathing, in case a child climbs inside;
- the lid has a hinge that will hold it open in any position and that will stay open even if a child pushes down on it; and
- there is no latch or other device that could lock the lid and trap a child inside.
Specific Toy Safety Tips
Toys with Magnets
- Seek immediate medical care for any child who has swallowed, or is suspected of having swallowed, one or more magnets.
- Products with loose small powerful magnets should be kept safely out of reach of children. Unlike traditional magnets, small powerful magnets, such as rare-earth magnets, have a very strong magnetic pull, creating a unique safety concern. If more than one magnet is swallowed over a short period of time, they can attract one another across the intestines and create a blockage or slowly tear through the intestinal walls. The results can be fatal.
- Small powerful magnets are used in a wide range of items, from jewellery, clothing accessories and household items, to children’s products, such as building toys or science kits. If they are loose or contained in a very small item they are dangerous because they are easily swallowed.
- Older children are known to play with these small powerful magnets in their mouths: using them for fake tongue or cheek piercings, or attaching them to braces which can result in accidental swallowing. Teach children of all ages that small powerful magnets should never be placed in their mouth.
- Choose a ride-on toy that suits a child’s age, size and abilities.
- Check that it is stable when weight is placed on any riding point and that it will not tip when a child is using it.
- Use the ride-on toy in safe areas that are far away from stairs, traffic, swimming pools and other hazards.
- Be aware that a child on a wheeled ride-on toy can move very quickly. Look for hazards like furniture, lamps, cords, decorations or appliances that could be knocked over or pulled down, and remove the hazards before play begins.
- Baby walkers are prohibited in Canada. Removing wheels from a baby walker does not make it a stationary activity centre. Baby walkers should be destroyed and thrown away.
Toys with Batteries
- Only adults should install batteries. Improper installation or mixing different battery types can cause batteries to leak or overheat, which can result in injury.
- Only adults should charge batteries. Battery chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to children.
- Small button batteries, such as those used in talking books, watches and many other common electronic toys, can cause serious internal injuries or death if swallowed. Seek immediate medical attention if a child has swallowed a lithium button battery.
- Make sure that young children cannot open a toy’s battery compartment.
- Do not allow a child to take a battery-operated toy to bed. Burns and other injuries could result from batteries leaking or overheating.
- Batteries are poisonous, call a doctor or a poison control centre immediately if a child swallows a battery.
Latex balloons have caused a number of deaths. Balloons or broken balloon pieces can be inhaled and can block a child’s airway. Use latex balloons for decoration, not for play.
- Only adults should inflate balloons.
- Always keep inflated and uninflated latex balloons, or broken balloon pieces, out of the reach of children; immediately discard broken balloon pieces.
Toys with Sound
Playing too long and too often with very loud toys can harm a child’s hearing. If you have to yell to be heard above the sound of a toy, then it is likely too loud for a child and should not be used.
- Look for toys that have volume control features, so that the sound can be kept low or turned off.
Children’s Activities Safety
- Never allow a child to suck or chew on jewellery. It may contain lead, cadmium or other toxic materials. Ingesting even small amounts of these can be harmful to a child’s health and development.
- Never place a necklace, teething necklace, string, ribbon or chain around the neck of a child under three. These products can be strangulation and choking hazards.
Costumes and Dress-up Games
- Always supervise children when they are playing.
- Make sure that children only use age appropriate accessories. Avoid loose-fitting and over-sized costumes and clothing.
- Make sure that children play in a flat, safe area where there is less risk of tripping and falling over.
- Make sure that children do not use items that could wrap around their neck, such as scarves, boas, strings and cords.
- Use non-toxic make-up on children instead of masks. Masks can be dangerous since they can make it hard to see.
- Be aware that face paint, even labelled “hypoallergenic”, can still cause allergic reactions. Hypoallergenic only means that the product is less likely to cause allergic reactions.
- Before using face paint, do a patch test to see if children are sensitive or allergic to something in the cosmetic.
- Make sure that children do not play close to a source of fire such as a candle or a fireplace.
- Do not let children play with garments made of highly flammable materials such as feathers.
- Teach children that if their clothing does catch fire, to “STOP, DROP, and ROLL!”.
Arts and Crafts
Children of all ages love to do arts and crafts, but these activities can involve materials or tools that may be hazardous to children if not used properly. The following are a few safety tips that will help make a safer environment for your children to be creative.
- Ensure active supervision at all times.
- Choose safe materials that are age appropriate.
- Read the labels and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe use.
- Ensure that children wear any protective equipment that is required, such as gloves or a smock.
- Avoid solvents and solvent containing products.
- Minimize the volume of a substance that children will have access to by not using materials directly out of the original container. Instead, place a small amount of the substance in a smaller container (such as a yogurt cup or egg carton), but do not store the substance in the smaller container, because it may not be easy to identify later, and will not have any warning information.
- Keep arts and crafts supplies out of sight and reach of children when not in use.
- Do not eat or drink during art and crafts sessions; food can be easily contaminated with the art materials.
- When painting or drawing, use non-toxic water-based materials designed for children.
- When finger painting, use paints labelled specifically for that purpose.
- Make sure children wash their hands thoroughly after completing a task.
- Make sure to always have the proper ventilation.
- Do not expose children to dusts and clay in dry form, such as powdered paint.
- Only use modelling clay made for children and do not cast body parts or apply clay directly to the skin apart from the hands.