Purchasing toys at Christmas time

AT CHRISTMAS we're so caught up in the joyous event, like moths to flame, we gravitate towards shopping, gift giving, celebrating, eating, cleaning and did I mention shopping, so much so, that we literally 'wrap' ourselves right out of the loop. The information loop that is. As consumers we forget to pay attention to labels and messages of caution and regrettably buy ourselves into traps, which have the tremendous potential for becoming disasters at some point. Thankfully, we can depend on advisories posted by the Consumer Affairs Division of the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Bureau of Standards, as a means to protection. For those more technologically savvy information seekers, there's always the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website www.cpsc.gov.
Felecia WS Thomas, head of the pre-package Goods Unit, Implementation Division of the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards highlighted key requirements that should be available on the label of both Christmas decorations and toys. There must be a brand name, name and address of the manufacturer/distributor, country of origin, net contents (as applicable), composition/components (as applicable), warning symbols and statements (health and safety instructions), instructions for use, expiry date (where applicable) and storage conditions (where applicable).
Thomas also volunteered pertinent information with regard to the purchase of toys and Christmas tree lights:
Always read the labels of all toys purchased for children. Read the label to glean an idea of the recommended ages. Select toys to suit the age, abilities, skills and interest level of the intended child.
Parents are also advised to consider the ages of all the children present in the household. Some toys may be safe for an older child but may be unsuitable and possibly dangerous in the hands of a younger child.
Check instructions for use. If they are unclear to you, or in a language other than English, pass on to the next toy on display.
Look at the labelling to determine the nature of the material from which the toy is made. If the materials are toxic or flammable, leave the toy in the store.
For infants, toddlers and all children who still place objects in their mouths, avoid toys with small parts as they pose a choking hazard. Make sure that soft rattles and teething toys, even in their most compressed state, are too large to fit completely in an infants mouth.
Bypass all toys with sharp edges, splinters and points.
'Ride-on' toys should be strongly built and stable. Check to determine stability.
Ensure that all mechanical parts are enclosed and out of reach of a child's small probing fingers. Push and pull toys should have rounded handles and well secured moving parts.
Discard plastic wrappings, pins and paper on toys immediately, before they become deadly play-things.
Look for electrical toys that have third party certification marks on them. (UL and CSA are the most common.) Periodically check battery operated toys for leakage of the battery. Remove batteries before storing for extended periods.
All toys should be easy to clean.
A safety mark UL or CSA ensures that the Christmas lights you purchase are safe for use. If there is no safety mark, the possibility always exists that the lights may be hazardous to your family's safety.
Where lights do not have the necessary protection against voltage above the safety limit they are in fact potential fire hazards. Absence of a safety mark is therefore your signal to ask the retailer some further questions.
When purchasing Christmas tree lights ensure that the UL mark sticker is on a holographic label attached to the string of lights. Even when the box states that the lights are UL listed ensure that you also check the string.
Note that a decorative lighting string for indoor use should be marked with the words "for indoor use only." In cases where the set can be used for indoor and outdoor use, the words "for indoor and outdoor use" must be on the packaging.
Each plug must contain a fuse. A fuse ensures that if there is a break in the circuit anywhere or a surge in the power supply it will work to break the circuit and thereby prevents fires.
The size of the wire connecting the lights is important. Any wire of the size 1.5 mm is considered to be of an acceptable size. Anything smaller than this size is considered a fire hazard. This pertains only to indoor lights. Outside lights should have wire of the minimum size 2.5 mm. When using indoor/outdoor lights, care should be taken to ensure that water does not in any way come into contact with the plug of the lights.
If you want to be on the ball of information on recalled items, the CPSC website www.cpsc.gov should be your next stop. Visitors can easily manoeuvre and access documents with considerable ease. I quickly clicked on recalled toys, and found CPSC's results of investigation of the yo-yo water ball, which only a few months ago gained notoriety in Trinidad and Tobago. The report stated that there is a low but potential risk of strangulation from the yo-yo water ball toy. The stretchy chord of the toy can wrap around a child's neck when the child swings the toy overhead like a lasso.
The report continued that the Commission had received 186 reports of incidents in which the yo-yo ball toy's chord wrapped around a child's neck. In all cases it said, a parent or child successfully removed the chord from the child's neck. Although there were no lasting injuries, seven cases reported broken vessels affecting eyes, eyelids, cheeks, neck, scalp or the area behind the ears. The commission also investigated reports of potential toxicity from the liquid inside the toy and flammability from a flame test of the yo-yo ball toy. CPSC staff found no toxicity or flammability concerns. CPSC chairman, Hal Stratton made it clear however that the commission will continue to monitor incidents involving the yo-yo waterball toy.
It is a fallacy to think that renowned toy manufacturers do not produce dangerous toys. Fisher-Price in 2000 announced a recall of baby jumper seats and construction toys. Approximately 882,000 hop skip jumpers and 267,000 big action construction toys were recalled. The hop skip jumper is an activity seat for babies to sit in while suspended from a doorway. There is a spring attached to a suspension strap, allowing babies to use their feet to bounce up and down, while being supported by the seat.
The document goes on to state that the spring that suspends the jumper seat from the doorway can break. Babies can therefore fall to the ground and suffer serious injuries. Fisher-Price received 80 reports of the springs breaking. Twenty babies were injured. The injuries included nine lacerations to heads, five of which required stitches or staples, a dislocated tailbone, a black eye and bumps, bruises and scrapes. The document also stated that, "Only model 9144 and 9146" were recalled and stated that Fisher-Price would help consumers determine if they had a recalled jumper.
Fisher-Price big action construction toy is a large plastic construction set that features a rotating crane that sits on top of a construction site. The crane has a bucket that is attached by a 25-inch strap. The bucket can be raised and lowered by using a turning crank on the crane. Children can wrap the 25-inch strap around their necks, posing a strangulation hazard. Fisher-Price received 16 reports of children wrapping the strap around their necks. Seven children suffered minor injuries. In 2001 IMT Accessories of New York, NY recalled 70,000 Barbie TM sunglasses. It said that the frames of the sunglasses can break, allowing the petroleum distillate and floating glitter to leak out. It further stated that petroleum distillates could be harmful to children's eyes and skin and could be fatal if ingested.
IMT Accessories received one report of a six-year-old who received chemical burns in her right eye as a result of petroleum distillates leaking from the sunglasses when she was playing. The recalled sunglasses have a pink tint to the eyeglasses, have floating glitter in the temple of the sunglasses and say Barbie TM and Mattel R on the left side of the earpiece and they also say China on the right side. The key is that brand name has nothing to do with the toy. Read all instructions and information to make an informed decision. It is illegal to use fire crackers in Trinidad and Tobago, and fireworks should be launched 60 feet away from a roadway and supervised by a responsible adult. So there you have it. Some safety information, that will surely go a long way towards ensuring a more festive and enjoyable Yuletide season.

article courtesy Roxanne Stapleton, Trinidad Express, November 19, 2003

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