Despite new legislation aimed at eliminating this very situation, child advocacy groups are still seeing these same types of recalls, says James Schwartz, an attorney and the director of the Boston-based group World Against Toys Causing Harm. "What we've seen from year to year is these same types of hazards recurring," he says. "Manufacturers are not learning lessons well enough from the past, but we are hopeful that that will change."
THE DETAILS: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that there are 10 million products, all sold under the Fisher Price brand, involved in the recall, posing choking and other physical hazards to toddlers and young children. All four recalls were announced on Thursday and it's unclear whether they are related in any way other than having come from the same company.
• Approximately 120,000 cars included in the Little People Wheelies Stand ‘n Play Rampway are being recalled because the wheels can fall off and pose a choking hazard; the toy is intended for children between 1½ and 5 years old. Click here for pictures and model numbers.
• Just over 1 million Healthy Care, Easy Clean, and Close to Me high chairs are being recalled, due to a protruding part. The agency has 14 documented cases in which children have fallen against the part, seven of whom needed stitches, and one case that resulted in a tooth injury. All models of these particular high chairs are included in the recall; you can click here for pictures.
• Nearly 3 million Baby Playzone Crawl & Cruise Playgrounds, Baby Playzone Crawl & Slide Arcades, Baby Gymtastics Play Walls, Ocean Wonders Kick & Crawl Aquariums, 1-2-3 Tetherballs, and Bat & Score Goals are being recalled because the inflatable balls in each of these products have valves that can fall off and pose a choking hazard. There have been 14 cases in the U.S. and Canada in which infants were found with the parts in their mouths. Click here for pictures and model numbers.
• About 7 million Trikes and Tough Trikes toddler tricycles are being recalled because they have pretend plastic ignition keys that protrude from the tricycles. So far, CPSC has documented 10 injuries, six of which were girls falling against or on the keys requiring medical attention. Fourteen models are included in the recall, and you can view pictures and model numbers here.
WHAT IT MEANS: This is certainly one of the largest toy recalls that has taken place since the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act went into effect in early 2009. The act, which banned lead paint and certain types of hormone-disrupting phthalate plasticizers, requires toy manufacturers to have their products tested by a third party to ensure that they meet toy safety standards set forth by the CPSC. But even with those standards in place, this recall makes clear that simply having laws doesn't guarantee that they'll be followed adequately. "Even since the act has gone into effect, we've still seen a lot of hazards in the marketplace," says Schwartz. "Unfortunately, the standards, in our estimation, are inadequate, and the standards that are in place are not adhered to as closely as they should be."
"Most importantly, parents and caregivers shouldn't assume that toys are necessarily safe, simply because these new regulations are in place," he adds. That can be difficult because toys seem so innocent, he says, and it's hard for parents to look at something like a Dora the Explorer tricycle (one was included in this recall) and think that something as simple as a pretend key could cause serious physical harm. "There are many hazards that consumers, no matter how hard they try, may not be able to detect," he says. "The point we need to get to is the point of prevention, and not reaction to injuries."
Perhaps the biggest lesson parents can take from this recall, Schwartz says, is that there are still hazardous products making their way onto store shelves, despite laws that should prevent them from getting there. "As we head into the holiday season, parents and caregivers need to be educated as best they can about the hazards in toys that are being recalled throughout the year, so they know what to look while shopping and, hopefully, minimize risks," he says.
As you start to shop for toys, here are some tips that may prevent a few hazards from winding up in your child's toybox:
• Choking hazards are the most prevalent. Schwartz's organization compiles an annual list of the "Worst Toys" that represent various hazards posed by toys on the market. In most cases, he says, choking hazards are the most common, even if the toys don't theoretically contain any small parts. For instance, the cars involved in the current recall weren't small enough for a small child to swallow, but the wheels weren't attached securely enough. "So parents need to be aware of those types of issues," Schwartz advises. Tug on wheels or other parts that could fall off, he says, and check inside packages for loose parts that may indicate poor manufacturing and potential threats.
• When it comes to age guidelines, use parental instinct, not packaging suggestions. "The cutoff points that manufacturers put on packages are relatively arbitrary," says Schwartz. "Parents and caregivers need to know, for example, that the toy they're purchasing for a child under 3 may not necessarily be safe," he says, for instance, little cars intended for toddlers that have wheels that could fall off. At the same time, toys intended for older children could have parts that pose strangulation hazards, projectile hazards, puncture wound hazards, and electrocution hazards, all of which are characteristic of toys on his "Worst Toys" list.