A consumer group, advising Americans to be on the lookout for potential hazards as they shop for childrens' Christmas gifts, has cited baby walkers and crib gyms as products that cause particular concern.
The Consumer Affairs Committee of Americans for Democratic Action said in its annual toy quality and safety report that baby walkers, which can tip over or topple down stairs, are "highly dangerous" and led to 20,790 child injury reports to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1987.Crib gyms have caused 674 reported injuries since 1984 and 12 deaths, the committee said. While most manufacturers now include voluntary warning labels that recommend removal of the gym toys when a baby can pull itself up to its hands and knees, many carry no such warning, it said.
"Warnings aren't enough," the committee said. "Crib gyms need to be designed in the first place without hazards. Babies begin to enjoy crib gyms just at the age that parents are advised to remove them. So human nature enters the picture and parents leave the crib gyms a little longer."
Overall, the committee said, toys resulted in 131,000 injuries in 1987, 105,000 of them to children under age 15.
The committee said categories of potentially dangerous toys include:
- Some seasonal toys such as inflatable sleds that throw up snow which could blind the driver.
- Flammable items, including stuffed animals that burn.
- Toys that teach children to imitate adults in a dangerous fashion, such as an electric oven that could burn a child and a play iron with a realistic-looking plug that could send children to the nearest electrical socket.
- Toys that can be dangerous when broken. For example, a medical kit of poor construction that contains instruments which could break while a child puts them up to his face, throat, ears or eyes.
- Items that are dangerous for babies, including rattles that don't meet specified width requirements which a baby could poke down its throat and choke on.
- Toys with inadequate or misleading age labels. In some cases, manufacturers may label a product containing small parts as "for ages over 3," but the product nevertheless would be appealing to younger children.
The committee laid much of the blame for the abundance of dangerous toys on what it called the "pitiful ineptitude" of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. It said the commission took just one major toy-related action this year, in banning lawn darts.
"Toy manufacturers, aware they can virtually ignore the CPSC, understand there's no one watching the store," the committee said. "Manufacturers seldom market dangerous toys willfully, but bottom line considerations can obscure safety issues."
Elaine Tyrrell of the CPSC said it had not yet seen the report and thus would have no immediate comment on the criticisms of the agency. She noted that the CPSC will soon issue its own report on safe and unsafe Christmas toys.
The committee also said the toy industry experienced a shakeout in the wake of the October 1987 stock market crash that did not bode well for consumers.
"The response of some toy manufacturers has been to fight a holding action, suspending creative development and sticking with tried and true, cheaper production methods, and increased reliance on offshore production," it said.
The committee offered several tips to use when shopping for safe, fun and affordable toys, including:
- Safety. Watch out for sharp edges, small parts, projectiles and potential danger if toy breaks. Toys that include fabric should say flame retardant-flame resistant; painted toys should be non-toxic.
- Buy the toy, not the box. Examine the contents to make sure they are the same as what's pictured outside.
- Consider play value. Will the item offer enjoyment for a long time or lose its appeal after 15 minutes?
- Battery requirements. Take into account the added expense.
- Save sales receipts. Some stores will match the price of their competition.
- Save toy directions. Always read them, avoid toys with overcomplicated ones.
- Potential mess. Consider how messy or destructive a toy will be.
- Check newspaper ads. Popular toys may go on sale just before Christmas and be more readily available late in the season.
- Consider child's age. Good toys should not require constant supervision to ensure safety or correct use.
- Avoid "hot" items. They may be cheaper next year, and ads may be overglamorizing them.