Play safe with toys

In this Saint-Nicholas period, shops are abounding with toys of all sorts and sizes. 

Children love toys, because they can play with them for hours, but toys are also essential to their development. Through board games a child develops social skills: it learns to be patient (waiting for your turn), makes the experience of winning and losing as in real life etc. Toys such as balls or swings help to develop gross motor skills, whereas a building kit stimulates fine motor skills, but also creativity and imagination. It is nevertheless important to point out that children are vulnerable consumers, because they are unable to evaluate risks.

Therefore it is extremely important to make toys safe. It is also in the interest of toy manufacturers : accidents involving a child and caused by an unsafe toy can seriously damage a company’s reputation and result in serious financial losses, without even considering the emotional impact for all parties involved.

At European level, the safety of toys is regulated by the so-called Toy Directive (2009/48/EC), which introduces uniform legislation for toys in all member states of the European Union. In Belgium, this Directive was transposed into Belgian law by two Royal Decrees dated 19 January 2011. The first, dealing with the safety of toys, contains general safety requirements. The second addresses the conformity assessment bodies authorized to inspect toys.

In addition there are a number of European standards on toy safety, which were published by NBN as Belgian standards. The standards series NBN EN 71 (composed of 13 parts) deals with the safety of toys, whereas NBN EN 62115 concerns the safety of electrical toys. These standards specify in greater detail the essential requirements of the European directive. Toy manufacturers are not obliged to apply these standards, but they are the logical way to demonstrate that a toy complies with the Directive’s essential safety requirements.

Certain parts of the NBN EN 71 standard specify the properties of toys. Thus, parts 1 to 3 deal with mechanical and physical properties, inflammability and the migration of certain elements.  The part on migration of elements stipulates for instance that a toy may contain toxic metals, provided the quantites released when the child sucks or chews on it or plays with it, do not exceed the limits imposed by the standard. Inflammability can be a risk in the case of textile toys. Other parts of NBN EN 71 treat specific types of toys, such as chemistry sets, finger paints, toy make-up sets etc.

Toys complying with the requirements of the applicable standard are recognizable by the so-called CE marking. This mark of conformity does, however, not provide an absolute guarantee that a toy is safe. As a consumer, you should always verify certain safety characteristics. If you are buying a toy for a baby or a toddler, check that the warning ‘not suitable for children under 36 months’ does not appear on the product or its packaging. This is especially important for toys containing small parts that may be a choking hazard. If the toy has a label bearing the warning ‘Use only under the supervision of an adult’, you should always keep an eye on the child when it is playing with it. One final advice: tidy up the toys after play to avoid accidents!

Enjoy the holiday period with your children, grandchildren etc. – but …  play it safe.