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Dangerous toys: 12 tips to make sure children’s Christmas gifts are safe

By Lisa Salmon
With many shops closed as Christmas gets nearer, more parents than ever are expected to jump on the computer to buy their children’s presents online.

But while toys sold in the UK and EU have to meet important safety standards to be sold, toys offered on online marketplaces may not meet those standards and could pose a danger to children without parents realising, warns the UK Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT).

Over the past year, tests by the British Toy and Hobby Association (btha.co.uk) (BTHA) have found 86% of the toys bought from online marketplaces were illegal to sell in the UK as they failed to comply with UK toy safety requirements, and 60% were unsafe for children to play with.

“When using online marketplaces, be more cautious with third party sellers and use tips for staying safe, so your children enjoy the gift of safe play,” advises Natasha Crookes of the BTHA. “We recommend shopping early with trusted retailers either online or using click and collect or in-store where that’s allowed.”

And Katrina Phillips, chief executive of CAPT, adds: “With pandemic restrictions and financial pressures, many parents are heading online to buy toys this year. But some toys sold through online marketplaces don’t meet UK safety standards, and as a result, some children have been very badly hurt.

“So we’re encouraging parents to understand the danger signs to look out for if they’re shopping for toys on an online marketplace. We want to help families shop safely and keep dangerous toys out of their homes this Christmas.”

Here’s what CAPT says anyone buying toys online should look out for before buying…
1. Watch out for small loose parts
Be wary of toys which don’t meet safety standards and contain small or loose parts, small magnets, button batteries, or long cords, as they can cause serious injury to children. Small button batteries may be swallowed by young children and burn a hole through their oesophagus lining; small magnets, which may be included in magnetic building block toys, for example, can be so strong they can burn through the gut if a child swallows them; long cords could strangle a child; small, loose parts can choke or suffocate a child.

2. High chemical levels
CAPT says some toys, like counterfeit plastic crying dolls, even contain dangerous levels of chemicals. Obviously, such high chemical content isn’t something parents can detect with the naked eye, which is why they should only buy toys which meet safety standards.

3. Be aware of where you’re buying from
Don’t forget online marketplaces feature lots of different traders on one platform – you may be buying from a seller based in a part of the world where safety standards for toys are very different to those in the UK and Ireland. CAPT says it’s a legal requirement to have a UK or EU address to sell toys here, and if a company is based outside the UK or EU, the toys may not necessarily comply with our safety standards. Some sites have a ‘Sold by’ link where you can check the seller’s address.

4. Don’t just assume a toy is safe
Remember online marketplaces aren’t responsible for the safety of all the products they sell, warns CAPT, and Phillips stresses: “This means you can’t rely on them to make sure the toy you buy won’t hurt your child.”

5. Choose reputable retailers
If your budget can stretch to it, head to reputable retailers online, or the websites of well-known brand names. Another option could be to include the brand name in your toy search on online marketplaces.

6. Beware bargain prices
“If a price seems too good to be true, sadly it probably is,” warns Phillips. It costs toy-makers money to make toys safe, so if the price is far less than for other similar toys, try to find something you can be more sure about, she advises.

7. Age suitability is important
Babies and toddlers put nearly everything in their mouths, which is why toys not designed for this age group need to state ‘not suitable for under 3s’ or have a warning symbol. Under 3s may choke on small parts or loose hair, so be wary of toys which feature small or loose parts and have no age warning.

8. Look out for contradictions
If there’s contradictory information about the toy, for example it’s described as a toddler’s toy but the blurb says not suitable for under 12s, or the photo of the child doesn’t match the age warning, think again.

9. Beware bad English
Look for grammar or spelling mistakes in toy descriptions. “Bad English doesn’t mean it’s a dangerous toy but it’s a signal to look a bit more closely,” warns Phillips.

10. Be wary of glowing reviews
If reviews sound like they’re straight off a toy’s leaflet or are all a bit similar and/or were written very closely together, they could be fake.

11. Look for the CE mark
The CE mark or the Lion Mark on toys is to show toys have been made to proper standards. But they can be faked so, if you have serious concerns about the toy, don’t rely on these alone. You can check to see if the company is listed on the BTHA website (btha.co.uk/about-us/#members).

12. Keep an eye on the toy
If you’re worried about a toy you’ve bought for your child or that they’ve been given, try to keep a close eye on your child when they open it and play with it. “You can use the usual chaos of Christmas morning to subtly make it disappear until you can check it out more closely,” suggests Phillips.
(PA)