Santa isn’t the only one making lists this time of year. From the “10 Worst Toys” and “Trouble in Toyland” to “TOTY Nominees,” “TAGIE winners,” “The Big Toy Book,” and “NRF’s Top Toys,” it seems that everyone is looking at toys.
The bigger question beyond which toys are the most popular, the most innovative, or the “toy of the week” is whether or not they are safe. And are they safer this year than last year? Did the increased testing and certification required by the CPSIA make a difference?
Initial indications are positive. The CPSC reports 38 toy recalls by mid-November 2009, down dramatically from 162 in 2008 and 148 in 2007. Of the 38 recalls, 15 were for lead, down from 63 in 2007 and 85 in 2008. Even consumer and public interest groups, who this time of year like to select toys from retail store shelves and test them for compliance, have found that most toys are safe, or at least in compliance.
As a quality and safety testing laboratory, we are not seeing a decline in testing failures. But more products are being tested for compliance, which is positive. And we typically test product early in the product life cycle, before the toys hit store shelves. The testing failures we find allow the manufacturer to take appropriate corrective actions to help ensure that the final product that is available for sale to consumers is safe, or at least in compliance.
That differentiation between “safe” and “in compliance” is critical. It is important to remember that the CPSC regulations are the minimum requirements. The regulations cannot possibly include every conceivable use and misuse to which a toy could be subjected – children are very creative – and the regulations do not include all potentially hazardous substances. Regulatory compliance does not necessarily mean that the product is safe. A safe design and robust manufacturing controls are essential.
Other positive indications for the holiday season include the result of a Harris Interactive poll which indicates that more than half of Americans (54%) will buy toys as gifts this year, up from 47% last year. Attendance at “toxic toy checkups” such as those held by the Oregon Toxics Alliance is significantly down, perhaps another indication that consumers have regained confidence in toys.
While there has been, and continues to be, significant concerns about the strict and wide-reaching requirements of the CPSIA – and some of their unintended consequences – the intended result of safer consumer products, and with that increased consumer confidence, seems to be attainable.
So let’s shop! But be sure to buy only age appropriate toys for the children in our lives. And take time to check for small parts and shoddy workmanship, and read the recall notices. Even with the positive signs regarding toy safety, we all need to continue to be vigilant.