Toy safety reviews

We tested 23 toys against safety standards, and over half of them failed.
 
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01.Introduction

Baby playing

We bought 23 toys that looked potentially unsafe and tested them against relevant sections of the Australian standard.

  • 15 failed mandatory tests designed to identify choking and other physical hazards.
  • Our experience shows that toys from small retailers are more likely to fail tests, as these retailers are less aware of safety requirements.
  • Large toy stores and department stores generally have better compliance regimes and are much less likely to stock unsafe toys.
  • The Australian Consumer Law introduced in 2011 has helped create a uniform approach to toy safety across Australia.
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For more information about safety, see our Fact sheets section.

Our testing method

When we last tested toys in 2007, we included tests for lead paint, as there were major scares at the time with lead paint in toys from big brands such as Fisher-Price and Mattel. None of the toys we tested at that time had lead paint, and we haven't tested for it this time around. The major hazards with toys continue to be choking on small parts, access to batteries and small magnets, and unsafe projectiles.

For our latest test our toy testing experts went shopping and chose a range of toys from various outlets around Sydney, including discount stores (‘two dollar’ shops) and large department stores. 

We targeted toys that looked like they could fail safety tests, and that would appeal to under-threes, even if the labelling said they weren't suitable for this age group. 

In the past we've found baby rattles and other obviously infant toys bearing this warning; manufacturers in these cases may think it is a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It isn't; any toy that can be reasonably regarded as suitable for a child aged three years and under must comply with the mandatory toy standard.

We've shared these results with NSW Fair Trading. It is responsible for enforcing compliance with toy safety standards in NSW and regularly carries out compliance checks in stores and markets around the state.

Our findings

When you know what to look for, it's not hard to spot a potentially unsafe toy. Our experts found it all too easy to find several examples.

  • 15 of the 23 tested toys failed mandatory tests.
  • 13 had small parts break off after our tester dropped them or applied pressure or tension.
  • Six (including five of the 13 above) had easily accessible battery compartments.
  • One toy gun failed projectile toy requirements, as the suction cap can be removed too easily from the projectile, making it a potential hazard for injury, particularly if fired at an eye or other vulnerable area.

None of the four toys bought from larger retailers (Target and Kmart) failed the testing. This is probably because they are well aware of their legal obligations, and often put the toys through their own safety checking procedures. For example, the Coles group (including Target and Kmart) requires suppliers to provide assurances that products meet required safety standards, and may commission further tests if they have other safety concerns. 

Woolworths/Big W has an in-house test lab, though it may accept test results from other accredited laboratories, and inspects every toy it sells. These procedures aren't fail-proof, but they make it unlikely that hazardous products will reach these stores' shelves.

In addition, big-name manufacturers have a lot to lose in terms of their brand’s reputation, and may be more likely to come clean if there’s a problem, thereby providing some reassurance for consumers.

Conversely, discount suppliers and unincorporated retailers lack the knowledge and accountability of the bigger retailers: often the toys sold have brands that aren't well known — or even have no obvious brand information on them at all — making it more difficult for regulators to keep track of suppliers. In the event of a recall, it’s also not immediately obvious to consumers if, say, an unbranded doll they've bought is the same as the one being recalled.

Product safety and the law

Who’s responsible when an unsafe toy is sold? The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which operates the Product Safety Australia website, puts the onus on manufacturers and distributors of products to ensure they comply with Australian standards. It and state-based consumer protection bodies play important roles in regulation, compliance and inspection, but don’t have the resources to test every single product that’s made or imported for the Australian market — after all, there are over many thousands of different toy products on shelves.

After our 2007 test, CHOICE called for a national product safety system, involving improved collection of information about product-related injuries; mandatory bans and recalls of unsafe products, and detailed recall notices; and identical laws and consistent enforcement throughout the country, with a single main agency replacing the current mix of national, state, territory and local regulations. That has now come into place with the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) introduced in January 2011, covering consumer rights, unfair contracts, product safety and compliance.

ACL combined 20 different state and federal laws into a single piece of legislation to offer uniform consumer rights across the country. Using its powers under the ACL, the ACCC has already investigated unfair contracts of airlines, telecommunications and car-hire companies – industries with the highest level of consumer complaints. The law also ensured a uniform approach to product safety, including for toys, across all states and territories. Now, when the ACCC or one state acts to ban an unsafe product, the other jurisdictions across the country are quick to follow suit.

 
 

 

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