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.