Toy safety reviews

We tested 23 toys against safety standards, and over half of them failed.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 

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.
Download the Expectant Parents Guide

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.

 
 

Sign up to our free
e-Newsletter

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

 

The following are examples of the failures we found.

 01_toys   This Puzzle Music Train had several pieces break off or come loose when dropped or put under tension, including its battery compartment cover. 
 22_toys   This "Kitty" wooden xylophone had pieces come loose after only one drop, and more came off after further drop tests. Not a good result for a toy designed to be hit repeatedly!
 Happy Interesting Chick   The Happy Interesting Chick produced small parts when dropped, and its wheels came off when pulled with minimal force. Interesting, but not happy.
 Lovely baby   The Lovely Baby isn't so lovely after only three drops, each of which broke the toy or dislodged small parts.
 Super Police Set toy gun   The rubber cap detaches too easily from the projectiles supplied with the Super Police Set toy gun. Not very super.

The full list of toys which failed our tests:

  • Ao Yu Cheng Puzzle Music Train
  • Band Flashlight drum
  • Beile Toys Happy Interesting Chick (Penguin)
  • Best Music plastic xylophone
  • Daye Gadget plastic phone
  • Elf Magic Wand
  • First Grade Product Sky Train Commander
  • Ha Qi Guitars Music Electron
  • Kai Ming Toys Happy Trip DIY Truck Series
  • LF Toys Boys the Plant tool set
  • Lovely crawling baby
  • Potex Fun Time Keyboard
  • ST battery operated dog
  • The Super Police Set toy gun and handcuffs
  • TongLeCheng Kitty xylophone

Small parts - choking hazards

The Australian standard for toys, AS/NZS ISO 8124.1, includes tests designed to find any small parts, whether supplied or which come free as a result of typical rough play or foreseeable misuse of the toy. These include drop tests onto a hard floor; tension and torque tests to see if any parts can be pulled or twisted off with minimal force; and compression tests.

These tests are the most common source of failure for the toys on test. Many of them have small parts that come free or break off, often after only one or two drops or with minimal force in the tension test. The standard test uses a specific device to determine if the part is small enough to constitute a choking hazard, but as a guide, any part small enough to fit into a 35mm film canister is a potential choking hazard. Some of the small parts that break off are also sharp or jagged.

Many of the battery-operated toys have a battery compartment cover with a hole for a screw to keep it shut, but have no actual screw supplied or installed. Unsurprisingly, these covers are easily opened and are often among the first parts to come off when the toy is dropped, with the result that the batteries often fall out as well. Batteries can be very dangerous to children, especially if put in the mouth or swallowed, so this is a serious failure.

Toys which passed the tests

These are examples of toys which passed our tests. Toys with simple, rugged designs are often better suited to the rough and tumble of a toddler's play.

 Blocks Truck   This truck with blocks came from a bargain store chain and shows that safe toys can still be found in this type of store.
 Toy truck   Another toy truck, this time from a major department store - a simple, durable design.
 Wooden blocks and hammer   This wooden block set with hammer, bought at a small suburban bargain store, passed our tests though it did crack slightly when dropped.
 Letters and Numbers   Foam letters and numbers from a major department store; these can be a choking hazard if pieces break off and the package should have an appropriate warning label (this product did).

Here are some general rules to help you when choosing a toy.

Labels

Look for a label, or instructions on the packaging, which should tell you:

  • Age recommendations
  • Instructions for proper assembly (if appropriate)
  • Proper use and supervision (if appropriate).

Always remove and carefully dispose of all packaging before giving a toy to a baby or small child; plastic bags in particular can be a suffocation hazard. And where appropriate, make sure your child understands any important instructions.

"Not suitable for children under three"

This is a safety warning, not an indication of skill level or intelligence. For example, it's illegal for toys (and their parts) suitable for children under three to be so small that they can present a choking hazard. As a guide, if a toy or its parts can fit wholly into a 35 mm film canister, don't give it to a child under three years of age.

  • Make sure the toy and any of its parts are sufficiently large. Avoid toys with small components (such as beads and buttons) that could easily detach if pulled, squeezed or twisted, or when the toy is dropped.
  • Check toys regularly for loose parts that could present a choking danger

Ingestion/inhalation test cylinders are often available in baby specialty stores.

Surfaces and edges

Buy washable, non-breakable toys for babies. Make sure there are no:

  • Sharp edges
  • Sharp points
  • Rough surfaces
  • Small parts that could be bitten or could break off.

If a sharp edge or a sharp point is essential to the function of the toy — for a toy sewing machine or toy scissors for example — make sure you show your child how to use it safely and always supervise.

Check there are no gaps or holes in a toy, where a child could trap their fingers.

Magnets

Small, powerful magnets, if detached from the toy, are very dangerous if swallowed. If two or more such magnets are swallowed, the magnets can lock together through the intestinal walls and cause perforations and blockages. This is a very serious situation and can lead to infection and even death. Toys containing small, powerful magnets must have a suitable warning label, and just as with other small part choking hazards, the magnets should not come loose if the toy is dropped, pulled or twisted.

Batteries

Batteries are common in many toys. Make sure they are not be accessible to small children - battery compartments should be secured with a screw or be otherwise inaccessible. Small button batteries in particular are a hazard if swallowed as they can lodge in the throat and cause severe burns or even death.

Noises

Be wary of toys that make loud noises particularly toys that are held against the ear, such as walkie talkies and toy mobile phones — as they can be harmful to hearing.

Trap hazards

Toy chests and boxes should be designed not to trap or close on top of children, or better still they should have a lightweight removable lid. Anything big enough to crawl inside must have ventilation holes. Also, make sure the lid shuts slowly and is fitted with rubber or other stoppers that allow a gap of 12 mm or more when the lid is closed, so that small fingers can't be crushed and to assist with ventilation.

Projectiles

If you're buying a toy that shoots projectiles, only choose ones that have a soft, one-piece dart or non removable suction caps, and make sure the tip or cap is large enough. The projectile mustn't be small enough to pose a choking hazard. Also, make sure that the firing mechanism won't discharge any other objects, like sharp pencils, stones or nails, and that the projectile's impact is weak enough not to cause injury.

Ventilation

Check for adequate breathing and ventilation gaps if buying tents, masks or helmets.

Ride-on toys

Ensure that ride-on toys are stable and appropriate to the age of the child. Children's bikes should have effective brakes which can be applied by the rider.

Water safety

Swimming aids and flotation devices should always be used only under adult supervision. Flotation aids such as inflatable rings or armbands are not life-saving devices. Check that they're marked to comply with the Australian Standard, and follow the instructions carefully.

Development stages

Think about whether the toy fits your child's developmental needs. Toys meant for older children can be totally inappropriate or even dangerous for younger children.

The information provided in this guide is advisory only.

  • In 2007, CHOICE tested 30 toys against relevant sections of the Australian standard.
  • The bad news: almost half failed tests designed to identify possible choking hazards.
  • The good news: none failed tests for the presence of lead and other heavy metals in paint.
  • Our toy tests showed many just aren't up to scratch. In a year punctuated with massive worldwide recalls of unsafe toys - when manufacturer and retailer awareness of toy safety should be high - this is of great concern.
  • The piecemeal approach to toy safety regulation that applied in 2007 left consumers - and children - more at risk of dangerous products.

The Year of the Toxic Toy: that’s what 2007 was dubbed, with several major recalls affecting respected brands like FISHER-PRICE, MATTEL and RC2 of toys contaminated with lead paint. Further recalls of toys containing small magnets were announced, involving millions of toys worldwide. Again, it was the big brands that were affected, such as MATTEL’s Barbie and Polly Pocket products. Many other toys with less well-known brands were recalled for being a choking hazard.

Regular or unleaded?

In addition to the big, well-known brands, checks of toys sold in showbags at the 2007 Perth Royal Show found many toys contaminated with lead and other heavy metals (cadmium and barium). Many of the toys were also in showbags sold earlier at Brisbane’s Ekka show, and parents were warned to take them away from their kids. Such toys included jewellery, masks, wooden blocks from the popular Play School bag and even fake teeth — which would certainly go in the mouth. 

Excessive exposure to lead can cause learning difficulties, brain damage, attention disorders, hearing loss, slowed growth and behavioural problems. It can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin or swallowed, and children are particularly susceptible to it because they can absorb up to 50% of the lead to which they’re exposed (compared to 10% for adults). Eating a chip of lead paint the size of a fingernail would make a child’s lead level dangerously high. 

In September 2007, the Federal Government banned toys containing more than a certain level of lead, which means if someone’s caught supplying such toys, they face large fines as well as a costly product recall. The states have since mirrored this legislation to close a loophole that would otherwise have excluded small unincorporated retailers, such as markets, garage sales and discount stores from this legislation (these dealers fall under the jurisdiction of the states).

Our test

In the wake of the lead paint fiasco, we ran our own small test. Our toy testing expert, who has a keen eye for potential problems, went toy shopping and chose 30 toys from various outlets: larger retailers, markets and discount stores (‘two dollar’ shops). 

As with our more recent test, we targeted toys that would appeal to under-threes, even if the labelling said they weren’t suitable for this age group. We’ve often found baby rattles and other obviously infant toys bearing this warning, in effect making it nothing more than a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the manufacturer. As the ACCC points out, any toy that could be reasonably regarded as suitable for a child aged three years and under must comply with the mandatory toy standard. 

While none of the painted toys we tested exceeded the maximum permitted lead levels, 14 toys — almost half — didn’t pass one or more other safety tests from the toy standard and could become a choking hazard. 

  • 11 had small parts break off after our tester dropped them or applied pressure or tension.
  • One wooden puzzle had a piece that was small enough to present a choking hazard.
  • Two sets of squeezy toys each contained toys with sections small enough to become a choking hazard.
  • Four had easily accessible battery compartments.
  • Three of the 14 carried no age suitability information or warnings, while two were labelled as suitable for kids under three (from three months and 18 months, respectively).

None of the toys bought from larger retailers failed the testing. 

The blame game 

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 introduced in January 2011, covering consumer rights, unfair contracts, product safety and compliance.

Here are some examples of the failures we found in our 2007 test.

Farm puzzle

Farm_puzzleThe smallest cloud in this farm puzzle failed the ‘small parts’ test.

After being informed of our findings, the distributor, Kool Fun Toys, immediately moved to ensure that the cloud can’t be removed in further production runs of the puzzle. 

Snail Drum

Snail_drumThis unbranded ‘Snail Drum’, bought from Sydney’s Paddy’s Market, failed the drop and tension tests, with several pieces breaking off and the plastic body shattering.

Also, the battery compartment could easily be opened by a child, giving access to the batteries. 

Bath toys

Bath_toysThese squeezy, squeaky bath toys failed the ‘shape and size’ test: they had sections that were small enough to be partially ingested and become a choking hazard.

Except for the ducks, the squeakers could be easily removed too, failing the small parts test. 

Ninjasentai

NinjasentaiThis ‘Ninjasentai’ action figure had several loose small parts as well as small parts that were removed by pulling.

The packaging carried no age-related warnings. 

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments