It can't hurt to play it safe

When marketers and well-meaning friends give advice on a product's safety, it's not always sound.
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01.Child safety starts at home


When it comes to your baby or child, safe is always better than sorry – that’s a given.

And while new mums and dads find their feet when it comes to making sure their home is safe for their precious new bundle, well-meaning friends and targeted media fill the gaps in their knowledge by insisting this or that gadget or toy is a must-buy. And we all know that if it’s on television, it must be true! Right?

Luckily, CHOICE has our own labs to be able to test out most kids’ products and give you the real inside scoop on whether they’re safe and sound - or a smidgen away from posing a serious problem.

While most products and toys are safe given constant supervision, not every parent can manage to watch their kids 24/7. In fact, none can! So, with that in mind, here are some of the products spruiked most often that require some consideration if you’re trying to make your home as safe as possible.

Babies and toddlers

Baby walkers

A frame that your baby can hold on to, attached to wheels so they can walk while being supported.

How they’re marketed:

Designed to support a baby that is not yet able to walk, a baby walker is essentially a piece of play equipment. They’re marketed to parents eager to see their children standing up and moving around on their feet while they’re still at the crawling or learning-to-walk stages.

Why you should reconsider:

A moving child is one that can get themselves into a spot of bother if not being monitored, and unfortunately head injuries are all too common. The 1980s and 90s saw a series of studies uncover serious risks to children using baby walkers. To reduce injury rates, a mandatory safety standard came into effect in February 2013 to regulate design, construction, performance, and labelling requirements for baby walkers.

There’s no evidence that they help children to start walking sooner; in fact, they may even delay a child’s first steps.

What you can do:

Consider other products without wheels - such as playpens, bouncers, rockers, play mats and play tables - that can entertain your baby. If you feel you must use a baby walker, look for a model that complies with the mandatory standard.

Baby bath aids

How they’re marketed:

Allowing a parent to potentially have two free hands while bathing their child - seems like a good idea, right?

Why you should reconsider:

If you feel that your child is safe, your attention might slip when the phone rings or your mind wanders to the oven that’s still on from dinner. Sadly, serious injuries and even drownings have occurred when the bath seat tips over, the child slips or rolls off, or the child becomes trapped in the seat openings when left unsupervised. It can happen quickly and even if the water is only a few centimetres deep.

A mandatory standard for baby bath aids, covering labelling requirements and packaging, was introduced following five known child drowning cases linked to these products between 2002 and 2005.

What you can do:

No young child should ever be left unsupervised in a bath, and there’s not really any product available that will change that fact.

Bean bags

Baby helped to walkHow they’re marketed:

Bean bags are a kid’s best friend! And soft toys are an essential part of every baby’s day to day.

Why you should reconsider:

While we don’t suggest reconsidering soft toys altogether, it’s important to make sure that the filling is age-appropriate. Polystyrene beads are only suitable for older children, because the little ones can choke if they inhale or swallow the small polystyrene beads contained in bean bags. If they’ve sat on them before they have a full range of movement to be able to get up, they can roll over or sink into the seat.

What you can do:

If you have any products with these beads, including bean bags, pet beds, bean-filled soft toys and pool bean bags, you should ensure that the filling is not accessible to children.

Toy boxes

How they’re marketed:

A central repository for all those toys, excess macaroni artworks, and maybe those booties that no longer fit but are too dear to throw out or give away? Brilliant. With the added bonus of getting your kids to learn about cleaning up after themselves? Sold!

Why you should reconsider:

Well, it’s simple - the lid.

Injuries and deaths have been recorded in Australia and overseas from toy box lids falling onto children’s heads or necks. Kids up to two years old are most at risk. Children can also become trapped inside the box.

What you can do:

  • Remove the lid. This is the safest option.
  • Look for stoppers on the inside of the lid that make a gap of 12mm or more when the lid is closed.
  • A box with ventilation holes allows air flow if the child climbs in and becomes trapped.
  • A lightweight plastic crate is safer than a box with a heavy lid.

Jolly jumpers

How they’re marketed:

Baby jumpers, also known as "jolly jumpers", hang from a door frame or tripod, supporting a baby that is not yet able to stand. The baby’s feet can then touch the floor allowing them to bounce up and down.

Why you should reconsider:

The door clamps can break, causing a baby to fall, and older children can cause harm by pushing the baby into the doorway.

What you can do:

As with everything on this list, constant supervision can mitigate much of the risk of these products – but not all.

Any toy, part of a toy or object small enough to fit into a film canister

How they’re marketed:

Small toys are cheap and easy to pick up in the supermarket or novelty shop, and kids are drawn to them making them more likely to want you to buy them. Busy little fingers and developing minds like nothing better than exploring the world by pulling things apart and sticking them in their little mouths.

Why you should reconsider:

Marbles, pieces from board games, toy darts, loose buttons, coins, dolls’ eyes, bells, wheels, lollipops, small construction blocks, burst or uninflated balloons, and batteries are all items that have small parts which can easily become lodged in a child’s airway and cause choking.

What you can do:

Keep this rule of thumb in mind: if it fits into a 35mm film canister or is smaller than a ping pong ball, it’s a bit risky for an unsupervised young child.

Cot frills, bumpers, pillows or quilts

How they’re marketed:

A pretty cot with all the trimmings looks great in the pictures...

Why you should reconsider:

… but frills, bumpers, doonas, pillows and quilts all put babies at risk of suffocation. Sad, but true.

What you can do:

SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) research indicates the safest cot for a baby has a firm mattress, a securely fitted sheet and blanket, and nothing else.

Projectile toys

How they’re marketed:

Suction dart toys have been around for a while, and their popularity with little boys and girls doesn’t seem to have abated over the years.

Why you should reconsider:

Projectile toys, particularly suction darts in target gun sets, can be a choking danger to children and many are illegal. Impact from the projectile can also cause injury. In 2004, 17 children in Western Australia alone required hospital treatment following injury from projectile toys.

What you can do:

It’s up to you to decide when a child is mature enough to be able to play with these sort of toys responsibly, but we don’t suggest giving them to the little ones.



Two kids How they’re marketed:

They’re pretty much the most fun you can have while getting incidental exercise, and they help children develop coordination and balance skills.

Why you should reconsider:

Most injuries happen at home when children fall off or hit the side of the trampoline, but there are also risks for young children who can wander underneath and get hit when another child bounces above.

What you can do:

Trampolines require regular inspection and maintenance, and children under six should always be supervised - so unless you have a lot of time, you should think twice before putting one in your backyard. Once again, it really comes down to supervision.

For more information, see our trampoline review.

Bunk beds

How they’re marketed:

They're great space-savers, particularly if you live in a flat or a small house and kids seem attracted to the novelty.

Why you should reconsider:

Bunk beds are also associated with significant injury rates due to falls, or children jumping from the top bunk during play. Children might go to bed at bed-time, but they’re not necessarily sleeping!

What you can do:

We say you’re better off with a more crowded bedroom, but if you must have bunk beds, we recommend guard rails be permanently attached to the top bunk. And we don’t recommend bunk beds at all for children under the age of nine.

Small size, big price

There's been a boom in products tailored to babies and toddlers. For almost every adult product there's a "baby" or "child" version sitting next to it on the shelf, often with a higher price tag than the grown-ups’ version.

We've found many of these products are pretty much unnecessary. In particular, we recommend you ignore baby- and toddler-targeted:

  • moisturisers and body wash,
  • shampoos,
  • sunscreen,
  • milk,
  • juice, and
  • snacks.
For more information, read our Children's Products investigation



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