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New mandatory safety standards for button batteries

The Australian Government introduces legally binding rules in response to serious injuries and deaths.

button batteries on grey background
Last updated: 21 December 2020
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Need to know

  • The Australian Government has announced it will introduce new mandatory safety and information standards for products containing button batteries
  • The new standards follow extensive consultation with health professionals, industry, government and consumer advocates, including CHOICE
  • Manufacturers, suppliers and retailers have been given 18 months to ensure their products and packaging comply

Despite three deaths and 44 serious injuries to children who have ingested button batteries since December 2017, product makers have been largely ignoring the voluntary button battery safety code. 

In our most recent lab tests, 10 of 17 common household products failed our button battery safety test. Now there's a mandatory code on the books, and none too soon.

New button battery requirements

The Australian Government is introducing new mandatory safety and information standards for products containing button batteries. These require: 

  • secure battery compartments to stop children from accessing the batteries
  • compliance testing to demonstrate the batteries are secure
  • warnings and emergency advice on packaging
  • child-resistant packaging for higher risk batteries.

Some of the new standards go beyond the requirements of international industry standards, which had been voluntary. In particular, a warning symbol is now required on the front of the packaging of products that contain button batteries, and some button batteries must come in child-resistant packaging.

lithium battery close up

Lithium batteries cause tissue damage more quickly than other types of button batteries.

Lithium batteries especially dangerous

This includes lithium batteries, which pose the highest risk. They usually have a larger surface area than other button batteries, which means they're more likely to get stuck in a child's oesophagus if swallowed. They also have a higher voltage, which can cause tissue damage more quickly. 

Other button batteries, such as those with an alkaline, silver oxide or zinc-air makeup, must also come in child-resistant packaging if they are 16mm or bigger.

Families warned to be alert

The government says Australia is the first to deliver risk-based mandatory regulation that applies to all consumer products containing button batteries. It's using the announcement to remind people to be cautious when giving and receiving gifts for children, and to check if they include button batteries that can be easily accessed.

But it's not just toys you should watch out for. When an earlier CHOICE investigation found button batteries were easily accessible in pet leads, remotes and book lights, among other goods, Dr Ruth Barker, a paediatrician and director of the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit, said this was unsurprising.

"Although the products tested may not seem to be the sort of thing a young child would be attracted to, the research shows that children access batteries from a diverse range of common household products," she said at the time. 

Many of these kids require urgent medical retrieval over long distances and some stay in hospital for weeks. Some are left with permanent problems

Dr Ruth Barker, paediatrician and director of the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit

About 20 children present to hospital emergency departments every week in Australia due to a suspected button battery ingestion or insertion. 

Barker has been a leading voice in an urgent campaign for the regulation of button batteries. 

"Many of these kids require urgent medical retrieval over long distances and some stay in hospital for weeks," Barker said. "Some are left with permanent problems."

Standards come after long campaign by CHOICE and others

The new safety standards come on the back of extensive consultation, run by the ACCC, with health professionals, industry, government and consumer advocates, including CHOICE, most of whom supported a mandatory code. The ACCC began formal consultation in August last year, but the fight for better regulation started long before.

We've been campaigning for a mandatory standard for button batteries for years. CHOICE product safety campaigner, Amy Pereira, says the introduction of long-awaited standards marks a momentous day for parents and families across Australia.

Button batteries are harmful, commonplace items... and can cause serious and irreversible injury or death when swallowed by children

Amy Pereira, CHOICE product safety campaigner

"Button batteries are harmful, commonplace items found in kitchen scales, thermometers, novelty toys and accessories, and can cause serious and irreversible injury or death when swallowed by children," she says. "The new rules will help prevent further deaths and injury to young children in Australia."

In addition to mandatory safety standards, Pereira says a general product safety provision in consumer law will help ensure that all products are safe.

Manufacturers, suppliers and retailers have been given 18 months to ensure their products and packaging comply

Manufacturers, suppliers and retailers have been given 18 months to ensure their products and packaging comply with the standards for button batteries. 

The maximum penalty for non-compliance is $500,000 for individuals or the greater of $10 million, three times the value of the financial benefit received or 10% of annual turnover in the preceding 12 months for companies. Civil penalties for the same amounts also apply.

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