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Avoid dangerous toys this Christmas

Too many toys fail CHOICE toy lab safety testing.

Antonio in toy lab lead

Each year at Christmastime, NSW Fair Trading officers hit the retailers in the hunt for dangerous toys, and bring a sackful of the worst examples to the CHOICE labs for testing.

The main offenders are usually small retailers, discount stores, market stalls and pop-up shops in malls. These retailers often don't understand the safety laws that apply to toys in Australia. 

Major department and toy stores usually have their own safety and compliance teams so you're much less likely to find dodgy toys on their shelves.

See the full list of the toys that failed this year's NSW Fair Trading toy blitz.

In December 2020, after years of campaigning by CHOICE and other organisations, the Australian government introduced mandatory safety standards for button batteries. This standard will help prevent children from gaining access to the batteries which, if swallowed, can be lethal. Manufacturers, suppliers and retailers have been given 18 months to comply with the new standards. 

What we usually find

The good news is that each year there seems to be fewer dangerous toys out there, no doubt due to regular blitzes by Fair Trading and consumer affairs departments around the country and penalties for traders who've breached the laws. Education programs also help small traders to understand the laws.

The bad news? There are still many toys that fail basic safety tests. CHOICE puts the toys through tests (based on the Australian toy standard AS/NZS ISO 8124) that simulate the rough and tumble of kids' play. For example, we:

  • drop the toys to see if they break too easily
  • pull and twist parts that might detach
  • check if the batteries are easily accessible.

Any small part that breaks off or detaches can be a choking hazard for young children. Batteries and small magnets are extremely dangerous if swallowed.

Projectile toys (guns, and bows and arrows) are tested to see if they are too powerful, or if they can fire a makeshift projectile such as a sharp pencil, whether  the projectile's rubber suction caps come off too easily, and if they have the right warning labels.

CHOICE toy safety test

So our readers could get a better idea of what unsafe toys can look like, several years ago we bought 23 toys that looked potentially unsafe and tested them against the Australian standard.

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. Any toy that can be reasonably regarded as suitable for a child aged under three must comply with the mandatory toy standard.

What we found

  • 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 had easily accessible battery compartments.

None of the four toys bought from larger retailers (Target and Kmart) failed the testing.

Toys that failed our test

puzzle music train

Puzzle Music Train

This Puzzle Music Train had several pieces break off or come loose when dropped or put under tension, including its battery compartment cover.

kitty xylophone

Wooden xylophone

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

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.

super police set

Super Police Set

The small rubber cap detaches too easily from the projectiles supplied with the Super Police Set toy gun. 

Not very super.

lovely baby

Lovely Baby

The Lovely Baby isn't so lovely after only three drops, each of which broke the toy or dislodged small parts.

Tips for toy shopping this year

When shopping for toys, think about the following:

  • Does the toy look cheaply made? 
  • Does it have small parts such as wheels, bells and lights that look like they'd easily break off and become a choking hazard? 
  • Are there any sharp edges or points? 
  • Are the batteries easily accessible?

If yes to any of these, just don't buy it.

Avoid toys that look like unlicensed copies of well-known brands or characters. Shoddily painted Spider-man figures and off-colour Minions and Thomas the Tank Engine trains... we find a lot of these and they very often fail safety tests. Genuine licensed versions of these toys are usually better made and a safer choice.

Toys that passed our test

None of the four toys bought from larger retailers (Target and Kmart) failed the testing. 

The Kmart Group (Kmart, Target and Catch) and Woolworths have quality assurance teams who work with suppliers to ensure that their products meet any required safety standards as well as the retailer's own product quality rules. 

These procedures aren't fail-proof, but they make it unlikely that hazardous products will reach these stores' shelves.

And you can buy safe products from cheap stores such as "$2 stores" – you just need to be careful and follow our guidance.

foam letters

Foam letters and numbers

Foam toys can be a choking hazard if pieces break off – the package should have an appropriate warning label. This product did, which is why we passed it.

hammer pegs

Wooden hammer and peg set

This wooden block set with hammer, bought at a small suburban 'two dollar' store, passed our tests, though it did crack slightly when dropped.

toy truck

Simple toy truck

This toy truck from a major department store had a simple, durable design that easily passed our safety tests.

truck with blocks

Truck with blocks

This truck with blocks came from a 'two dollar' store chain and shows that safe toys can still be found in this type of store.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.