8 Jan 2008
Keeping Kids Safety And Secure(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 01,2008)
Child Product Safety
Making sure children's products are as safe as possible is essential for both buyers and suppliers, according to leading experts in testing and certification
Toxic substances, choking hazards, sharp edges and flammable materials can all increase the risk of harm to a child, making constant product testing vital.
But buyers and suppliers may not be fully aware of the sheer size and scope of the children's product sector and their corresponding responsibilities, says SATRA Technology Centre Supply Chain Business Manager Phil Shaw.
"Anyone selling or distributing consumer merchandise in the European Union (EU) is responsible for the safety of the products," he cautions. "Moreover, if the manufacturer is outside the EU, any investigation and enforcement action related to faulty products focuses on the retailer, distributor or importer."
Mr Shaw maintains the only way to guarantee standards of safety is through rigorous testing and quality control before the toy hits the market. "Established and effective procedures that ensure products are quality-assured help demonstrate due diligence and may satisfy a court that the supplier took all reasonable steps to prevent an inappropriate product from reaching the market," he believes.
"SATRA can help decide these and our global reach means we can assist at any point in the supply chain."
In addition, Mr Shaw advises that the incessant and rapid development of the children's products sector means suppliers and buyers may overlook other items that catch youngsters' eyes.
"There are many products that are also 'child-appealing' but without being classified as 'toys'," he notes. "Obvious examples include lighting and electrical accessories and sports protective equipment, which incorporate child-appealing decals and motifs or products that are, for instance, shaped to give the appearance of a cartoon character."
In these cases, the requirements of a specific European Directive, such as the Low Voltage or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Directive need to be satisfied, along with any additional requirements associated with any hazards that might be introduced when taking the behaviour of children into account - particularly young children. "These include detachable parts that could cause a choking hazard or the toxicity of paint if it is considered likely to be sucked."
Making the situation even more confusing for the layman is the fact that some child-appealing products are not subject to a specific European Union Directive. "In this situation The General Products Safety Directive applies," Mr Shaw explains.
He cites the example of novelty slippers intended to look like animals that also incorporate hard facial features. "They are definitely not toys, but still need to be assessed for similar risks," Mr Shaw advises.
Soft toys are checked to ensure the absence of easily detachable features and therefore it is reasonable to expect products with similar characteristics to meet at least the same level of safety. "It is equally sensible to apply the test methods from the toy safety standard EN 71," he believes.
Likewise soft toys are subject to a flammability test. "SATRA has developed its own flammability test method for novelty slippers incorporating criteria from EN 71 and additional requirements considered appropriate to items that are worn," Mr Shaw reveals.
Other examples of child-appealing products include innovative types of footwear that can be 'dual purpose'. "For instance, some types of roller skates incorporate retractable wheels - turning them from leisure products to relatively ordinary footwear - and are sized to fit children," Mr Shaw notes.
In this situation, he recommends a safety assessment of the performance requirements of the wheeled footwear against the specific European standards for roller skates (e.g. EN 13843: 2003), checks to confirm that chemical substances banned or restricted by European law are not present and some durability and safety tests associated with general footwear. "SATRA has developed standard test methods covering slip resistance, abrasion resistance, toe load and sole bond adhesion for this purpose," Mr Shaw adds.
"In addition, where smaller sizes associated with children are involved, particularly young children, the provisions of the Toy safety Directive EN 71 would also be taken into account."
Mr Shaw concedes that many retailers pass the responsibility for demonstrating compliance down the supply chain.
"However, it is important to confirm that the most appropriate checks have been carried out as these can form the basis of any 'due diligence' defence should anything go wrong," he advises.
"It should be remembered that trading standards officials may successfully prosecute retailers for supplying footwear that fails to meet the requirements laid down in EN 71."
The toxicity of paint should also be tested in many consumer products, including toys. "Equally, use of phthalate plasticizers in PVC materials is limited by the European phthalate directive which came into force in January 2007," Mr Shaw notes.
"Our comprehensive physical testing laboratories not only assess the risk of injury from the physical components of a toy, but also analyse toys for the presence of restricted elements such as lead, chromium and mercury."
To meet increasing demand for restricted substances testing and reducing turnaround time, SATRA has purchased a new 60,000 Inductively Conducted Plasma (ICP) atomic emission spectrometer.
"This means we can now test materials for a greater number of elements and test them more quickly," Mr Shaw explains, adding that this latest purchase has seen investment surpass 300,000 in recent years.
THE ICP machine replaces the company's existing atomic absorption (AA) test machine and its greater capacity has already had an impact - making turnaround times for tests much shorter.
"Among the substances it tests for are the eight elements restricted by standard EN 71 Part 3 (toxicity), which covers toys: cadmium, chromium, barium, lead, antimony, arsenic, selenium and mercury," Mr Shaw says. "The ICP spectrometer is also 1,000 times more sensitive than the AA machine, meaning it can detect much smaller quantities of elements."
The latest investment significantly boosts the capabilities of SATRA, which is a Notified Body for the EU Directives on personal protective equipment, toys, medical devices and construction products. "Our activities include research, material and product evaluation, management systems and consultancy, international quality systems, quality assurance, publications, information services and the production and sale of test equipment," Mr Shaw explains.
As a Notified Body, SATRA can carry out assessments on articles where the potential risks raised by a toy are not adequately covered by testing to EN 71.
"We use our expertise to assess these products based on the intended market and types of consumers the product is aimed towards, select tests from the most appropriate standards and carry out evaluations, taking the various relevant EU Directives and regulations into account."
He says SATRA Technology Centre's UKAS (United Kingdom accreditation Service) scope in testing PPE means the company is also expert in assessing any additional requirements considered necessary for PPE items such as sports helmets and limb and wrist protectors that may be finished in the livery of recognisable toy characters or brands.
Mr Shaw claims that SATRA is considered to have the largest UKAS accredited testing scope and employs more than 180 scientific, technical and support staff based across two sites in the UK - testing consumer products as diverse as footwear, toys, home wear, personal protective equipment, clothing and furniture and floor coverings.
"SATRA also has offices in China and Taiwan and testing partnership arrangements with laboratories in Hong Kong, China and the US," Mr Shaw concludes, adding that the company's experts are acknowledged authorities in their respective fields, and are well-placed to offer an insight into the relevant safety standards and the need for testing.
"The sheer scope of our reach and skill set ensures that SATRA will remain a world leader in assessing consumer goods for safety - including toys."
TEXT BY ROBERT PIERCE