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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently issued a news release on November 16, 2011 headlined: “Toys Safer This Holiday Season Due to Stronger Safety Rules.” The Commission declared that stronger federal rules were having a positive impact on toy safety.  However, the news release also noted that a new CPSC report showed an increase in toy-related deaths of children as well as an elevated number of injuries.  Taken as a whole, the CPSC news release and report reflect a questionable relationship between the stronger federal rules and enhanced safety. Toys are safer – but deaths of children increase and injuries are high?

In its holiday related news release, the Commission reviewed a number of new toy safety rules that were implemented as a result of the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).  The new federal safeguards for children’s products include dramatically lowered lead content and lead paint limits; stringent restrictions on the use of certain chemical phthalates; the conversion of voluntary toy standards into mandatory standards; mandated third party testing and certification of toys and other new rules.  The CPSC stated that these safeguards (and steps taken by toy makers and sellers) contributed to an ongoing decline in toy recalls since 2008.

However, the CPSC release then went on to note that toy related deaths increased to 17 in 2010 from 15 in 2009 and injuries to children did not decrease in any significant way.  These statistics are contained in a staff report entitled, “Toy-Related Deaths and Injuries Calendar Year 2010”.  The study reported on toy-related deaths in 2010 among children less than 15.  Most of these deaths were associated with choking on balloons and small balls. In 2009 most reported fatalities were associated with riding toys.

The CPSC report estimated that 181,500 children younger than 15 years of age were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms because of toy-related injuries in 2010. The injuries consisted mostly of lacerations, contusions, abrasions, fractures and sprains.  In 2009, the number of injuries was not statistically different, but overall, the summary of injuries from 2006 -2010 demonstrates a small but increasing trend in the number of injuries to children in all reported categories.

What can be determined from all of this? What is interesting is the lack of a clear connection between the headline that toys are safer due to stronger federal rules and the actual CPSC report on increased deaths and ongoing numerous injuries to children.  

The CPSC news release points to rules limiting lead and phthalates; as well as new mandatory toy standards and third party testing, but reported deaths and injuries to children do not show a corresponding reduction related to these new federal regulations and rules.  In fact, the major categories of deaths and injuries (choking, drowning, use of riding toys) do not correspond to highlighted safety rules limiting lead, phthalates; or the new mandates for toy standards and third-party testing.

A word of caution – there are areas of uncertainty in the CPSC report. For example, the Commission takes pains to point out that “… many of the incidents were associated with, but not necessarily caused by, a toy”. Further, a significant percentage of injuries to children treated in emergency rooms, involved the catchall toy product code, “Toys, Not Specified.”  The CPSC is conducting a special study to obtain more in depth information in this area.  

This special study, and other sources, may reveal new information connecting stronger federal rules and reduced deaths and injuries to children.  For now, this CPSC news release and associated report do not show such a clear connection.