Safer Toys for Children of All Ages

Tim Sprinkle

The toy industry might look like it’s all about fun and games, but in reality, toy safety is serious business. Children are curious and exploratory by nature, and can be more vulnerable than people at older ages, so recent changes to the standard consumer safety specification for toy safety (F963) seek to enhance the already strong safety requirements in place.

Because toys can pose risks to the children who enjoy them, it is necessary for safety standards to address potential hazards. Recognizing these concerns, the toy industry developed a voluntary toy safety standard in 1976, the world’s first comprehensive such document, originally published by the U.S. Department of Commerce as PS 72-76. In 1986, ASTM International adopted this standard and published it as F963. It covers more than 100 test methods, design and labeling requirements, and other concerns related to safety.
“The toy standard has a long history,” says Joan Lawrence, senior vice president, standards & regulatory affairs with The Toy Association, a trade association representing hundreds of toy companies including manufacturers, retailers, licensors, and others. She is also chair of the toy safety subcommittee (F15.22), which oversees F963. “It's very well respected and well regarded internationally and it remains one of the leading toy standards in the world.” In fact, the U.S. Congress mandated it in 2008 as a federal regulation. 

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“The subcommittee works to identify emerging hazards and address them relatively quickly within the standard, and then we share that information with our counterparts worldwide,” Lawrence says. “It has been a model for other countries in how they approach toy safety, as well as for other product categories to which children may have access.” Part of this impact comes from the fact that in the U.S., technical committees often have regular access to incident data related to toy safety, which is not always available or as well organized in other countries. This can guide how the standard is developed.

The standard recently went through an update process to address several new safety considerations in the toy industry, which was published this fall.

“We've been working on this for quite a while, pretty much since the last version was published,” says Alan Kaufman, F15.22 task group chair. The updates that have just been published address a range of recent changes in the industry, including new regulations, technologies, and applications. The updates also clarified requirements and added new requirements to keep pace with new innovations and the emerging understanding of risk factors.

“Toys as a product category draw a lot of interest and we are able to look at incident data and new innovations and identify potential emerging issues and address them pretty quickly,” syas Lawrence. “That puts us at the forefront on some of these issues.”

The regulatory updates for 2023 include changes to the phthalate requirement in F963 to align with the latest requirements from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as well as exemptions that the CPSC has published for certain materials that don’t need to be routinely tested. Updates were also made to the standard’s heavy metals section to represent recent changes to regulations in that area. The subcommittee restructured the standard’s section on acoustics, adding additional sound-pressure levels for push-and-pull toys and making the entire section more user-friendly.

Further clarifications were made around labeling to reflect requirements from The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), and the standards around the inaccessibility of batteries were expanded. This is due to increasing instances of children ingesting coin batteries in recent years, which are large enough to get stuck in the throat and can quickly damage tissue.

“The requirements limiting children’s access to batteries have been in the toy standard for a long, long time,” says Lawrence. “And it’s the perfect example of how the toy standard has served as a model for other product categories over the years. If you think about a child’s environment, they have access to lots of things that may contain batteries, but only toys had a requirement that the battery be inaccessible and be in a compartment with a locking mechanism. Whereas if you think about the average TV remote control, there was no such requirement and children were accessing those batteries. The toy standard has been a leader in ways like that.”

At the end of the day, everyone involved with F963 cares about keeping kids safe and making sure the toys they play with aren’t introducing them to new risks. Still, keeping up with the latest incident data and spotting emerging hazards can be a full-time job.

“Those hazards drive the update cycle for the standard,” says Kaufman. “But also there is a lot of innovation in the toy industry, which also drives the need for new requirements. Toy safety remains our top priority.”

Tim Sprinkle is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, CO. He has written for Yahoo, The Street, and other websites.

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