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Play it safe - ToyNews

Play it safe

Safety expert Tess Lawrence, principal advisor at Bodycote LawLabs looks at the challenges facing toy manufacturers and advises on the best steps to avoid any future problems....
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From time to time children are injured or even killed by dangerous toys. The news makes media headlines and the thought fills any toy supplier with dread. Recent news stories have highlighted what can go wrong when an unsafe toy reaches the hands of a child. When things go wrong they can go very wrong and potentially damage brand reputation such as in the recent concerns about the safety of Magnetix toys and the Mattel product recalls of last year.

So what are the exact rules regarding toy safety?

Toys have to be safe; EU law demands it (EU Directive 88/378/EEC on the Safety of Toys) and consumers expect it. But how do you know that your product is truly safe? Commonly suppliers test their products to the European Toy Safety Standard EN71, unfortunately a general misconception appears to be that certification to the standard is enough to state that the product is both safe and legally compliant, in many circumstances it is not.

Certainly the standard is adequate where the requirements relate directly to the toy, but the toy may contain certain features that fall outside of the scope of the test standard. These features which fall outside the scope of the standard must still be safe and the supplier must be sure that the product is fully assessed with regard to risk (which can be particularly high when products are new to the market or innovative) and adequate measures must have been put into place to negate the risks.

It should be remembered that a safety certificate only applies to the actual product tested. Old certificates lose their value and standards can change. The supplier must ensure that the items produced in bulk match that conforming sample exactly; failure may mean that the certification is effectively worthless.

Product specifications may drift due to lack of control over the manufacturer. Such circumstances may be found in where the supplier does not have a close relationship with the manufacturer, or even when the relationship is too close that the obvious is not noted.

We are all aware of the excessive lead in paint of some of the Mattel toys, the specification of the paint ‘drifted’ and the subsequent widely publicised suicide of the Chinese factory manager and the voluntary product recall of suspect products.

Random batch testing and adequate quality monitoring can support any concerns in this area. Suppliers often set up quality systems but then fail to maintain control or ‘policing’ of the systems as a result standards slip and problems occur.

It is essential that ‘due diligence’ systems are in place and adequately controlled, such as accreditation to Third Party Audit to British Retail Standards Consumer Products Standard or ISO 9000:2000, documented quality systems, HACCP plans or other risk assessment approaches.

When things do go wrong detailed emergency procedures and product recall plans are valuable. They can speed up response times and take the panic out of difficult situations.

Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, safety hazards are not always obvious, hindsight is always easier but in cases of child safety the public and the courts are much less forgiving. It should be remembered that whilst a product may be safe in law, there will be instances when something goes wrong and the product is claimed as unsafe regardless. If the public, fuelled by media speculation, is convinced that the product is unsafe it may be difficult to convince them otherwise. A recent example was Magnetix products where the media claimed the company’s product to be unsafe. Unknown to consumers, the article the media referred to was more than two years old and the products had been subject to a voluntary recall.

The current product design was legally safe but this did not stop customers’ attempts to return the products as consumer confidence had been damaged.

The media can be powerful in highlighting safety complaints, which of course is a valuable tool in communication; however, in the wrong circumstances it may panic the public. Once the public perception is damaged it can be difficult to recover the confidence and reputation which has taken years to build, as with the example of Mattel, the financial effect can be significant.

What now? If you haven’t done it already take the opportunity to review your systems and all certification. Make sure that your products have been reviewed frequently, adequately and in detail, don’t forget to consider product ergonomics and risk. Preferably use a team to carry out the assessment. Be sure to establish robust due diligence systems. Be aware that the Toy Safety Directive is currently under review and product safety has risen in the political agenda.

Make sure you regularly monitor your manufacturers and suppliers. Obtain certificates of accreditation for BRC Consumer Products Standard or similar and if necessary audit them or contract someone to do this for you.

Take any corrective action promptly. If you don’t have them already, have detailed product recall procedures and emergency recall procedures in place and test them to make sure they really work.

Think about how you would approach any urgent media enquires and plan for it. This will speed up your response and allow you to put the consumers mind at rest, keep the Enforcement Authorities at bay and so protect your brand promptly.

Companies such as Bodycote LawLabs can help with legal challenges, assisting in product assessments, factory assessments and scrutiny of certification. There are also companies that specialise in Ergonomic studies and build a good relationship with your nominated toy test laboratory.

Government bodies have guidance notes which can offer a sound starting point and your local Trading Standards may be willing to act as ‘Home Authority’ and advise you further but be mindful of their enforcement powers. Most of all stay on the ball and up to date.

For more information:

UK Free Phone: 0800 633 5705
International Enquiries: 0044 121 206 4120
E-Mail: healthsciences@bodycote.com
Website: www.healthsciences.bodycote.com

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