Safe Toys for Toddlers: What Parents Should Know
As a parent, you want to be sure that any toys your toddler plays with are safe and age-appropriate.
But did you know that manufacturers are not necessarily required to include age recommendations or warning labels on toys sold in Canada?
There are certain items for children that must have warning labels, including stuffed animals, play tents, electric toys, chemicals (used in science education sets), and flexible film (i.e. plastic) bags. In addition, Health Canada strongly recommends labelling for choking hazards.
Beyond that, age recommendations and warning labels are not mandated under Canada’s toy regulations. However, most manufacturers do include helpful labelling on toys so parents can make informed decisions.
But what if you buy a toy that doesn’t include helpful labelling or you’re given a toy without its original packaging?
It might help to be aware of the safety requirements that toys must meet so you know what kinds of hazards to watch out for. In Canada, the Canada Consumer Protection Safety Act: Toy Regulations sets out mandatory safety specifications covering a range of potential hazards.
WHAT IS A TOY?
Under the regulations, a toy is defined as “a product that is intended for use by a child under the age of 14 in learning or play”. There are also certain requirements that are specific to any toy that is or is likely to be used by a child under 3 years of age, regardless of the manufacturer’s age recommendation.
Let’s look at some of the rules that apply to toys meant for toddlers.
Mechanical safety covers:
- Suffocation hazards, such as flexible film bags, or any toy large enough for a child to enter that can be closed by a lid or door. Bags must have a suffocation warning printed on them. Toys large enough to hold a child must have ventilation holes on at least two sides.
- Strangulation hazards, including toys with cords, or elastics for attaching a toy across a baby carriage, crib or playpen. Elastics must not stretch more than 30 inches or extend more than 75% of their relaxed length.
- Sharpness and puncture hazards, such as exposed metal or wire parts, plastic that could break into sharp pieces, or stuffing material containing sharp matter. Wooden toys must have a smooth finish.
- Auditory hazards caused by noise exceeding 100 decibels (about as loud as a lawn mower or jackhammer)
- Magnet hazards, particularly from small magnets that could be swallowed or inhaled. Some magnets are strong enough to attract each other through layers of tissues, causing life-threatening injuries.
There are two standardized methods to assess a toy for reasonably foreseeable use by a child: a series of drop tests from a variety of angles onto a tile-covered concrete floor; and push/pull tests, where force is gradually applied and then held for 10 seconds. The toy is inspected for safety hazards, like detached small components, and sharp edges and points.
For toys that are likely to be used by children under age 3, the regulations specifically address toys with small components. A small part is defined as any object that fits completely into a specially designed test cylinder that approximates the size of the fully expanded throat of a toddler. Toys must not have any small, separable components or any component that can be detached with reasonably foreseeable use, presenting choking, ingestion or inhalation hazards.
Health Canada has taken action on a number of toys that failed the mechanical hazards tests, including puzzles with small pieces that could be ingested, puzzle pieces with small pegs for grasping which could pull or break off, and plastic rattles that could break easily if dropped.
Flammability standards cover all textile materials, from dolls, plush and soft toys to dress-up costumes and tents. For example, if the outer fabric of a soft toy ignites within one second of contact with a flame, and the flame travels 127 mm (five inches) in seven seconds or less, it fails the requirements of the regulations.
The specifications also discuss the use of flame-retardant chemicals, which can be harmful to human health or the environment. Health Canada encourages the use of safe, non-chemical alternatives, noting that compliance can be achieved without the use of flame-retardant chemicals.
This section protects children from specific toxic substances that could be accessed under reasonably foreseeable circumstances or that could be released if the toy breaks or leaks. The regulations also cover surface coatings (paint, varnish, or stickers) that contain more than set limits of lead, mercury, or soluble antimony, arsenic, cadmium, selenium or barium.
In addition, toys likely to be used by children 3 years or under must comply with phthalates (chemicals used in plastics) regulations and hazardous products containing lead requirements.
Health Canada regularly collects toy samples for testing to verify that they meet the mandatory requirements. They also investigate complaints and incident reports related to toy safety. If a toy is found to be unsafe or violates any of the regulations, Heath Canada can take action through product recall, seizure, and/or prosecution.
In the past, the majority of toy recalls in Canada have involved small part choking hazards, so this is one area in which parents should be vigilant. It is always important to supervise closely young children while they play.
You can read more about the Government of Canada’s toy industry guidelines here.
Thinkamajigs offers a wide variety of Montessori and Montessori-inspired teaching materials, educational toys, games, and related products, and we are constantly adding new items from around the world. While the educational benefits and merits of each product are first and foremost, we also ensure that every item meets our high standards of quality, durability, safety, and value, so you can be confident you’re buying a great product at a great price with great customer service.