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Toy Safety Standard Helps Kids Play Safely

Did you know that, traditionally, manufacturers introduce 3,000 to 5,000 new toys each year? “Toys are among the safest consumer products in the home,” notes Joan Lawrence, vice president, Standards and Regulatory Affairs, for the Toy Industry Association (TIA) in New York, N.Y., and secretary of F15.22 on Toy Safety, a subcommittee of ASTM Committee F15 on Consumer Products. An important contributor to that safety is the use of F 963, Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, which establishes nationally recognized safety requirements for toys intended for use by children under the age of 14. The latest revision of F 963 has just been approved by Committee F15.

The newest version of this document reflects the comprehensive work by F15.22 to consider new toy technologies and products as well as data on problems with toys. Toy manufacturers, importers, retailers, consumers, testing laboratories, safety professionals and children’s interest groups have worked together to consider any needed clarification to the standard, to develop new sections for specific toy types based on identified hazards, and to establish acoustics limits for toys with sounds.

“F 963 has evolved over the years and has traditionally focused on risk-based safety requirements that have been identified through injury statistics as well as research studies identifying possible potential hazards,” notes Elaine Besson, a safety consultant based in Arlington, Va. who specializes in children’s products, and vice-chair of F15. She adds that F 963 is a “living” specification that grows and changes with product and technology innovation, which is true of this revision to the standard.

The standard was originally drafted in 1971 and published by the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) as PS 72-76. The document came into newly formed Subcommittee F15.22 on Toy Safety in the early 1980s for a thorough review, and the result, incorporating safety and labeling requirements from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, was F 963.

For the first time, F 963 now includes the rationale for the changes made. New sections have been added on battery-operated toys, battery-powered ride-on toys, toys with spherical ends, hemispheric- shaped objects, and acoustics. The new sections, except for that on acoustics, result from injury and incident statistics provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and subsequent research by toy manufacturers.

Battery Operated Toys: This section clarifies requirements related to rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries as well as the applicability of use and abuse testing for battery-operated toys intended for different age groups; it also includes a new “stalled motor” testing protocol.

Battery-Powered Ride-On Toys: This new addition addresses toys not intended for streets or roadways and which use a battery power source that delivers at least eight amps for at least one minute. The section includes requirements and tests for maximum temperature, stalled motor, nuisance tripping, start/stop and forward/reverse conditions, switch endurance, overload, battery overcharge, short circuit protection and strain relief. Safety labeling and use directions for consumers form another part of this section.

Toys with Spherical Ends: Small, spherical shapes, typically attached to a shaft or handle, such as on a mallet or antennae, which may pose an asphyxiation hazard through becoming lodged in a child’s throat, must now be designed to minimize potential problems.

Hemispheric Objects: Toys with cup, bowl, half-ball or half-egg shape, which pose a suffocation risk through the toy’s becoming sealed over a young child’s nose and mouth, are considered in another new section. Design features to prevent a vacuum from forming include using a divider in the hemispheric shape, a scalloped edge pattern, or strategically placed holes.

Acoustics: This new section results from extensive review of occupational data and research on noise-related hearing injury. Besson notes that “there is no hard injury data that would indicate a need for safety requirements in toy related to acoustics.” However, F 963 makes recommendations for noise limits to minimize any possibility of hearing damage that could be caused by sound-producing toys such as rattles, squeeze toys, toys intended to be used close to the ear such as toy telephones; handheld toys such as toy tools, stuffed animals and dolls; and toys attached to or resting on the floor such as toy vehicles, stacking toys, games and activity toys.

The acoustics section provides toy-makers with benchmark limits and reliable test methods, and F15.22 continues to work on acoustics requirements for several different product classes that have presented challenges in developing reliable tests with consistent results.

For further technical information, contact Elaine H. Besson (phone: 703/ 533-8408). F15 meets March 29 to April 2 at ASTM Headquarters, West Conshohocken, Pa. For meeting or membership details, contact Katharine Morgan, manager, Technical Committee Operations, ASTM International (phone: 610/832-9721). //

Copyright 2004, ASTM International