Government Agencies Take Lead in Setting Toy Safety Standards

Plastics News

December 20, 2013

The toy industry has improved its safety record, but it's not resting on its laurels.

The industry is revisiting International Organization for Standardization (ISO) toy safety benchmarks to see which can be improved and which should be more closely harmonized among the major markets and producers.

Toy recalls in the United States for safety reasons had grown to 29.1 million units in 2007 across 84 products. That number has steadily diminished as quality agencies tightened standards and producers more closely adhered them. Of the more than 3 billion toys sold in the United States annually, a small proportion is now recalled.

As of Nov. 13 this year, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) had issued U.S. recalls for 38 toys. About a week later, CPSC and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted vinyl dolls with high levels of banned phthalates. The agencies seized some 200,000 dolls arriving from China at eight U.S. ports, suggesting the watchdogs help boost safety in the U.S. market.

Since 2007, CPSC has issued 1,086 recall notices for toys.

Major markets base their toy safety standards on several criteria influenced by ISO in Geneva. Standards affect how plastics are used in toys. Standards encompass phthalate plasticizer levels in vinyl toys, flammability, migration and percentage content of heavy metals, mechanical and physical properties and age-appropriate uses. ISO toy standards are under its TC 181 category.

Toy stakeholders, including ISO personnel, government agencies and non-government organizations such as the Toy Industry Association (TIA) of New York met in S?o Paulo in late October to begin studies that could lead to new ISO standards and better harmonization between agencies in the United States and Europe. U.S. standards are published by ASTM International and enforced by CPSC.

"The main committee of ISO TC 181 will meet next time in Kuala Lumpur in October 2014," stated ISO's TC 181 Chairman Christian Wetterberg in an email. "Before then there will be various enquiries and votes on the standards that are under development and potentially meetings with sub-groups.

"The maximum time to develop a new standard is usually three years but the actual time depends on the complexity of the product," he said.

It is the normal course for ASTM and ISO to undergo continual review of toy safety standards to keep pace with innovation and to address potential emerging issues, explained Joan Lawrence, TIA vice president of standards and regulatory affairs. About 20 countries are active in the ISO technical committee on toy safety, Lawrence added. For the United States, the American National Standards Institute is the ISO member.

Industry representatives are trying to stay on top of regulations of CPSC in the United States coming into force since 2008 and by newer directives introduced in Europe between 2011 and 2013. China, the biggest toy producer, has been working on standards. In Hong Kong, for example, vinyl toys with high phthalate levels have been found and could convince authorities to tighten restrictions that reflect standards in the United States, Europe, Canada, Singapore and elsewhere.

TIA personnel recently visited Shanghai to explain U.S. standards and how to meet them.

"This was a very fruitful trip," stated TIA executive vice president of external affairs Ed Desmond in a note to TIA members. "We are pleased to continue our commitment to helping local contacts in China to build their awareness of U.S. toy safety standards, as well as to grow our resources for TIA members that are doing business in the region."

The toy industry has a lot at stake to ensure its products are safe. TIA estimates global toy markets were worth $84.1 billion in 2012. The U.S. market was about $22 billion that year.

The customer base is gradually growing. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts youths from 0 to 17 years of age in the United States will number 76.2 million in 2020, up from 74.1 million in 2010.

In the past five years, CPSC and the customs agency have stopped more than 9.8 million units of 3,000 toys that violated applicable standards.

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