Toys become part of children's lives from birth: carousels hung on cradles, rattles and music boxes, soft and soft fabric puppets populate the children's beds and prams. Toys change with the growth of the child who, stimulated by this world of colored and sound objects, not only has fun, but activates all his senses thus starting to know the world around him. In fact, through those same toys that he touches, puts in his mouth, beats, hears playing, repeating the same gesture many times with evident satisfaction, the child interacts with the outside world, becoming more and more independent over the years. Toys support him in change and growth, gradually becoming more and more elaborate.
Among the different types that exist, there are games of:
- identification (e.g. dolls, superheroes, cops, fairies, etc.)
- psychophysical abilities (e.g., targets, constructions, sound tools, art kits, puzzles, beads, etc.)
- physical activity (e.g. bicycles, pedal machines, roller skates, etc.)
- functionality (e.g. experimental equipment, mini kitchens, etc.)
It is clearly impossible to enclose in a few categories the world of toys that adapts to different social customs: from simple wooden and tin toys to modern ones built with more advanced materials (plastics, rubbers, synthetic fibers).But the child and the way of playing have not changed; both alone and in a group, for the child play continues to be a fundamental part of his intellectual and physical development and allows him to experiment and project his entry into adolescence and then into the adult world on the toy / game. stage of his development, the child must have safe toys available, which do not pose any kind of risk to his health.
Toy safety legislation
There is a European standard (directive 2009/48 / EC) which came into force in 2011 also in Italy with the legislative decree n. 54, exclusively dedicated to the safety of toys. It provides that toys must be "safe", so as not to endanger children and their health, both when they are used in the manner envisaged, those for which they were built, and in the case of a "foreseeable" use, connected the usual behavior of children (for example putting the toy in the mouth). The law, therefore, takes into account the various activities that the child could carry out in his exploration of the outside world and requires that the toys be safe even in the case of uses other than their original destination, but still falling within the normal activities of a child.
Toys for the law are defined as "articles designed or intended exclusively or not, to be used for play purposes by children under the age of 14". The" expression exclusively or not indicates that a product, to be considered a toy, must not be exclusively intended for play. This means that particular products with a dual function (for example, a key ring with a teddy bear attached) should be considered as toys.
However, many items that could be traded as play tools are not considered toys by the law. These include:
- puzzles with over 500 pieces
- sports equipment (including roller, inline and skateboard skates) intended for children with a body mass greater than 20 kg
- electric vehicles (motorcycles, cars, electric scooters) intended to be used for travel on public roads
- nautical equipment such as dinghies and canoes for use in deep water and items for learning to swim even if intended for children (such as life jackets with built-in panties)
- fireworks, rifles and pistols (except water guns)
- ovens, irons or other electrical products powered with voltage higher than 24 volts
According to the different stages of development of the child, the law distinguishes two age groups:
- toys intended for small children (up to 3 years) which provide for specific safety measures, given the most critical age group
- toys for older children (from 3 to 14 years)
Each toy, before arriving on the shelves of a store, must undergo several checks. The manufacturer is the first to have to evaluate its safety by subjecting it to specific tests depending on the type of game and the age group it is aimed at. At this point, and only if the characteristics required by law are respected, the manufacturer applies the CE mark to the toy, as a guarantee of its safety (health and environment). The presence of the mark ensures that the toy is not risky for children throughout his life, even if he stays at home for months or years.
The presence of the CE mark on toys produced abroad must be checked by those who import them into Italy; the importer must also verify that the information on the toy is in Italian in order to allow for correct use.
Finally, at the end of this procedure, it is up to the toy distributor to ensure that transport and storage will not damage the product.
The law also contains the lists of some substances not allowed in the production of toys because they can cause serious and proven carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic effects for reproduction (CMR), or potentially capable of causing allergies (such as some dyes). Furthermore, it provides an indication of the limits not to be exceeded in the use of other particular substances (such as metals, phthalates, nitrosamines) that could compromise the health of the child.
The competent authorities in Italy for the safety of toys are the Ministry for Economic Development and, for some strictly health aspects, the Ministry of Health.
Risks to health
Even the simple use of a toy can present more or less serious risks to a child's health. They are classified as:
Chemical risk (exposure to certain chemicals contained in the toy). This risk can occur for example for:
- scraping action of a child's teeth if you put a toy coated with lead paint (a toxic substance that has been restricted in toys in Europe and other parts of the world for years, but not in overalls for years) in your mouth. This would involve ingesting the metal with a serious health risk
- nibbling action (such as that exercised by children on the fingers of the hands of puppets and rubber dolls) which could cause the ingestion of small pieces of the toy and their digestion in the stomach with the release of various substances. For example, soft plastic toys (such as dolls, carnival masks, bath toys, armrests and donuts) may contain some phthalates, toxic substances whose use in toys and articles intended for childhood is allowed, to protect the health of children, only in concentrations that do not exceed 0 , 1%
Physical-mechanical risk (caused by manipulation and use of the toy). It can occur for example when:
- small pieces of a toy are swallowed resulting in the risk of suffocation. This could happen, for example, if a rattle were banged on the tablet of a high chair and lost small pieces that the child puts in his mouth. Toys intended for children under 3 years of age should be sized to prevent the possibility of their parts being swallowed or inhaled, even if broken.
- there are laces, elastic or cords which may constitute, in the hands of children of unsuitable age to use them, a risk of strangulation
- sucker toys or in the shape of a cup, bowl or half an egg are placed on the face during the game. The suction effect they can produce could make it difficult for you to breathe
Microbiological risk (potentially harmful microorganisms are ingested or inhaled by the child). It can occur, for example, in the presence of:
- soap bubbles or other liquid parts in the toy containing microorganisms
The tests on the safety of toys have been developed trying to reproduce their use by the child and taking into account the typical behaviors present in the various age groups.
In the case of children under the age of three, for example, it is considered the habit of bringing objects to the mouth, of sucking and nibbling. For this reason it has also been verified that the compartment containing the toy batteries cannot be easily opened avoiding thus, the danger that the child can swallow them with consequent health risks.
It is a correct habit for families, nests, playrooms to eliminate damaged toys, without carrying out improper repairs, because they may have lost the safety features initially possessed and guaranteed by the presence of the CE mark.
Since the consumer code guarantees citizens the right to have safe and quality products, in the event of accidents involving children while using a toy or if the adult (parent, teacher, doctor, first aid staff) finds defects or irregularities in the labeling of the game, it is good practice to report them directly to the Ministry of Economic Development or, in case of direct effects on health, to the Ministry of Health.
In the latter case it is useful and advisable, if available, to attach a medical certificate attesting to the effect itself, so as to improve the control and evaluation of the toys on the market.
The mandatory information on the label
According to the law, the labeling of toys must necessarily include:
- CE mark, of proportions established by law
- age range which the toy is intended for
- a number or code (indicating, for example, type, lot, series, model) that allows the identification of the toy
- name of the manufacturer and the importer
- registered trade name or the registered trademark
- address (to be used for contacts or to report any defects found)
If the dimensions of the toy do not allow it, the information can be shown on the packaging or written inside an illustrative leaflet which must also indicate, in Italian, the instructions for use (for the assembly / operation of the toy or battery change) and safety information or warnings. The latter, intended for adults, are designed to prevent risks that could derive from the use of the toy.For example, for merry-go-rounds that hang on cradles and cots or other trinkets attached to strollers, playpens and the like with ropes, laces or ribbons, it must be indicated that, to avoid any entanglement injuries, the toy must be removed when the child begins to try to get up on hands and knees in a crawling position.
Another example of a safety warning is the signaling of the presence of a toy inside a food, or sold together with it (such as surprises), with the words Contains toy. Adult supervision is recommended.
This information must be clearly visible to the person buying the toy, even when the purchase is made online.
The lack of the CE mark and the mandatory information indicates a non-legality condition of the toy.
The Ministry of Economic Development, through the Chambers of Commerce and the Guardia di Finanza, is the body in charge of supervising and controlling the toys on sale. For some specific aspects concerning health, the Ministry of Health with the collaboration of the National Institute of Health and the Carabinieri of the NAS, is responsible for supervision and control of toys on the market. The border checks for toys imported from countries outside the European Union are carried out by the Customs Agency.
When the market surveillance authorities assess that a toy risks compromising the safety or health of children, they prohibit its sale, trade and circulation on the national territory, and order its withdrawal or recall from the market (i.e. the request for return of the product).
The surveillance and control activities are used to prevent the sale and distribution of toys that do not meet the requirements established by the regulations.Irregularities (non-conformities) can be detected by examining the documentation that the manufacturer must maintain to demonstrate which conformity checks he has carried out; however, the control authorities can carry out further checks. The activity to combat irregularities is particularly important because in the case of illegal, irregular or even fake branded toys, it cannot be excluded that there are risks, even serious ones, for the health and safety of children.
In addition, in Europe there is a rapid alert system (called "Safety gate", formerly known as RAPEX) for the safety of consumer products (including toys) and which can be consulted at: European Commission - Safety Gate: Reports weekly. When a member state identifies a toy that is potentially dangerous to safety or health on its territory, it inserts it into the system. In this way, the information circulates in real time in all the countries of the European Union allowing them to take all necessary measures to limit the risk (for example, by withdrawing the product from the market).
To make purchases aware of what is placed in the hands of children and to give them the most suitable toy according to their age, reducing the health risks, some useful tips are provided, also relating to the use of the toy:
- buy the toy from trusted retailers and websites
- read the labels and information on the package carefully which can be a valid help for parents to verify their safety
- avoid all those toys that do not show correct information on the labels (the CE marking, the name and address of the manufacturer or importer, the age range of the child to whom the game is intended, the instructions in Italian), because they may not have been subjected to the safety checks required by law
- pay the utmost attention to the quality-price ratio also in order to be able to identify any counterfeit toys, or a more or less faithful reproduction of the original game, obtained using poor quality material, bearing a brand or name similar to the original one and purchasable at a lower price
- avoid buying toys unsuitable for the age of the child and keep toys intended for different ages separate
- immediately discard any bags in which the toy was packed, to avoid that children putting their heads in them could risk suffocation, as well as laces that can be tied around the neck
- make sure that the child has understood exactly how the game works
- periodically check that the toy is not broken and do not try to repair it in an inappropriate way: a toy that is not intact can pose a danger to children
- check that for battery-operated toys, the battery is not easily accessible
For further "instructions for use" the manual of the Ministry of Economic Development Guide to the purchase and use of the toy can be consulted.
European Commission. Health and Food Safety. Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) (English)
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Nederlands (RIVM). Report 320003001, 2008. Chemicals in toys. A general methodology for assessment of chemical safety of toys with a focus on elements
Ministry of Health. Safety of toys and free consumption products
Ministry of Health. Ten rules to protect the physical safety of the child
Ministry of Health. Toys and Consumer Products - Frequently Asked Questions
Ministry of Health. Advice for the safe use of toys
Legislative Decree 6 September 2005, n. 206.Consumer Code, pursuant to article 7 of Law 29 July 2003, n.299. (GU n. 235 of 8-10-2005 - Ordinary Supplement n. 162)