The toy and children-related industries are responsible for guaranteeing the safety of their product categories to make ‘play safe’ for the little ones of the house. This presents the challenge of meeting stringent regulations while ensuring the timely delivery of finished goods that meet consumer expectations. A deeper focus on safety and compliance is already in place within most industry players, including manufacturers, importers and retailers.
Despite global authorities and consumer associations putting the safety of vulnerable young consumers first, many risks and non-compliances are still uncovered. In Europe alone, toys were among the most notified products in 2018, representing 31% of the RAPEX alerts.
Source: RAPEX 2018 Annual Report
Many precautions can be taken to secure the supply chain and help reduce risks throughout the production process such as factory audits, in-line inspections or in-production assessments. But there are some measures that can be adopted even before production starts, allowing brands to anticipate risks, including:
Toy / non-toy classification
Although toy regulations in different countries give clear guidance on the classification of a product as a toy, there are some borderline products that are occasionally difficult to classify. In some specific cases it is necessary to evaluate additional criteria in order to classify a product as a toy. For example, in Europe, the Toy Safety Directive provides the following criteria: ‘Any product designed or intended whether or not exclusively for use in play by children under 14 years of age’. A similar definition is used in the USA in the standard ASTM F963: ‘toy- any object designed, manufactured, or marketed as a plaything for children under 14 years of age’.
The main difficulty here relates to the concept of ‘use in play’ or ‘plaything’. Most objects have a play value for children, but this does not mean they fall within the toy category. The ‘play value’ must be intended by the manufacturer and not as a result of the child’s preference for an object. If the manufacturer labels the product as a ‘non-toy’ it needs to be able to support this claim.
Adequate age recommendation and corresponding marking
This indicates the safety of a toy based on following capabilities:
- Physical ability of the child to play with the toy
- Mental ability of the child to know how to use the toy
- Play needs and interests present at various levels of the child development
- Safety aspects of a particular toy
Consumers rely on the age recommendation provided by the manufacturer on the toy’s packaging when choosing a product that will match the interests and the skills of the child. The age recommendation also plays an essential role in guaranteeing the child’s safety, ensuring they are not exposed to toys that are too small and that can present a choking hazard.
One frequent issue in the industry comes from an inadequate age recommendation that is usually found prior to shipment during a Pre-Shipment Test. Identifying this issue at the end of the production once all the packaging has been printed will require either the reproduction of all packaging or a ‘re-sticking’ of the adequate marking on all existing packaging. This results in additional cost as well as a delay in shipping.
Risk management on design or prototype
Identification of the possible risks regarding:
- Falling or drowning
- Suffocation and strangulation
- Other injuries
Additional added value: Performance and fit-for-play
When bringing a toy to the market, it is not only important to consider its expected use but also to simulate the actual and potential use by the child. While regulatory requirements ensure safety standards are met, there is still a risk that young children will misuse the toy. Identifying such risks is possible when evaluating the product from a performance perspective using adapted, tested protocols that take safety one step further.
For example, a product not adapted to the size of the child can bring some additional risks despite the item being compliant. In the case of a mask for instance, if the product is too large for the child it will most likely obscure its vision when wearing it, thus resulting in an increased risk of accidents occurring.
How to anticipate these risks?
Relying on third-party expertise can help you anticipate these risks through support from the early stages of development. An adequate risk evaluation from the stages of product design and prototype can help you avoid ‘fail’ results in pre-production tests, or even worse, in pre-shipment tests. This early intervention will save you time and money.
At API, our product and manufacturing expertise – acquired daily on-the-ground – allows us to identify and anticipate risks before they reach the production line. Our toy experts can guide and assess your teams from the design and prototype stages, helping you manage risks and make your products safer. We work closely with toy committees, staying abreast of changes in standards and regulations and receiving the latest news on the current areas of concern and hot industry topics.
Some of our preventive solutions for toys include:
- Product Validation Report: Exhaustive report highlighting the specifications of the golden sample and flagging critical points that could represent a safety or quality risk. It includes an evaluation of the functionality and performance from an end-user perspective and in-depth evaluation of the toy marking.
- Collection Review: Product review in showroom, allowing identification of risks and non-conformity of mechanical issues, and advice from our experts and recommendations on product amelioration.
- Risk Assessment on design or prototype: Risk evaluation at the initial stages of development. It allows to identify critical points for improvement and to receive recommendations from our experts for increased product safety.
- Marking verification: Review of regulatory marking and instruction manual adapted to the adequate age grade.
- Recommendations on performance and fit-for-play: Adapted tailor-made protocols that simulate the toy utilization by a child.
- Pre-production test