Responsibilities of Toymakers

By Christine Proctor, M.S.

What are the responsibilities of toy craftspeople regarding child health and safety?  Thirty-seven toy-related deaths were reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) between October 1987 and September 1988.  Almost half of these 37 deaths involved the ingestion of objects like balloons, balls, marbles and toy parts.

All toys sold in the market place are subject to special federal regulations enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that are intended to protect the juvenile toy user from injury.  These regulations can be found in Title 16, Code of Federal Regulations (Parts 1500, 1501, 1505, 1508, 1509, 1510, 1511 and 1303).  In addition, there are toy-industry voluntary standards.   We will now discuss the federal regulations and the voluntary industry standards and labels as they relate to health and safety testing, particularly choking hazards.

Toymakers are liable for damages caused both by normal use of the toy and by reasonably forseeable abuse of the toy by children.  The CPSC Engineering Test Manual describes the procedures the CPSC follows in testing toys and children's articles for small parts, sharp edges, and sharp points.  The CPSC "believes that a prudent manufacturer would use forces greater than those used by the CPSC in testing to assure consistent product compliance with the regulations."  The Engineering Test Manual has been developed to provide guidance to the Commission staff members who test toys and children's articles for compliance with CPSC requirements.  The test manual is not intended to supercede or limit these requirements.  In the case of any discrepancy between the regulations and the test manual, the regulation will supercede the test manual.

The regulations do not require manufacturers/importers to test toys and children's articles for compliance with the federal CPSC regulations.  However, manufacturers/importers are responsible for making sure that the toys and children's articles they distribute do comply with the applicable regulations, and testing is one way of determining this.  Testing may be done by the manufacturer or by a private testing laboratory.  A list of laboratories which have indicated that they do toy testing can be found in the CPSC information packet described later.

Safety Testing

Toy safety tests required by the Consumer Product Safety Commission are specified in Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  These required tests vary according to the age group for which the toy is intended.  Three age categories are specified:  children 18 months of age or less, children older than 18 months but less than 36 months (3 years), and children over 36 months but not over 96 months (8 years).  If the toy manufacturer does not clearly and conspicuously label a toy with an age-group designation, then the toy is subject to the most stringent of the tests regardless of the age group for which it was intended.

Toys must pass the "small parts tests."  Reasonably forseeable abuse might include children taking toys apart, dropping or throwing them, or using them for purposes other than intended.  Of particular concern are children under 3 who are most likely to swallow small objects.

These safety tests include tests of the toys' ability to withstand impact (dropping), flexure (bending), torque (twisting), tension (pulling), compression, and biting (simulation of damage caused by children's chewing or biting the toy).  Toys made to be assembled and taken apart repeatedly pose an additional problem.  Their individual pieces, together with the completed article, all must be tested.  Tests are also required to determine if a toy has edges that are too sharp, points that are too pointed, or parts that are too small for safe use by children.

There are specific tests for mouth toys, that is, toys which are reasonably expected to be placed into a child's mouth or to be put in contact with it.  Choking hazards posed by small parts are defined as any toy or toy part that will fit into a plastic cylinder 1.25 inches in diameter, which is about the size of a toddler's windpipe.  A toy or toy part that fits into the tube cannot be intended for use by children under the age of 3.

However, there is a problem with this safety test.  A 1.25 inch- diameter plastic cylinder is used to simulate a toddler's windpipe.  But a 1983 Government study showed that dozens of children choke on larger objects.  Consumer and child advocates are urging the CPSC to broaden its small-parts definition to include objects up to 1.68 inches in diameter.  This is the size used for the small-parts test for pacifiers and rattles, and must pass as required in the Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 1510 and 1511.


Toy-Safety Warnings

How explicit must toy-safety warnings be?  Does the toy label "FOR AGES 3 AND OVER" mean the same thing to parents and toy manufacturers?  Toy makers often use the phrase "For 3 Years and Up" to indicate a possible choking hazard. However, parents often interpret this phrase in developmental terms and translate the phrase to mean "of course my 2-year old child is functioning at a 3 or 4-year old level."   More explicit labeling is not currently required by the CPSC, so toys intended for older children may actually be used by toddlers under the age of three.  As a result, a number of children under age 3 have choked on toys intended for older children.  A tragic example of this labeling confusion was a case in New York State where a young child was injured after inhaling a small toy part.  The child was younger than the age recommended on the toy's label.


Toy Paints

Toymakers must also comply with the federal surface coating regulation (Part 1303) that specifies the lead content of paints and surface coatings for toys and furniture.  Paint and similar surface-coating materials such as varnish, shellac, and lacquer are banned if the content of lead or lead compounds (calculated as lead metal) is in excess of 0.06% of the weight of the total nonvolatile content of the paint or the weight of the dried paint film.  Toys, furniture, and other articles intended for use by children are banned if they bear lead-containing paint or other surface coatings.  The ban does not apply to metallic lead products such as some toy figures.  Metal furniture (but not metal children's furniture) is exempt if it bears factory-applied (lead) coatings.

Other heavy metals in paints are not regulated, but there is a voluntary surface-coating standard developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials, entitled American National Standard Specifications to Minimize Hazards to Children from Residual Surface Coating Materials (ANSI Z66.1-1964 (R1972).  This standard applies to coatings such as paints, enamels, and lacquers intended for use on children's toys, furniture and interior surfaces.  Maximum limits are stated for levels of lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, selenium, and barium.

The recently revised Voluntary Safety Standard for Toys, ASTM F 963-86 for toys contains references to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's ban of lead-containing paints, 16 CFR 1303, and the American National Standards Institute's voluntary standard mentioned above.  The ASTM voluntary standard states the limits for the amount of lead, antimony, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, selenium, and barium in surface-coating materials applied to children's toys.


Other Regulations

Other CPSC regulations (CFR 1500.44) specify flammability requirements.  CFR 1500.47 regulates the sound level of toy caps and CFR Part 1505 covers electrically-operated toys and children's products.   


For Further Information

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a free information package containing material on toy health and safety regulations.  Address requests to:

Consumer Product Safety Commission
Division of Regulatory Management
Directorate for Compliance and Administrative Litigation
Washington, D.C. 20207
Attention:  Compliance

Copies of the "Standard Consumer Safety Specification on Toy Safety, ASTM F963-86" published in April, 1986, can be obtained from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).  This standard references the CPSC mandatory requirements for toys and addresses toy hazards which are not addressed by CPSC requirements.  Contact the American Society for Testing and Materials, 100 Barr Harbor Drive, West Conshohoken, Pennsylvania, USA, (610) 832-9500.

Copies of the Voluntary Standard ANSI Z66.1-1964 can be obtained from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), 25 West 43rd Street (4th floor), New York, NY 10036. Document sales hotline: (212) 642-4980.

Art Hazard News, Volume 12, No. 8, 1989

This article was originally printed for Art Hazard News, © copyright Center for Safety in the Arts 1989. It appears on nontoxicprint courtesy of the Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago, who have curated a collection of these articles from their archive which are still relevant to artists today.