Holiday Safety

Nov 21, 2013

We're quickly approaching the holiday season, a festive time for gathering with family and friends.  It is a time for celebrating and for giving thanks.  Every year it seems that we are urged to get into the holiday spirit earlier and earlier,  at least the buying part.  So, here are some tips to keep your holiday season and gifts joyful, and safe. 

Soon, new toys will purchased for Montana's kids.  We know that not all of these toys are safe.  Too often, families come to trial lawyers because a child has been seriously injured or killed by a seemingly safe toy. And, all too often trial lawyers find out that the manufacturer, the distributor, the retailer or the government knew the toy posed an unreasonable safety hazard, yet the toy was still on the market.  Over the years, through government and industry regulation, consumer involvement, and through litigation by trial lawyers, toys have become safer.

Now, some complain that government regulation is bad for business and must be eliminated.   I, for one, am thankful that we have laws to protect children from toys that create hazards because of toxic substances, and from toys that present electrical, mechanical or heat risks.  Choking hazard warning labels are required on packaging for small balls, balloons, marbles and certain toys and games that have small parts and are intended for use by children ages 3 to 6.  Toys intended for use by children under age 3 posing a choking, aspiration or ingestion hazard, are banned by law.  We also have labels that give age range and safety recommendations for toys. 

With all that's been done, there is still a risk that a child’s joy, a new toy, can become a family’s tragedy.  Consumers shouldn’t be lulled into complacency.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) does not test all toys and not all toys meet the CPSC safety standards. There are unscrupulous manufacturers who fail to put the required safety warnings on packages.  There are others who manufacture and distribute toys that they know present an unacceptable level of risk to young children, such as too small of parts and toxic lead paints.  Currently there are hundreds of toys listed on the CPSC website that have been recalled for various safety reasons. 

While warnings help, parents and family members have to be careful in selecting toys that bring joy, not heart break.  Unfortunately, toys often do not face a CPSC recall until after a child has been injured.  Every year children die and over two hundred thousand children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries.  Children ages 5 and under are at especially high risk.

Toys for riding and sliding, including bikes, skate boards, skis and snowboards are always popular. Unfortunately, they are also the source of many injuries.  Many injuries are preventable. If you do buy such items, please purchase the safety gear, especially a helmet, your child will need to use the toy safely and include it as part of the gift.

Choking is a leading cause of toy-related deaths, especially for younger children.  Children easily choke on small toy balls, balloons, marbles, small building blocks, or small pieces that were pulled off of a toy.  Toys with small magnets and watch type batteries are an often overlooked hazard for youngsters.  And, unfortunately, there are manufacturers who fail to put proper choke hazard warnings on their toys.  One of the best ways for parents to test whether toy parts pose a hazard to young children is to try and put the parts through the opening of a roll of bathroom tissue.  If the part of the toy fits into that opening, don’t buy the toy.  This is especially important for the many families that need to shop at thrift stores, where package warnings may not be present.

Protecting children from unsafe toys is the responsibility of everyone, from manufacturers, to government, to parents and other family members.  Selecting toys with an eye on safety and proper supervision of children at play are the best ways to protect children from toy-related injuries. 

Keeping kids safe also means keeping your homes safe. According to the National Fire Protection Association, December is the peak month for candle fires, with nearly twice the average number of fires.  Candle fires alone result in, thousands of injuries, hundreds of millions in property damage, and hundreds of deaths each year.  During this holiday season, please take the time to install smoke detectors, or new batteries in the ones you have, and TEST them. 

We have provided links on our web site,, to agencies and organizations where you can obtain more information on toy and holiday safety.  If you do not have access to a computer, you can make a quick phone call to the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 6 3 8 - 2 7 7 2 and request guides or fact sheets on shopping for toys and on holiday safety.

If you can, please donate your time and money to help those organizations that provide food, clothing, shelter and comfort to our community members in need. Wishing you a happy and safe holiday season, this is Al Smith for the Montana Trial Lawyers Association.