Playing It Safe
Seems like everyone I know has a crazy story about some ridiculous thing their child did with a toy that earned a trip to the doctor. In my case, I know a young boy who decided it would be fun to put a plastic BB (ball bearing) up his nostril.* He was surprised when it did not come back out. His shocked mother, of course, rushed him to an emergency clinic to have it painstakingly extracted with some very long tweezers. What was he thinking, all us parents wondered?
(BTW, he’s now an electrical engineer, so we know he’s not lacking in the intelligence department.)
Well, the point is, he wasn’t thinking. He was just a kid being a kid. And that’s lesson #1 when you’re in the business of designing and manufacturing toys and premium items for children, like we are.
I’ll elaborate on that, but let’s start at the beginning, with the notion of play.
According to Peter Gray, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, “play is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom. It is what one wants to do as
opposed to what one is obliged to do. The joy of play is the ecstatic feeling of liberty.” And as educators and child psychologists point out, play is critical for the healthy development of children, starting in infancy. Just a few of the many benefits of play include the enhancement of:
Fine & gross motor skills
Creativity & imagination
Problem solving & decision making
Self-discovery & self-expression
Having fun through play increases self-confidence, encourages exploration, stimulates learning and helps kids understand the world around them – isn’t it great that having fun is good for you?!! Unlike chocolate cake, sadly…
That said, play can also be risky, especially when good judgement is not applied or when a toy is not deemed safe or suitable for the child’s age. So, when our team at Idea Planet sets out to create an item intended for a child, we take play very seriously. Our goal is to maximize its play value while anticipating and mitigating potential harm.
Let’s talk toys.
You don’t need me to tell you that kids LOVE toys! Even big kids, like me, love toys – mine are just bigger & cost more. And, as you likely also know, there are many categories of toys, including action figures, dress-up, games, musical, outdoor, plush, and many, many more. Toys are also classified by the age group they are designed for – clearly what’s appropriate and safe for an under 3-year-old will be different than a toy meant for a 10-year-old.
Therefore, when concepting a new toy or premium item, it’s important to begin with a clear understanding of who it’s for and the intended use. Toys need to match a child’s stage of development and emerging abilities:
Babies – Eager to learn, babies respond to toys that stimulate the senses via shape, color, texture, taste and sound. They also are highly attuned to faces.
Toddlers – These energetic little movers are also curious investigators who like doing things with their hands.
Preschoolers – With longer attention spans, preschoolers love toys that stimulate the imagination and present a challenge. Think building, pretending, sorting & counting activities, music making, and painting/coloring.
Young children – At this age, kids want to explore, invent, create, and conquer, using their imagination.
Older children – Between 9 and 12 years, kids have a stronger sense of self and want to demonstrate their personality with fast-paced games, music, and creative problem solving.
So, what’s safe and what’s not?
While it might seem obvious, a toy is unsafe if it has very sharp points or edges, there are many ways a toy might pose a danger, including
but not limited to:
Entrapment of finger/hand
Insertion of small parts – nose/ears/mouth
Electrical or power-related hazards
Toxic materials/coatings exposure
Two other factors are important to note. When determining whether a toy is safe, you must not only look at the activity the toy was designed for, but you must also consider its “foreseeable” or possible use by the child. For example, even though a top is meant to be spun on the ground, a young child might also try to put it in his/her mouth. Second, even if a toy is physically designed and vetted for kids 3+, if it’s tied to a licensed property, then the property should also be appropriate for and attract children of the same age – if it draws younger, then by default, you may be putting them at risk.
Today, all toys intended for children age 12 and younger in the US must be tested by an independent, CPSC-accepted lab and certified in a Children’s Product Certificate as compliant to the federal toy safety standard enacted by Congress – ASTM F963-17, The Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety. The Toy Association leads the committee that continually reviews the standard for updates to address newly identified toy-related hazards.
In Europe, toys must meet the criteria outlined European Standard BS EN 71. Compliance allows the toy to carry the CE mark. Although many toys are manufactured in China, the Chinese government mandates all toys carry a China Compulsory Certification Mark (CCC) before a toy can be imported or allowed for sale in China – even if the toy was manufactured in China. As you might imagine, there are many regulatory standards for toy safety that vary by country, so it’s important, as a manufacturer, to be well-versed in what is and what is not acceptable.
Our toy safety process.
We manufacture a lot of toy premium items, especially for the Chick-fil-A Kid’s Meal programs. Everyone knows Chick-fil-A quality standards are exceptionally high, so our toy safety protocol must be equally rigorous. And it all starts with planning.
Planning for safety begins with initial toy ideas.
Are they age appropriate – can the child play correctly with it?
What is their foreseeable use – how else might the child play with it?
Does the shape or design present any physical risk?
Would an underaged child be attracted to the toy?
Does the independent safety testing lab anticipate any issues?
Does the client have any additional safety requirements?
Then we question the creative execution of the toy.
Does imagery portray any unsafe scenarios?
Does the text or instructions encourage safe activity?
Does the licensed property, if any, target the same age?
Is the promotion age appropriate?
As the toy is engineered for manufacturing, we assess other potential risks.
What is the best material or substrate?
Are there small parts? How will they be made inaccessible?
How will parts be held together – what types of fasteners will be used?
How will batteries, LED’s and electronics be made inaccessible and secure?
Can it pass all the regulatory standards?
A prototype of the toy (created with an experimental tool or via 3D printing) is pre-tested for safety.
Has the development of the toy impacted play risk?
Does it function as intended?
Will it break – can it uphold its intended and foreseeable use?
Are printing inks, coatings, and decorative paint acceptable?
Does the independent safety testing lab anticipate any issues?
Once mass production begins at a CCC factory with actual tooling, we evaluate the toy yet again.
Has anything changed from the engineering samples that might impact safety?
Are quality standards upheld throughout the production line?
Are quality standards upheld throughout the duration of production?
Do inspection checkpoints reveal any issues?
What course correction or modification is needed to address any anomalies?
Before the toy can ship, it is safety tested by an independent lab.
Must pass ASTM F963-17 and BS EN 71 standards for design, material & function
Must include proper safety markings on toy, instructions, and/or packaging
This is a lot to digest, I know. It might be easier on the eyeballs to simply just look at this graphic representation of our redundant safety process:
As a toy manufacturer, we understand the importance of our role and duty of care. Many of our own team at Idea Planet are parents, so we get it. We want other parents to rest easy, knowing their kiddos can have fun safely with the toys we make. In fact, as an extra measure, we safety test all our toy products to a lower age than required, so we can give a “safety buffer” for even greater assurance.
If you glazed over at all this information, don’t despair. Here’s a quick recap. When it comes to toy manufacturing:
Kids think like kids, not adults.
Safety is planned in advance.
Safety is achieved with a strictly controlled process.
Idea Planet is adept at #1, #2, and #3.
If you’re into toys, give us a ring – we play well with others.
*WARNING: Do not try this at home.