In the not-entirely-so-distant past, toys were a relatively uncomplicated – even refreshingly primitive – affair and it was largely left to dutiful parents to decide whether a product, be it a set of wooden building blocks or a baby doll, was indeed safe for their children. Now, with the era of Lincoln Logs behind us, toys are made from a range of potentially harmful materials and, in turn, concerned parents are presented with a slew of new concerns that extend well beyond potential issues of choking, sharp edges and accidental indigestion. Lead, Bisphenol, phthalates and cadmium lead the pack of toxic chemicals of concern. In fact, in 2010, approximately 181,500 children visited emergency rooms across the country for toy-related injuries. Half of these patients were under the age of four.*

Fortunately, federally mandated toy safety standards have been enacted to ensure playthings of all shapes and sizes do not pose any overt danger to children under the age of 14. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, passed in 2008, restricts the usage of certain chemicals in commercial toys. Still, with such safeguards in place, parents should remain vigilant as toys can present a variety of dangers and health concerns if placed into the wrong – and often too young – hands.

Parents should stay informed of various recalls and safety alerts. It’s also worth checking a manufacturer’s website as many major toymakers are transparent about what they’re doing to ensure that their products meet or exceed safety standards. Looking into a toy’s country of origin is also helpful as different countries have different standards, some more rigorous than others.

Most importantly, it helps to use common sense. As outlined by watchdog group Safe Kids, before purchasing a toy, parents should always consider their child’s age and read any warning labels and instructions. If there’s a “recommended age” sticker, take it to heart. Consumers should also check for small parts that might potentially serve as choking hazards. And remember that a perfectly safe toy for a 9 year old may prove to be dangerous to his or her younger sibling – keeping different toys for different aged children segregated and safety stored is crucial. Toys with small, sometimes hidden magnets and button batteries are also of concern.

With unmatched industry expertise and active involvement in the development and revision of international safety standards, UL works closely with manufacturers, including those of toys and nursery products, to help ensure their products are made with the utmost quality and safety concerns in mind.

*http://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/toy-safety