How to Play It Safe

JUSTICE

WHIPPERSNAPPERS, Squeaky Ducky, Rubber Band Shooter Gun, and Mickey's Pillow Friends. Christmas toys high on the lists of the younger set? Perhaps, but also part of a ``Baker's Dirty Dozen'' distributed annually by the consumer affairs committee of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). This group pinpoints holiday gifts for youngsters that could present serious safety problems.

ADA surveyed more than 50 toys and infant products, which they say are potentially dangerous to children who could sustain injuries from flying or moving parts, by putting them in their mouths, or by otherwise using them incorrectly.

The report says that last year the number of nursery-product-related injuries to children totaled 72,000 and toy-related injuries topped 140,000. These numbers were up considerably over the previous year.

Another report by the US Public Interest Research Group founded by Ralph Nader charges that, despite watchdog consumer legislation, American stores continue to sell toys with small parts that present serious hazards to children. This organization insists, as does ADA, that failed self-regulation safety efforts of manufacturers coupled with the lack of enforcement funds of state and federal monitoring agencies increase the problem of dangerous toys on the market. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which regulates toy safety, says there were 34 toy-related deaths in the past year.

The Nader group adds that many toys are inappropriately labeled and calls for ``mandatory descriptive age labeling legislation,'' which would require that toys intended for children under the age of three meet federal small parts standards. Specifically, if a part fits into a truncated cylinder with a diameter of 1.25 inches and a depth ranging from 1 to 2.25 inches, it fails the CPSC small parts test.

Yet a third study, ``Play It Safe: Toy Safety in America,'' is an outgrowth of a recent conference cosponsored by the Trial Lawyers of America and the Johns Hopkins Injury Prevention Center. Recommendations from this conclave call for precise age labeling of toys and specifying hazards to young children; they advocate better funding and enforcement powers to enable the Consumer Product Safety Commission to carry out its congressional mandate; and they criticize ``courtroom secrecy,'' which they say keeps important facts from the public about potentially hazardous toys. A poster distributed to the public provides tips about toys too small to be safe for a very young child, issues warnings regarding darts and other projectiles, and identifies the dangers of crib toys.

Some toy manufacturers have used labels, such as ``Contains Small Parts'' and ``CAUTION: Not Recommended for Children Who Still Put Objects in Their Mouths.''

These warnings all help. And the studies mentioned should alert parents and other adults to the dangers of some apparently harmless toys. Certainly manufacturers should take greater responsibility in protecting consumers without being forced to do so through regulation or lawsuit.

There is, however, another issue. It has to do with parental restraint in refusing to buy a glut of toys, some of which may present safety risks to their children. Those who have gone through the infant-present phase know that a very small child may get more satisfaction with simple playthings. Having moving parts doesn't make a toy more valuable or desirable.

Toys should be fun, not dangerous. And giving to a child should be a symbol of love, not an act of competition.

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