Button Batteries

“It turns out this is one of the most damaging and dangerous things that my beautiful boy could have ever swallowed. It does not get much worse than this.” – Mother of an 8 month-old baby boy.

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How to be a safety savvy shopper for your family this Christmas


We’ve more choice for Christmas shopping than ever before, with Black Friday deals and bargains galore. But do we know if they’re safe, can we be sure? Might those bargains bring more than we bargained for?

From exploding candles to gifts with easy access to powerful button batteries, to fake character toys with hazardous levels of chemicals, the potential for serious accidents is real.

But before your Christmas cheer is snuffed out by fear, be reassured: The things to consider when buying for family and friends this year are relatively straightforward.

Read on to discover the simple steps you can take to become a safety savvy shopper and avoid any nightmares before Christmas for your family this year!

Hidden dangers perfectly packaged – here’s our run-down on some of the horrors to avoid …

Exploding candles… yes it’s a thing!

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In the last fortnight, trading standards teams have received reports of counterfeit glass candles, like the one shown above, that explode with the heat from the candle.

Candles make lovely gifts and help create that special Christmas atmosphere. But shards of glass flying through the air are definitely not part of Christmas, especially with little children around and often at eye level.

Button batteries – taking the sparkle out of novelty Christmas ‘toys’

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Q: What’s shiny, the size of a 5p coin, potentially fatal for small children when swallowed yet found in pretty much every home in abundance at Christmas time?

A: Lithium coin cell batteries (or button batteries as they are commonly known).

So many devices now use them. Lithium coin cell batteries keep lots of devices powered at Christmas. But if a small child swallows a big, powerful lithium coin cell battery, it can get stuck in their food pipe.

When the battery comes into contact with saliva, it can create a chemical reaction that damages surrounding tissue. This can lead to catastrophic internal bleeding and even death in as little as two hours.

And at Christmas time we’re talking EVERYWHERE when it comes to where to find them..

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The silly singing Santa, your naff light-up Christmas jumper, the robot toys for the kids stockings, the romantic set of kitchen scales for Mum, the new gaming headset, even the new lights for Dad’s bike and the key finder for Granddad.

Button batteries keep us powered at Christmas. But if a small child swallows a big, powerful lithium coin cell battery and it gets stuck in their food pipe, the reaction with their saliva can cause catastrophic internal bleeding and death in as little as two hours.

Children aged one to four are at greatest risk, though younger and older children can be at risk too.

In the UK, batteries in children’s toys are covered by toy safety regulations. They should either be enclosed by a screw and a secure compartment, or need two independent or simultaneous movements to open the battery compartment.

But toys bought online or from markets, discount stores or temporary shops may not follow toy safety regulations. And of course, it doesn’t need to be a toy for a child to play with it.

Lots of novelty items look like toys through a child’s eyes. And lots of gadgets have appealing colours or buttons and surfaces that young children love to play with.

Is your Olaf original?

With the new Frozen film having just burst onto cinema screens, the shops are flooded with another wave of Frozen merchandise just in time for Christmas.

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But gift-buyers beware if Elsa is looking peaky: Counterfeit dolls as well as other children’s toys and games such as loom bands, false nails and fancy dress make-up have all been found to contain harmful levels of chemicals called phthalates.

If the products are chewed and the chemicals are swallowed, it can lead to an increased risk of cancer, asthma and infertility in later life.

Having a slimetastic Christmas?

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Too much boron is a particular bore: It can cause irritation, diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps. A Which? report last year showed that more than 40% of the slimes and putties on sale for Christmas (including the ones above) failed the safety standard for toys.

Laser pointer stocking fillers anyone?

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Cats go wild for them, kids love them and they’re cheap and small enough to be the perfect stocking filler…what’s not to love?

Unfortunately, the thing the kids love most in their stocking could be the thing that risks one of the most precious parts of them – their eyesight.

A powerful laser pointer shone into a child’s eye can cause permanent loss of vision. There are no treatments that work once the damage is done. And it happens so fast even your blink reflex doesn’t protect you.

The law says that laser pointers sold in the UK must be safe. But there are so many dangerous, cheap laser pointers that you can buy in markets or online. And it’s impossible to tell if they are safe or not, as false labelling is a real problem.

So our advice is: Lose the lasers from your Christmas shopping list.

Simple steps to a merry little Christmas

“Beware of products that are drastically cheaper and look at the packaging for the distributor’s details and a CE mark.” Chartered Trading Standard Institute

The vast array of potentially hazardous objects in our homes this Christmas is scarily clear. The good news is that protecting your family and friends from these dangers isn’t hard to do:

  • Take care choosing where you buy from
  • Look out for quality marks
  • Understand the links between accidents and child development.

Take care choosing where you buy from

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is:

  • Online marketplaces are just that – lots of different traders under one roof. You may be buying from a seller in the Far East, where safety standards for toys are very different.
  • Real-life market traders and discount stores may be importing from countries with very different safety standards too.

Trading standards have seized fidget spinners with accessible button batteries, toys that fall apart revealing sharp metal spikes and nails, not to mention counterfeit hair straighteners that don’t stop heating up.

Of course there are laws designed to make sure toys and household products are safe. But trading standards can’t be everywhere, checking every website, car boot sale and pop-up shop. So take care where you buy from.

You can still be savvy and find good deals. But head to reputable retailers on the high street or online, or the websites of well-known brand names to be sure.

Marks to guide you

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A CE mark is required by law on any toy sold in the EU. It is the manufacturer’s claim that the toy complies with European safety legislation.

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A Lion Mark is a good indicator of a toy’s safety. It shows that the product has been made by a member of the British Toy and Hobby Association, to a high standard of safety and quality.

But remember, CE marks and Lion Marks can be faked, so use your judgement. If a bargain seems too good to be true – say it costs less than half the normal price – then it probably is!

Accidents and child development

There’s a clear link between children’s abilities and the injuries they suffer. For example:

  • Babies and toddlers who put everything in their mouths can choke on toys with small parts or long fur or hair, or swallow potentially harmful chemicals.
  • Small children who can open battery compartments may swallow a button battery.
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This warning symbol shows that a toy isn’t safe for a child under three, often because it contains small parts that a baby or toddler can choke on. But, as we know, children don’t just play with their own toys. And it doesn’t need to be a toy for a child to play with it.

So think about where your gifts are going, use your judgement and gift wisely, just like the safety savvy shopper you are.

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