Button batteries everywhere

Button battery compartment

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Battery packaging

In an indication of how seldom I bake, and how few kilometres I do on my pushbike, I have only recently had to change the batteries for the first time on both the digital kitchen scale I got for Christmas in 2011 and my bike’s computer (similar vintage).

So I went to the supermarket and bought two packets of the lithium button batteries these devices required. Battery packetBoth came as twin packs and as I tore open the packaging, I was initially frustrated by the difficulty in getting to the batteries themselves.

We’re all familiar with annoying moulded plastic packaging these days, but these seemed even more difficult to access the product than usual. Then I realised this was quite deliberate – they are designed to be child-resistant. Of course I knew this, but as a consumer in the moment, I was more focused on the task at hand than thinking about the product safety issue.

I’m pleased to report then, that the packaging does seem to be effective in minimising the chance of young kids accessing button batteries. I needed scissors to cut the moulded plastic casing and each battery had to be prised out.
Battery packet and scissorsI loaded the two batteries required by the kitchen scale. As I only needed one for the bike computer, the remaining battery will sit in the packet (probably for some time!).

The dangers

The very small flat batteries that run our electronic gadgets are all too easy for kids to swallow. But they pose an even bigger danger than other small objects. Choking on small objects is a well recognised hazard. But if a child swallows a button battery, it can cause severe internal damage that’s very difficult to detect.

This month marks the first anniversary of Australia’s second fatality from button batteries – Isabella Rees of Victoria at just 14 months old. All too frequently other children are suffering severe injuries.

You can read more about this in my blog article Button batteries: the most challenging product safety problem ever?

Battery manufacturers are working on ways to eliminate the hazard but in the meantime they have designed packaging to minimise the risk of young children accessing the batteries.

Of course, parents and carers need to be vigilant in making sure any spare unused batteries (like the one I was left with) are stored well out of reach.

Products that button batteries go in

Button battery warning label

Button battery warning label on kitchen scale

The good thing is that my kitchen scale and bike computer each had features to address the risk of children accessing the battery compartment.

The kitchen scale’s compartment is not difficult to access but it requires dexterity to remove the batteries themselves, plus the rear cover carries a warning label.

The bike computer requires a ‘tool’, such as a coin, to open the battery compartment.

These measures are commendable and many manufacturers are increasingly including such features in their battery operated products. But not yet enough.

Action required by all suppliers

All retailers, importers, manufacturers and distributors need to be alert to this issue!

Everyone involved in selling consumer goods needs to firstly check whether the products in their range contain any button batteries, and then whether those batteries are secured in a child resistant compartment.

The Queensland Coroner who investigated the death of 4 year old Summer Steer has made recommendations calling upon all manufacturers, distributors and retailers to ensure adequate warnings and implement secure battery compartments in all products.

A working group is currently devising sector-wide strategies*, but don’t wait – conduct a check today. Businesses down the supply chain should refuse to buy any products that allow easy child access to batteries.

Button battery compartment

Bike computer with coin to open the battery compartment


For more insight into this issue: read the transcript and listen to my interview with leading Australian experts, conducted at the Queensland Coroner’s Court after the findings into the death of Summer Steer.

And you can read another article in The Maze blog Button batteries: the most challenging product safety problem ever?


* An industry code has now been published – See Button battery products – new industry code