Don’t get rattled with your baby products – Selling safe rattles

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Babies are very vulnerable, so any product intended for them must be designed for safety.

We all know that, like all toys for kids from birth to 3 years, rattles must not be able to break or have any loose parts that can cause choking. All major national and international standards require this.

But it seems not everyone knows that rattle handles can cause injuries. In 2021 and the first half of 2022, there have been 33 product safety recalls of babies’ rattles in Australia. (The previous eight years had 44 rattle recalls in total).

These numbers suggest two things:

  • The ACCC and state agencies are targeting rattle non-compliance, and/or
  • More rattles are on the market that fail the standard

Online platforms have opened the retail market to many craft designers and importer micro-businesses. Unfortunately, such sellers are not always aware of safety regulations.

What the law says

There are several regulations in Australia that apply to rattles. As with all toys for children under 36 months old, rattles must not have any small parts or have any parts that can break off under foreseeable use.

Rattles must also be free of lead and other elements (mandatory standard), as well as the chemical DEHP found in some soft plastics (ban).

The section of the ‘small parts mandatory toy standard’ that seems to be catching sellers out is the part that covers the shape and size of rattles and similar toys.

Suppliers of all types – manufacturers, importers and retailers – must all comply with the mandatory standards and product bans. Non-compliance risks not only having to recall a product, but court action and heavy fines. Plus which, recalls are costly and always best avoided.

Why some rattles are unsafe and failing the mandatory standard

It is not always easy to work out why a recall has been called. The notices often just say ‘The rattle may not comply with the size and shape requirements of the mandatory safety standard for toys for children up to and including 36 months of age.’

Baby rattles
One of the rattles recalled in 2022 –

I think it is likely that the problem with some of the recent recalls is with long thin handles. While handles are of course intended to hold the rattle, babies are just as likely to hold the other end and put the handle into their mouth. A handle of almost any length will therefore present a choking, suffocation or ‘impaction’ (getting stuck) hazard. The toy standard lists this hazard in its rationale for the ‘size and shape’ test.

Most people know about the ‘small parts’ test. Many would also know that there must not be any toxic material in the toy. Maybe less well-known are the requirements on any long handles or parts.

This requirement helps protect an infant from putting part of a rattle into their mouth and having it lodge in the back of their throat obstructing breathing.

Checking for safety

Rattle sellers can ensure their product meets the mandatory safety standard by seeking an assessment by a reputable test company, preferably one that is accredited to perform these tests.  Many test companies can check against all of the regulations. In fact, most toy suppliers ask the testers to check for compliance with all the regulations.

Even before sellers design or purchase a rattle to put on the market and consider testing, some simple measurements will help guide the rattle’s safe design.

Toy safety rattles
Standard gauge

The specification used around the world, including in the Australian mandatory standard, is that no part of a rattle can go through an impaction gauge designed to test for shape and size of such toys.

A rattle must be constructed such that no part of it can fit all the way through the opening of the test gauge. Careful examination of the size and shape of all rattles is required, with special attention paid to any long parts, such as key shaped rattles and animal shaped rattles (for example, those with long ears).

This illustration depicts a test gauge that’s used to identify a part that is of such a size and shape that it presents a throat impaction hazard to young children.

It is a rectangular block with a length of 80 mm, a width of 65 mm and a thickness of 30 mm. There is a centred cut-out through the middle of the rectangular block. The cut-out section is a rectangle with half-circles on opposite ends. The cut-out section has a total length of 50 mm and a total width of 35 mm. The half circles at each end of the rectangle have a radius of 17.5 mm, and the central rectangle of the cut-out is 15 mm in length and 35 mm in width.

The role of online retail platforms

Most of the recent rattle recalls appear to be by small or micro businesses selling online. Retail platforms, such as eBay and Etsy (which both appear in the rattle recalls list), have an obligation to alert their sellers to safety standards.

A product safety pledge is available for online platforms. It contains twelve elements that go to ensuring the safety and compliance of items sold on the platform’s market. At the time of writing, five platforms have signed a pledge, including eBay. Even if a platform is not ready to sign the pledge, the twelve listed actions provide excellent guidelines to consider for enhancing the safety of available products.

Stay informed

It’s easy to search for products on the Australian recalls database, as I have done with ‘Rattles’.

I always urge suppliers to sign up for recall notifications. If a product is recalled similar to one you’re selling, that’s an opportunity to do a safety check and review of your own product – and avoid having to do your own recall!

You can also register to find out about any changes to mandatory standards and product bans. Please note that the toys for children up to and including 36 months of age mandatory standard is due for update in 2022.

Plus, the Australian Toy Association is a great source of information and advice on toy safety.