Since the autumn of 2007 there have been very quick moves by the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic towards greater control of magnets in toys. This has been matched, it seems to me, by a very evident alarm amongst toy-buyers as to the safety of magnets in any form. A programme screened in December 2007 on Channel 4 – equally contentious for its scaremongering on the one hand and the pathetic attempt at defence of the toy industry by a senior representative of the British Toy and Hobby association on the other – sparked these fears for many. This post is an attempt to put what I understand to be the facts, in the hope of going some way to allay those fears.
Firstly it is important to realise that magnets are not suggested to be dangerous in themselves. As explained in this release from the US Consumer Safety Commission in Washington the potential danger comes only from swallowing them, and injury can only occur when more than one magnet is swallowed.
Specifically they say: “…if a child swallows more than one tiny powerful magnet …. or one such magnet and a metallic object, the objects can attract to each other inside the intestines and cause perforations and/or blockage, which can be fatal, if not treated immediately.”
The problem has become heightened because of the increasing use and reducing cost of high powered magnets in many products. Have a look at the Wikipedia entry to learn more about NIB magnets as they are known.
And for a graphic illustration of the strength of these magnets take a look at the picture at the foot of this page, again from the US safety agency.
But these small but powerful NIB magnets are, so far as I can find out, mainly used by hobbyists and in certain magnetic construction sets for older children. They are not likely to be used in wooden toys or toys for younger children. And, to reiterate, the fact that a toy might use magnets does not make it dangerous of itself. It is the risk of swallowing those magnets that does.
So what of the toys specifically made for younger children that might contain magnets? Is there any new danger there? Probably not. It is important to remember that all toys sold by reputable retailers will have passed safety tests and the manufacturers or importers will have test certificates. In particular, for those toys approved for play by the under threes, any component, such as a magnet, will have been checked to ensure it cannot be detached. More and more toys that use magnetism have the magnet encapsulated or secured within the product itself so it cannot be prised out or even got at at all.
In Europe the EU Commission has now approved a temporary emergency measure requiring a warning label be put on toys containing loose or detachable magnets which will come into effect in the Summer of 2008. Knowing the seriousness with which the toy industry takes these things, no doubt some manufacturers will use the same label on their magnetised products even if the magnets are firmly fixed.
This is only a holding measure put in place until the European standardisation body has fully researched the issue and produced a set of standards for magnets in toys, but this could be some time off.
For our part we will continue to sell toys that contain magnets, although we have already seen some very popular products withdrawn by manufacturers who want the whole issue resolved before venturing back into what they now see as dangerous waters. Mulberry Bush will certainly be ensuring that we are satisfied that all our products carry the appropriate warning and that any magnets in any products we sell are securely fixed or, better still, encapsulated and present no danger in normal play.
So to sum up, the message is very clear. If there is any chance that a child, of whatever age, is going to put things in their mouth, do not give them toys with small removable parts, particularly with detachable magnets. This means that younger children prone to putting things in their mouths should not be given the toys of their older siblings. And that is equally true of the myriad other things found around the house, such as pins, screws, paperclips, medicines etc. The list of dangers around the home is endless, as it always has been, but with proper supervision and awareness of the facts there is no reason to fear magnets more than any other.