Toy Quality: Creating a Safe Environment to Play In

Author: Hannes Rügheimer

May 08, 2024 Product Safety / Safety at home

When it comes to treating your youngest to an exciting toy or even when slightly older children start expressing clear wishes regarding toys, parents should always bear an eye on safety. That goes for harmful substances as well as mechanical and physical features. Good news: The overall quality of toys has improved in recent years. Moreover, test marks provide helpful orientation.

The kids thought the talking doll was pretty cool. Plus, it was quite cheap on the internet. However, the pungent smell of chemicals after unboxing and the somewhat sticky feel of the plastic skin immediately signaled that this toy should probably not find its way into the children's room. No matter the obvious protest from the children.
Fortunately, these cases are nowadays more of an exception, Dr Magdalena Krause, harmful substances expert at DEKRA, reports. "Overall, when we test toys these days, we are finding fewer items with harmful substances than we did a few years ago." Part of the reason behind this development is that the limit values for harmful substances have been tightened and new chemicals have been added to the EU Toy Safety Directive. In retail or significantly larger numbers sold online, DEKRA product testers nevertheless find toys that are contaminated with phthalates, flame retardants or heavy metals, among other things.
Test purchases that the Toys Industries of Europe (TIE) association carried out on an Asian online marketplace in late 2023 confirm that a general all-clear on the subject of toy safety would be premature. 95 per cent of toys purchased on this marketplace were a safety risk for children - and none of the 19 test products met the requirements of EU regulations. In response, the online marketplace announced that it had immediately launched an internal investigation and removed the 19 toys in question from its EU website. Nevertheless, the TIE criticizes a loophole in current EU regulations. It thus calls for more controls by the regulatory authorities and farther-reaching regulations to be imposed on online platforms.

Legal loopholes parents should be aware of

Some of the criticism also related to mechanical aspects. Tanja Ruoff, team lead toys at DEKRA Testing and Certification GmbH, explains: "Toys for children under three years cannot have any small parts come loose, to prevent them from being swallowed, for example. For stuffed animals, seams and buttons have to pass tensile tests to prove that they can withstand considerable amounts of stress during play." These regulations apply to toys - according to the EU definition, products "intended or designed to be used as play items by children under the age of 14". If a vendor officially declares stuffed animals to be high-value collectibles, for example, the stricter regulations no longer apply. Parents then shouldn't give these products to little children to play with without supervision.
Nevertheless, the EU is taking countermeasures. An important tool is the rapid alert system RAPEX - "Rapid Exchange of Information". It was established to quickly forward information about potential product hazards to the member states and the EU Commission. Each year, it processes around 2000 reports from various product categories across Europe. According to Tanja Ruoff, toys rank in first place, followed by cars and car accessories, textiles and fashion items as well as electronic devices. Consumers can find an overview of the product warnings on the EU website "Safety Gate": https://ec​.europa​.eu/safety-gate-alerts/screen/webReport

An important point of orientation: product labelling

DEKRA expert Dr Magdalena Krause urges parents: "Make sure toys are comprehensively labelled!" Every toy sold in the EU must bear the CE mark (CE = Conformité Européenne). This confirms that the manufacturer's product fulfils the legal requirements. The CE label has to be in the respective language for European markets, and manufacturers and importers also have to provide a valid contact address within the EU. In addition, Germany’s GS (Geprüfte Sicherheit/“Tested Safety”) label can also provide guidance. This mark is issued following testing by an approved neutral body, such as DEKRA. This label however, is voluntary - just like the Blue Angel or Oeko-Tex 100 labels, which certify eco-friendliness or harmlessness to health.
Dr Magdalena Krause and Tanja Ruoff also agree on further recommendations for parents: buying toys from specialist retail shops would always be best. After all, retailers also monitor the relevant toy safety regulations. Moreover, before buying a toy, customers can touch and hold the toys in their hands and see the quality for themselves. However, online shops run by renowned manufacturers are also generally trustworthy.
Other than that, both DEKRA experts appeal to common sense above anything else: Particularly before purchasing online, parents should check the manufacturer and hence the origin of the product. Direct imports from Asian countries are generally associated with a higher risk than deliveries from suppliers within the EU. Once the items are delivered, it is important that parents check the toys before handing them over to their children. If a toy smells conspicuous, is sticky, smears or gives off color, it does not belong in the hands of children.
DEKRA Safety Testing and Toy Certification
For manufacturers and retailers, legal regulations for toys can be quite complex. DEKRA's global laboratory network supports them with a wide range of testing and certification services. In addition to CE conformity, a key requirement in the EU, and compliance with the EU Toy Safety Directive, these also include globally valid regulations, as they apply in the United States, for example.
Independent and neutral tests for harmful substances are carried out by accredited DEKRA laboratories based in the EU and China. Mechanical safety and flammability are also included in the interdisciplinary range of tests.