/ Parenting

Should Which? publish safety ratings for kids’ products?

Safety is clearly important to parents of young children. We publish safety ratings for child car seats, but should we stretch our safety ratings to other kids’ products, like pushchairs, too?

Last week I watched a busy department store descend into chaos as a toddler escaped from her pushchair while her mother’s back was turned. As the baby left her seat, the pushchair, which had at least three shopping bags over each handle, toppled backwards, hitting the baby and scattering shopping everywhere.

I was full of sympathy for the tearful little girl – surely the responsibility for the accident lay with the parent who’d walked away and left her unattended, unrestrained by the safety harness and in a pushchair that was badly overloaded.

Is safety your first priority?

This kind of accident is all too familiar to parents – a moment of inattention and a child doing something unexpected is all it takes for there to be tears before bedtime. This is why Which? considers whether children’s products are well-designed, well-built and meet the relevant standards for construction and safety when we test them.

Yet, as we prepare to test a load of new baby equipment, one question keeps rearing its ugly head – should Which? publish a safety rating for children’s products?

In our Baby Products survey, we asked parents which factors would be the most important if they were to buy certain products again. They told us that safety was their third most important concern for pushchairs, and their top concern for child car seats and cots.

Clearly, a child car seat is a piece of safety equipment, and the overall safety score we give it is its key performance rating. But for other baby equipment, their primary function is usually convenience, not safety.

All products can be used unsafely if you don’t use them properly – deliberately unbalancing a pushchair by hanging shopping on the handles is an excellent example.

Would a safety rating be helpful?

If we do publish a safety rating, what would the results be based on and what would people take it to mean?

Even if a piece of equipment passes all of the relevant British Standards, it doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe. In most cases it means that this product has been designed and manufactured to avoid the same kinds of hazards that have been shown to cause death or accidents in the past. And, in many cases, it’s impossible to say that a product is actually dangerous just because it fails one specific part of a safety standard.

Our current view is that we should test to the relevant British Standards and point out any failures to the manufacturers and our readers. But what do you think – would a Which? safety rating give you more peace of mind, or a false sense of security? And what would you expect of a kids’ product that had a five, three, or one-star rating for safety?

Comments

Yes. Name and praise or name and shame.

Probably most manufacturers will receive a bit of both praise and criticism, so it is important to consider individual products than a manufacturer’s average reputation for safety.

It might be helpful but the pushchair in the incident described was being misused, heavy shopping on handles, child unrestrained. Safety ratings are of no use when consumers misuse the product.

I agree with Phil that safety ratings are no use when consumers misuse products, but I would be surprised if anyone said, no, Which?, please don’t publish safety ratings for kids products. We must all accept the premise that “even if a piece of equipment passes all of the relevant British Standards, it doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe”. The rest is up to us.

A Which? safety rating would give a certain degree of peace of mind, and then I would buy what I could afford…

I’m in two minds about this. The problem with safety ratings is that too many people then blame the review/rating in a situation where they should have taken responsibility to use the product safely – as Victoria’s example proves. Isn’t this just one more step towards the culture of suing a company when a product doesn’t live up to its claims?

As a parent, of course I want to know if a product is safe, but it’s also down to me to assess each product before I buy it and then use it as safely as a I can. I worry that too much safety information just absolves parents of that personal responsibility.

Saying all that, if a product is fundamentally unsafe then of course I’d like to know before I find out the hard way!

I understand Hannah’s concern.

Sometimes it is easy. If a bicycle is designed for one person then a safety rating would not be expected to cover use for carrying two people. Other cases are much less simple. It is worth Which? pointing out any features that encourage misuse and passing this information to the manufacturer.

That’s difficult, Victoria. One thing that would help is to raise awareness of the problem each time you do a report on pushchairs.

I see the problem as a design fault. If the handles were angled so that the bags slid down and dragged on the floor or caught in the wheels it would not be possible to use the handles to carry bags. Even if they did not reach the floor or wheels the weight would not apply the same leverage and tipping would be unlikely.

I think Victoria hits the nail on the head when she says that when a product is a piece of safety equipment, like a car seat, then we should publish safety ratings; otherwise I’m not sure there’s a need. With this in mind, perhaps we should look at other producst we could be rating – bike seats, for example – but otherwise I tend to agree that publishing safety ratings for other products can merely serve to absolve the purchaser from any responsibility for thinking about its safety aspects. Far better to point out – to both consumers and manufacturers – where design features could encourage misuse. The shopping bags on the pushchair is a classic example – we all know we shouldn’t do it, but I bet there’s not a parent out there who owns a Maclaren who hasn’t at some point had the buggy tip over when the child gets out because of bags over the handles. Personally, on one occasions I put so much on the buggy it’s tipped over with the child in it. I think all we can do is point out these types of issues – introducing a system which would downgrade (for example) a pushchair as convenient and functional as a Maclaren seems to me to be a potentially retrograde step.

Ben Long says:
8 September 2011

ALL products for children should carry a safety rating to allow parents to make an informed choice…no use finding out after the event if a product is unsafe!

Ben Long says:
8 September 2011

I guess it would depend on the scoring criteria and what the stars actually mean. If the specific areas of concern were highlighted then parents could make an informed choice about situations that the product may not be suitable….

All it would mean is that a three star rating is better than a two but not as good as a four. How many people understand what a four star NCAP rating really means for example?

Jenny Sparrow says:
9 September 2011

I have a 16 month old and found information provided by Which very useful. It gave an insight into products that I wouldn’t have considered. I think having all the information good or bad is best for any parent. However, it also worth remembering that parents are looking for easy of use, if for example a pushchair that has the best rating for safety is the heaviest and is more complicated than the third safest there is a good chance the parent may opt for the third on the list.

I think it would be good for Which to look at the usability with the rate of safety. We all want to keep our children safe but we want to do things quickly to ensure that they don’t get upset and that the product is going to be easy to use.

Maybe Which could rate the safety of the product but also the safety of the ‘extras’ that you can purchase with these items.

Bumbi says:
9 September 2011

As a parent, I would like to see safety ratings for a wider range of children’s products. I would use Which? ratings as guidance to help me make a more informed decision.

From a new Which? press release:

Potentially unsafe levels of chemical widespread in certain children’s slime products
17 July 2018
Serious concerns over the safety of some children’s slime products have been raised following an investigation by Which?.

Following the craze that has led to millions of YouTube views and Instagram hashtags, the consumer champion tested 11 popular slime products for boron. Boron is found in borax – a common ingredient in slime that helps to create its stickiness.

Exposure to excessive levels of the element can cause irritation, diarrhea, vomiting and cramps in the short term. According to the European Commission, exposure to very high levels of boron may also impair fertility and could cause harm to an unborn child in pregnant women.

Eight out of 11 toy slime products tested exceeded the EU safety limit of 300mg/kg.

The worst product, Toysmith Jupiter Juice, had more than four times the permitted level of boron. This was followed by CCINEE Pink Fluffy Slime, which contains 1000mg/kg, and Cosoro Dodolu Crystal Slime Magic Clay, which contains 980mg/kg.

All eight products that failed were purchased on Amazon. Just one product purchased from Amazon, Hulk Green Halloween Slime, met the standard.

Following the results, Which? is advising parents to approach all slime with caution, as many slimes have minimal safety labelling or information on ingredients. Some of the slimes Which? tested even self-certified the packaging with a CE mark, suggesting the product is safe, despite the fact that the boron levels were too high when they were tested.

However, two high street retailers, The Works and Smyths, both sell slime that was found to be within the safety limit when tested.

Which? has passed its findings to the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS). Anyone who owns one of the slimes that failed Which?’s testing should be able to return it to the retailer and get a refund.

Although Amazon has now removed the potentially unsafe products from sale, the results raise concerns about the safety of some products sold through online platforms.

The consumer champion believes more must be done by retailers and the Government to proactively identify potentially unsafe products and stop them from reaching people’s homes.

Parents need to be confident that the products they purchase will not harm them or their children, and if retailers cannot guarantee the safety of the products they stock, they have a duty of care to remove them from sale.

Producing ‘homemade’ slime is also a popular alternative, but parents should be careful when considering this option too. This is because some ingredients listed for slime (such as some contact lens solutions) contain borax, and often slime recipes don’t list the quantities that need to be added.

Nikki Stopford, Director of Research and Publishing at Which?, said:

“If you have school-age kids you’re probably very well aware of the latest slime craze sweeping the playgrounds. Kids love it. Parents buying slime for their children should have peace of mind that these toys are safe, so they will be shocked to find that the health of their children could be put at risk by these slimes.

“There must be fundamental changes to the product safety system. Manufacturers must stop making unsafe products and the Government and retailers simply have to do a far better job of getting anything identified as a risk off the shelves and out of people’s homes”. More information: https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/potentially-unsafe-levels-of-chemical-widespread-in-certain-childrens-slime-products-2/

Safety ratings for cars were established many years ago and can be used both to inform consumers’ choice and for marketing purposes. At present there is a limit for the amount of boron allowed in ‘slime’, in the same way that there limits for other potentially harmful chemicals in products. If I was a parent I would look for a low-boron product because even though there is a permissible level of boron, less is better.

Earlier I asked Which? (and not for the first time) why they do not attempt to get Amazon prosecuted for participating in and facilitating the sale of unsafe products. That related to “fake” carbon monoxide monitors.

If these products were illegal in not meeting regulatory requirements then it is totally inadequate to simply have them removed from their shelves. They should be made to take a much more responsible approach to their business and ensure that only safe products were put on sale. Substantial financial penalties should be imposed to make the practice not worthwhile, together with adverse publicity. The same would apply to any distributor.

What other dangerous and harmful products lurk in Amazon’s vast catalogue that we have not uncovered? Why does only Which? seem to find these, and by chance? Trading Standards is the appointed agency to look after products and make sure they meet the regulatory standards. We should be – Which? particularly – lobbying government to deal with this problem.

Why can Which? organise a get-together with 50 MPs to lobby for ATMs, but as far as I know does not think it necessary to lobby to stop the sale of dangerous products from Amazon, and to properly-fund Trading Standards?

In my view we need the manufacturers to pay for independent testing of products. Simply claiming that they comply with regulations is not enough.

Rogue manufacturers will still claim compliance whether they pass or not. For example, submit product that you know will comply and then sell non-compliant product on the back of that.

You also have more faith in independent labs than I. There are many who I would not touch. Anyway, it offers no solution to dealing with rogue companies.

This largely comes down to respectable organisations and disreputable ones. Those that are respectable with a reputation to preserve will often have the quality of staff and facilities particular to their products that far exceed that of many outside commercial laboratories They are required by EU law to produce and document results for inspection and to have audited procedures in place to ensure consistency. Should a regulatory body find a serious discrepancy then action can be taken and reputational damage plus financial loss should ensue. Disreputable organisations can falsify their paperwork and product and not care, because we probably do not know them from Adam.

The whole process will always require adequate policing and that is what we need to campaign for. Ideally, prevent fake products entering the supply chain in the first place but,if they do, hurt the distributors.

I don’t have your faith, Malcolm. Leaving manufacturers in charge of ensuring that their products are safe is not a sensible solution. Which? might as well ask manufacturers to carry out tests on behalf of Which? to report in the magazine.

It is nothing to do with faith. It is all to do with the reality of what will happen in practice.Nor has it anything to do with Which? testing.

Anyone can falsify results and put them on the market, repeating what I have said above, whether the results are derived in an “independent” lab or in a manufacturer’s lab. As we see from the products that Which? has identified these come from dubious sources.

The only way to deal with this is proper policing of products and heavy deterrent penalties on distributors. It is those who put the product on the market in the EU (and UK for now) such as Amazon or any other distributor who are responsible for ensuring those products meet regulatory standards. If they are found to have failed to ensure this they should be heavily penalised.

In the current problem with 11 toy slimes, 8 of them were potentially dangerous and marketed by Amazon. Will they be prosecuted? I wouldn’t hold your breath.