Finance Consumer ‘Self-regulation is failing’: Children ‘at risk of serious harm’ from button batteries

‘Self-regulation is failing’: Children ‘at risk of serious harm’ from button batteries

At least 17 children have been seriously injured by button batteries in the past two years. Photo: Getty
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Consumer advocates have accused major retailers of ignoring product safety risks and putting children at “serious risk” of injury and death.

Australia’s product safety laws require an urgent overhaul in the wake of tests showing manufacturers and retailers are ignoring safety risks posed by button-battery-powered items, consumer advocate Choice says.

Choice conducted safety tests on common button-powered items, with 10 out of 17 failing the tests.

The batteries are shiny, smooth and easy to swallow, and, if ingested, there can be little indication anything is wrong – until it is too late.

Two children have died in Australia after ingesting button batteries, and there have been at least 17 cases of children being seriously injured since December 2017.

“Given that at least one child a month suffers a serious injury after swallowing or inserting a button battery, it’s essential that industry be forced to take this problem seriously,” Choice head of campaigns Sarah Agar said.

While toys for children under three are legally required to have secure battery compartments, many everyday household items do not, Ms Agar said.

Thermometers, book lights, kitchen scales and a remote-control devices were among the products that failed Choice’s safety tests.

Major retailers and manufacturers are aware of the safety risks to children but are failing to act, Choice said.

“Self-regulation is failing, and it’s putting Australian children at risk of serious harm,” Ms Agar said.

“Industry is aware of this significant safety issue. There is a voluntary code that requires manufacturers to make the batteries secure, but our test results show it is being ignored by some major brands sold in big retail outlets like Priceline, Dymocks, David Jones and JB Hi-Fi.”

Unsafe products should be banned: ACCC

Australia’s consumer watchdog joined Choice in calling for laws making it illegal to sell unsafe products before World Consumer Rights day on Friday (March 15.)

There is currently no law prohibiting the sale of unsafe goods in Australia, and that must change, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims told the National Consumer Congress in Melbourne on Thursday.

The ACCC included preventing injuries and deaths due to button batteries on its list of top product safety priorities for 2019, alongside the Takata airbags recall and preventing infant deaths from unsafe sleeping products.

Australia’s current product safety laws are “reactive” and currently allow “many dangerous products” to remain on the shelves until someone else is hurt, Ms Agar said.

“Until these laws change, we will continue to see companies prioritise profit over safety and, in the worst cases, the safety of children.”

Button battery safety tips

  1. If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, immediately call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or go to emergency. Do not let the child eat or drink, and do not induce vomiting
  2. Keep all button-battery-operated devices out of sight and out of reach of children
  3. Examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure
  4. Dispose of used button batteries immediately. Flat batteries can still be dangerous
  5. Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries, and how to keep their children safe

Click here for more information on button batteries.

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