This post appears courtesy of the Consumer Protection Branch of the Civil Division at the Department of Justice. The holiday season is now upon us and consumers are beginning to turn their focus towards the timeless ritual of exchanging gifts. Although this may be the most wonderful time of the year—especially for those young children eagerly anticipating a present or two— consumers may not realize that sometimes even the most innocuous gift may pose a hazard far worse than any lump of coal. According to statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC), an estimated 262,300 toy-related injuries merited a trip to the emergency room in 2011. The vast majority of these injuries—seventy-four percent—involved children under the age of fifteen. In addition, the CPSC, working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seized record amounts of unsafe products at U.S ports in fiscal year 2012; more than two million units of toys and children’s products either posed safety hazards to U.S consumers or failed to meet federal safety standards. Before you mutter, “Bah! Humbug!” you should know that one can go a long way towards safeguarding young recipients of holiday generosity by reading and following the CPSC’s tips and publications available at http://www.cpsc.gov/. Browsing the CPSC’s website while you are nestled snugly in bed, or near a (safely-maintained) fireplace, will reveal what you need to know about voluntary and mandatory safety standards, product bans and recalls (Yes, the CPSC does keep a list, and they do check it twice), and potential product hazards, such as those detailed in the CPSC’s Four Keys to Holiday Safety:
- For children under the age of three, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
- Select toys to suit the age, abilities, skills and interest level of the intended child.
- For children under the age of eight, avoid toys with sharp edges and electric toys with heating parts.
- Look for labels with age and safety advice.
In addition to information provided by the CPSC directly, consumers can also read reports written by other consumers involving harm or a risk of harm related to the use of a consumer product via the CPSC’s searchable online database, http://SaferProducts.gov. And if you, or someone you know, experience harm or a risk of harm related to the use of a consumer product, you can submit a report to the CPSC’s database as well. If published, the CPSC, the public, and product manufacturers will have the opportunity to read your report online. As a final reassurance that you can safely enjoy this holiday season, the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch routinely assists the CPSC in its enforcement work by initiating civil or criminal litigation when retailers or manufacturers distribute goods that fail to comply with pertinent standards or labeling requirements or fail to report to the CPSC when they learn of a defect or product safety hazard. Just remember that if you are well-informed about the types of gifts, toys, and consumer products you are giving, as well as who should and should not receive them, you are bound to have a very happy, enjoyable, and safe holiday season!