By law, all toys sold in the UK must meet the standards set out in the Toy Safety Regulations that were updated in 1995. One quick and easy way for a parent to check that a toy meets UK and European safety standards is to check for the CE marking.
Also, most toys in Britain bear the Lion Mark which provides further assurance that the toy meets the highest safety standards. However, by law toys for younger children and especially toys that could pose a danger for children under 36 months must bear extra markings.
These toys must bear a warning such as 'Not suitable for children under 36 months'. This warning must be accompanied by details in the instructions of the particular danger posed to younger children by the toy. Common examples of this would be 'Choking hazard' or 'Sharp objects'. It is possible for these warnings not to appear on toys when it is plainly obvious that they are not suitable for children under 36 months.
Also, the toy safety regulations state that the level of risk associate a toy should reflect the age of the child who will play with it. "This applies in particular to toys which, by virtue of their functions, dimensions and characteristics, are intended for use by children under 36 months," the regulations state. Also, if any toy requires adult supervision, then this must be clearly stated on the toy or its packaging.
While age warnings in text are acceptable by law, they have increasingly been replaced by a logo since 1995. The 'grumpy baby' logo warns that a toy should not be used by a child under three years, and has become a familiar warning symbol to many consumers. While the logo can replace a warning in text, the reason for the hazard must still be provided in the toy's instructions.
Buying toys for younger children
While age warnings are an essential part of the toy regulations, they can also be beneficial for consumers when it comes to choosing toys that are most beneficial and fun for a particular age group. While buying a plastic ball for a baby might not pose any safety risks, there are probably other toys that will be much more beneficial for the child's development.
For this reason, consumers should always look out for markings that indicate which age group the toy is intended for. Toys for the birth to 12 months age group will differ significantly from toys intended for children aged one and two.
When buying for the birth to 12 months age group you should look for toys that will stimulate the child's senses - sight, sound, touch and taste. Rattles and squishy toys are perfect for the early months, while blocks, cups and rings will become more suitable as the child approaches 12 months.
Once a child reaches one year and begins to walk an entirely different range of toys come into play. Toys for this age group should encourage and help with the physical and mental development of the child. Ride-on toys and push toys can be good for physical development at this age. There are any number of toys that can help with mental development such as basic jig-saw puzzles and simple board games.
Most manufacturers of toys for children under 36 months will specify which of these age groups the toy is most suitable for, even if toy safety regulations do not require it. It is also a good idea to exercise a degree of common sense when buying toys for young children. For example, if you are buying a cuddly toy quickly check that none of the small parts such as eyes are loose and that there is no loose stuffing or fur. The toy safety regulations go a long way towards protecting young children but it is not impossible for defective items to slip through the net.