Christmas Novelties

A Warning from Trading Standards

Sales of toys are governed by strict regulations to protect young children from choking; not so Christmas novelties, but can you tell the difference?

A picture of Christmas novelties.

Christmas toys? Those pictured here are actually all 'novelties' not toys, and while they are not illegal or necessarily dangerous it can be hard to tell the difference.

Christmas decorations have come a long way from the traditional paper chains and glass balls. Look in any garden centre, DIY shop, supermarket, let alone Christmas shop on a short term let and you'll find a huge range of goods that look like toys, are as attractive to children as toys….but aren't toys. And are nowhere near as safe as toys. Ninety one different types were tested by Trading Standards Officers across the South-West in the run up to Christmas last year. Fifty eight of them could have caused an injury to a child left alone to play with it. Some novelties resembled soft toys, the sort of toy we traditionally give to the youngest children. An even higher percentage of these were potentially dangerous. Even a Christmas stocking was found on sale with the wording "unsuitable for children under 36 months", odd when you consider that most stockings are bought for young children. Warnings that items are purely for decoration and should not be given to children/used as toys are often small so be vigilant.

A picture of Christmas novelties.

Children under 36 months are at greatest risk, as the most common problem was the novelty having parts a child could easily pull off, put in its mouth and be at risk of choking. Toys designed for this age group have to comply with strict legal requirements laid down in a comprehensive European Safety Standard. However, as these novelties are not toys, they do not have to match up to the standard – even though in most cases it might only add a few pence to their cost.

How can you spot something that might be a potential hazard? It's a matter of polishing your glasses, and looking at the small print on the labels. "This is a decoration, not a toy", "keep out of the reach of children", "for use as a decoration only" – phrases like this are code for "if you leave your child alone with this you might find you have to rush off to A & E." Unfortunately some retail stores have relied on warnings like this instead of insisting these novelties are made child proof.

So if you're shopping for decorations and are expecting young children in the house, please look at the labels before you buy or hang them.

Jeremy Parsons
Trading Standards Officer for Bath and North East Somerset Council.

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