High-strength magnets can be found in toys, puzzles and some craft and fashion items and can cause horrific damage to the body if swallowed.
How many magnet injuries have there been?
UK injuries from magnets are not reported systematically. However data has been submitted to us by one hospital detailing 19 cases over a twelve-month period (commencing in January 2019 and ending in January 2020) where children had ingested magnets. Eleven of these children were over 10years-old and the remaining eight children were under 5-years-old. Three of the nineteen cases required surgery.
A group of four hospitals in the South East of England have reported 52 cases over a five-year period between 2016 and 2020. There was a five-fold increase during this period. 42 per cent of these cases required surgery.
Further data has emerged from hospitals across the country which has mirrored these findings and demonstrated that there is a significant problem for these two key age groups. NHS England have been in touch about cases that have been reported to them from hospitals around the country and we are in contact with a paediatric surgeons who reports seeing “a rising number of cases” of the older age group requiring treatment. One surgeon reports having seen three together in one weekend. We are also aware of three cases that required surgery in one hospital in London, where children had been using magnetic beads to create necklaces and swallowed a number of magnets. From just a handful of hospitals and trauma centres, we’re now aware of over 200 cases of children requiring hospital treatment since 2019 and the number of children in the older age group is causing increasing concern.
What are the dangers of magnets?
When two or more of the magnets are swallowed, they can stick together, causing damage to the digestive system. A magnet in one loop of the bowel will be attracted to another in a different loop and pull the two together. This traps parts of the digestive system between the magnets, cutting off blood flow and rapidly killing intestinal tissue. Abnormal holes can be created between intestinal segments, causing serious infections, lifelong digestive disorders or even death.
In addition, if small children put items in their mouths, this can cause them to choke. Hospitals are reporting that young children swallowing magnets has resulted in the need for major surgery.
An emerging concern is the use of magnetic products as “fake” tongue piercings and jewellery among children aged over 10-years-old, which has led to the need for surgery when the magnets have detached and been swallowed.
What action has been taken to make magnets safe?
The Toy Safety Regulations 2011, made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, require toys to be safe. They prescribe Essential Safety Requirements regarding general principles including design, construction and composition, and also address particular risks.
The harmonised European Standard EN 71 provides the recognised interpretation of the legal requirements. A toy is defined as a product that is designed or intended (whether or not exclusively) for use in play for children under 14-years of age. Small high strength magnets are often sold as adult toys/gadgets and carry warnings. Toys containing them are also frequently marketed as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) toys, designed to promote education, creativity and problem solving skills in children.
The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 require all products to be safe in their normal or reasonably foreseeable usage. The regulations therefore impose controls on other types of consumer goods containing magnets. The requirements apply to adult toys/gadgets or products marketed as fake tongue piercings.
In May 2021 The Office for Product Safety and Standards issued a Product Safety Alert reminding businesses and online platforms of their obligations under product safety law. They must remove from the market products containing small magnets which breach the safety requirements of the Toy Safety Regulations or the General Product Safety Regulations.
Also in May 2021, NHS England released a safety alert which asks health service providers to ensure any patients who have ingested (or are suspected of ingesting) ‘super strong’ magnets are referred to an Emergency Department as a medical emergency. In addition, organisations with an Emergency Department are asked to ensure the right processes are in place so that any child or adult seeking emergency care having swallowed these magnets receives the necessary urgent assessments, investigations and treatments.
How can I keep my child safe from swallowing magnets?
- Keep all products containing high strength magnets out of reach of young children
- Make sure that older children are aware of the dangers of using magnets as jewellery products or as “fake” tongue or facial piercings.
What should I do if my child swallows magnets?
If you think your child may have swallowed magnets, seek medical advice immediately.
Magnet safety resources
We’re supporting the Office for Product Safety and Standards in raising awareness of the dangers of magnets. Download these free resources to help make people aware of these dangers.
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