You’ve probably seen that old “Saturday Night Live” skit from the 1970s in which comedian Dan Aykroyd plays the president of a toy company. You laughed along while he was being interviewed by a consumer reporter about the hazards of his company’s toys, which include the knife-wielding Johnny Switchblade doll and Bag O’ Glass.
It’s hilarious because that could never happen, right? But each year, dozens of toys are recalled and children are injured, or even killed, by hazardous products marketed to kids. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that in 2015 alone, there were an estimated 185,500 injuries and 11 deaths related to toys.
Here are the seven popular toys that pose some of the greatest safety hazards, according to safety experts:
Take a child virtually anywhere kid-friendly, and you’ll likely encounter one of the most hazardous toys on the market: balloons.
“Balloons pose the most serious choking hazard to children in the United States,” according to a recent annual toy survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “They are responsible for more childhood deaths by suffocation than any other product.”
Typically, this happens when the child is trying to inflate a balloon and inadvertently inhales, or when the balloon bursts and pieces are inhaled or accidentally swallowed. The law requires that balloons come with a warning label stating they’re a choking hazard for children under 8. But parents or caregivers frequently give young children balloons to play with, assuming they’re innocent playthings. It’s best to avoid them altogether.
2. Small balls
Since 1994 have been treated by federal law as distinct choking hazards. Between 2001 and 2014, small balls and marbles caused 37 choking fatalities reported to the CPSC.
“Any small, rounded toy, such as items found in toy food sets, can choke a child,” says the U.S. PIRG.
Before letting your child play with any toy, check to see if it passes the small ball test: If it’s small enough to fit in your child’s mouth and be accidentally swallowed, he or she shouldn’t be playing with it.
The CPSC reported that there were 286,000 medically treated trampoline injuries in 2014. Most trampoline injuries take place at home, and more than 90 percent of them happen to children between ages 5 and 14. Despite the rise of trampoline parks and use in school-sanctioned physical education classes, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons both recommend against their use at home. Possible injuries include sprains or fractures.
Trampolines are also the most common cause of severe and devastating cervical spine injuries, which can lead to paralysis or even death. And no data suggest that trampolines with netting or other safety equipment are any safer or reduce rates of injury.
If you have a trampoline on your property, consider increasing your liability coverage — you never know when you might need it.
4. Magnetic toys
You probably have five or six magnets on your refrigerator right now, but it may not have occurred to you that they could be deadly for young children. Even worse are the rare-earth magnet sets sold to hobbyists. These contain up to 100 or even more magnets in a set, and if swallowed, they can pull together with enough force to do life-threatening damage to internal organs.
5. Anything containing button batteries
These small, button-shaped batteries can be found in everything from remote controls to musical greeting cards or even electronic Christmas ornaments. With the biggest ones only slightly larger than a quarter and the smallest size tinier than a whole green pea, one can easily be popped out of a toy or other item and into a child’s mouth or nose where it can wreak havoc.
“The objects that scare those of us in pediatrics the most are button batteries because of the risk of severe damage to the trachea (windpipe) or the esophagus from chemical burns after ingestion,” says Elaine Cudnik, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Renown Health, a healthcare network in Northern Nevada. And though the batteries usually are enclosed behind screwed-in lids, the screws may not always be tightly secured.
Plus, not all items that children encounter in the home have child protections built in; many adult-use items contain button batteries, have no screws in the lid and still cross children’s paths. Always keep these items, and your spare button batteries, out of the reach of children.
6. Fidget spinners
Arguably today’s hottest toy, fidget spinners are marketed as “stress relievers” for children. But the hazards they pose can be even more stressful.
“Like most toys with small parts, there is a potential for a choking hazard,” Cudnik says. “The small, wheel-shaped discs on fidget spinners can reportedly come loose, and if they get into the hands — or worse, the mouths of young children, they can be dangerous. Like all small objects, the best prevention is close parental supervision and restricting access to young children.”
Plus, fidget spinners that light up require those button batteries you’ve just been warned about. In at least two cases, fidget spinners with such batteries have overheated and caught on fire while charging. Consumer safety experts recommend keeping an eye on a charging fidget spinner, never letting it charge overnight and using only chargers that are approved for use with the toy.
Over the last few years, hoverboards have consistently topped lists of dangerous toys. Emergency physician Mark Waltzman, a Boston-based pediatric emergency medicine expert, has told reporters that one Christmas he treated two broken arms, one broken leg and a concussion – all from hoverboards. Equally troubling, the CPSC has logged more than 100 reports of hoverboards catching fire while charging or in use, burning houses down, causing millions of dollars’ worth of property damage and killing two girls in Pennsylvania.
Many dangerous toys are recalled, but even some that are legal to sell, such as pellet guns, are inherently dangerous. The U.S. PIRG says news of these safety issues and recalls often fails to reach consumers. In addition, many of those recalled toys remain available for purchase on store shelves and at yard sales. It’s up to parents to keep a close eye on what their children are playing with and do research about toy recalls.
Jessica Santina is a Northern Nevada-based freelance writer and editor for MoneyGeek.com whose work has appeared in numerous publications, blogs and websites.