With the miniaturisation of electronic devices, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission notes that "unsecured button batteries are becoming increasingly accessible to young children".
Most of us are likely very aware that button batteries are used to power many consumer goods found around the home, including TV remote controls, cameras, watches, calculators, greeting cards, scales and torches, but they are also "increasingly used in children’s toys, novelty items and LED lights".
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said: “Every week in Australia, 20 children are taken to emergency rooms after suspected exposure to button batteries. A Queensland coroner found that four-year-old Summer Steer died in 2013 as a result of swallowing a button battery and a Victorian coroner is examining the death of another young child."
Rickard continued: “Children under the age of five are at the greatest risk. If they get their hands on one of the many products in the home that contain button batteries they can get the batteries out unless the compartments containing the batteries are secured. Once loose, children can easily mistake the batteries for lollies. This new code is an important step towards ensuring children cannot access the batteries, thereby reducing the risk that they will swallow them.”
The Industry Code for Consumer Goods that Contain Button Batteries (in PDF, Word and audio formats) has been "developed by a range of businesses with support from the ACCC and state regulators".
The ACCC notes that "Officeworks has led development of the code with help from importers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, industry associations, testing and standards and regulatory affairs businesses."
Rickard noted it is vital that other businesses commit to the code in order to save lives, and said: "We're pleased that this code is being led by business, it is an important initiative. The ACCC is always warning people about the very real dangers button batteries present to young children, but we won't be able to bring down the number of injuries unless business really starts taking action to ensure their products are safe.
“By selecting and designing consumer goods that comply with the industry code, retailers, importers and manufacturers can help to make button battery safety a fundamental design consideration across all consumer product categories. In doing so, there is no doubt that serious injuries will be prevented and lives will be saved.”
So, what are some of the safety mechanisms the new code stipulates?
- Design that means consumer goods are manufactured such that the batteries are not accessible to young children;
- A battery compartment (or other enclosure) that is secured (preferably with a captive screw, a bolt or mechanism) suh that it requires a tool to gain access to the batteries; or
- A battery compartment that requires two or more independent and simultaneous actions to remove its cover;
- The code also encourages retailers to consider whether they sell goods containing coin sized lithium button batteries at all and, if they do, not to sell goods that don’t comply with the safety requirements in the code;
- Retailers are also encouraged to consider the height at which they sell button batteries to ensure they can’t be accessed by young children;
- Information must be available at point of sale (including online) indicating that the product (or any included peripheral device) requires button batteries to operate and that these are hazardous to young children; and
- The code complements other work being done to educate parents and carers about the danger of button batteries and the need to keep items that contain button batteries out of the reach of young children.
Rickard concluded by stating: “We all have a responsibility to protect young children from button batteries – businesses, parents, carers and safety regulators included.”
More information on the code is also available on the Product Safety website.