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Questions and Answers on Magnets in Toys

European Commission - MEMO/08/128   28/02/2008

Other available languages: none

MEMO/08/128

Brussels, 28 February 2008

Questions and Answers on Magnets in Toys

SECTION 1: THE RISK

Why is the Commission proposing a warning on toys containing or made from magnets?

Magnets in toys are an increasing risk, and yet they are currently not covered by any specific rules. They are only obliged to meet the general EU requirement that toys put on the market pose no health or safety risk. However, given the way in which magnetic toys have evolved, becoming smaller, more powerful and more easily detached, new measures which specifically address these toys are needed.

The Commission believes that a warning label on toys with magnets is necessary to address in a proportionate way the risk that these toys pose to children. The warning label is foreseen as a temporary solution while the EU-wide standard is being revised to cover risks posed by magnets in toys (see below).

What are the dangers associated with magnets in toys?

Even though magnets have been used in toys for a long time, over the last few years they have become much more powerful. As a result, they can detach more easily from the toy because the manufacturing techniques used in the past are no longer adequate to keep these stronger magnets attached. Their increased power also means that, if swallowed, the consequences can be extremely serious as 2 or more magnets can connect with each other or with metal items in the digestive tract, causing perforations, blockages and ruptures. The smaller, more powerful magnets can also cause grave harm if inhaled.

There have been a number of very concerning incidents worldwide involving children who swallowed magnetic toys or magnets that detached from toys. A fatal accident was reported in the USA in 2006, and there have also been dozens of cases of children swallowing magnets and requiring major surgery as a result. Hundreds of consumer complaints and incident reports have been submitted on magnetic toys, and there have been several RAPEX notifications directly related to such products. Several toy manufacturers have recently issued major recalls of toys containing magnets. In particular, over 18 million magnetic toys were recalled worldwide during the summer of 2007, and a significant proportion of these toys were on the European market.

SECTION 2: THE NEW MEASURES

What is the new standard?

In May 2007, the Commission asked (CEN) the European Standardisation Committee to revise the relevant European standard (EN 71) in order to cover the specific risks of toys containing small magnets. The CEN has 24 months to produce this revised standard, which will provide authorities and industry with a precise benchmark to assess the safety of toys with regard to the specific risks that magnets may pose.

Of course, current EU rules state clearly that any toy put on the EU market must comply with the general safety requirements (General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC and Toy Safety Directive 88/378/EEC) and will be removed from the market if it is dangerous to children.

What toys exactly will be required to carry a warning under the Decision?

Warning labels will have to be carried by any toys that have a loose or detachable magnet or magnetic part which is small enough to be swallowed by a child. This is the same as the small parts test template set out under the European Standard EN-71.

How long before the EU warnings will be seen on toys with magnets?

The mandatory warnings should be on all toys made from or containing magnets by summer 2008. Once the European Parliament scrutiny period is over (2 weeks) and the Commission has formally adopted the Decision, Member States have 3 months to ensure that the measures are implemented.

SECTION3: THE PROCEDURE

What is the legal base for the new EU wide warning?

The GPSD (General Product Safety Directive) requires national authorities and industry to take all necessary measures to ensure that consumer products placed on the EU market are safe. Under Article 13 of the GPSD, in certain cases, the Commission can put forward a proposal for specific action or measures in response to a serious identified risk from certain products to the health and safety of consumers in various Member States.

Why prioritise an EU action on magnets?

A number of Member States, including France Germany and Denmark have already informed the Commission of national measures to ensure that consumers are informed of the risks linked to magnets in toys through warnings.

Towards the end of 2007, many Member States specifically called on the Commission to introduce an EU-wide measure in this area, to ensure a consistent and high level of consumer safety protection throughout the EU and to avoid a situation where many divergent national measures emerged and posed a barrier to intra-Community trade in magnetic toys.

All Member States remain vigilant for any problems with the safety of magnetic toys, and immediately report any identified risks through the RAPEX system.

Has this kind of action been taken before under the GPSD?

Yes, other Commission initiatives under Article 13 of the GPSD, include a Decision to ban phthalates in toys and childcare articles, and a Decision to ban all novelty cigarette lighters and place child-resistance requirements on all disposable lighters. Such Decisions are evidence of the fact that the Commission does not hesitate to propose specific, proportionate action if product safety risks emerge.

Contact: Helen Kearns +32 2 2987638


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