No More “Quack Quacks”: The End Of Bath-Times For Britain’s Rubber Ducks?

Which are the world’s most dangerous toys? Anyone who wants to find out can refer to the annual list published by the consumer protection organisation “World Against Toys Causing Harm” (WATCH). It’s most recent “Top Ten”, issued in November 2017 and cited in the Daily Mail, includes several products popular at present with many children – among them the “plastic Wonder Woman battle sword” which, say WATCH has the potential to cause blunt-force injuries and Marvel’s “Spider-Man Drone” whose multiple high-speed rotating blades can “inflict significant bodily damage, particularly to the eyes”. Other items featuring in the latest list are: Nerf’s “Zombie Strike” crossbow, which represents a possible hazard for the eyes and face “because it uses a pressurized, pull-back lever to shoot soft projectiles”; “Hand Fidget Spinners”, depicted as constituting a choking hazard and Razor’s “Heel Wheels”. These last ones are strapped onto children’s shoes to turn them into improvised roller skates but apparently pose a burn risk because they provide “real sparking action”.

WATCH has also previously advised parents to be cautious in purchasing toys “which fire ammunition” such as the “Slimeball Slinger”, the “Warcraft Doomhanger” and the “Flying Heroes Superman Launcher” as well as the “Good Dinosaur Galloping Butch”, whose pointed tail can allegedly produce puncture wounds and also anything with a high element of lead, such as the “Princess Expressions Tiara and Jewellery” set. As the Daily Mail has noted, the US Toy Association has dismissed all these warnings as “needlessly frightening” to parents. Joan Siff, the WATCH President disagrees, giving as an example the “Pull Along Pony” by Tolo Toys that’s marketed for children over the age of 1 but has a 19-inch cord. They don’t need a testing laboratory, she pointed out “to know that it’s a strangulation and entanglement hazard”.

A humbler, less technological and rather more traditional toy has now been portrayed as being equally dangerous: On 29th March, the Guardian reported that a joint study carried out by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology and the University of Illinois had discovered “potentially pathogenic bacteria” such as legionella and “pseudomonas aeruginosa” in four out of five rubber ducks used as bath toys. Both the Huffington Post journalist, Natalie Stechyson (“Your Kid’s rubber duck is probably teeming with bacteria and mould”) and the Thomson Reuters news agency (“Yucky Ducky: Those cute yellow bath-time toys are a haven for nasty bugs”) focused on the revelation that a “strikingly high volume of fungus and bacteria, as many as 75 million cells per square metre, have been found in the ducks”.

This is clearly not a welcome development for the manufacturers of these products. The company “Just Ducks” based in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, describes itself as “The Home Of Quack” and as the largest rubber duck shop in the UK. It offers “dozens of categories, hundreds of styles and thousands of characters”. Examples of it’s current best sellers are: the Superhero Duck, the Cat Duck (with painted whiskers and feline ears), the Yarto President Duck (distinctly resembling Donald Trump), footballer and tennis ducks, Top Gun, Celebrity, Explorer, Surfer and Marathon Runner Ducks. One of it’s main competitors would seem to be the “DuckShop” in Rhede, Germany, which claims to be Europe’s leader in this sector and to have the best selection of rubber ducks available online. “Throw these rubber ducks into the tub for a splash of fun (it exhorts). Make Rubber Ducks Great Again!” Among their 800 + “creative designs” are: Mini Doc and Nurse Ducks, Stone Age, Robber, Wizard and Deluxe Lavender Ducks. Your choice , they declare, will “reflect your mood, hobby, character and situation”. The results of the Swiss Federal Institute’s investigations may, however, have finally pulled the bath-plug on the (until now) thriving and prosperous rubber duck industry.

The Royal Society For the Prevention Of Accidents (ROSPA) website defines “toy” as “any product or material designed or intended for use in play by children of less than 14 years of age”. It observes that the manufacturers have a considerable responsibility to anticipate how their products will be used and to take action at the design stage to prevent injury being caused through foreseeable misuse. ROSPA advises parents to only buy toys that carry the mandatory European Union “CE” symbol as well as the voluntary British Toy and Hobby Association’s (BTHA) “Lion Mark”. They should also make sure they are suitable for the age of the child and check them regularly for wear and tear, disposing of them when necessary.

The British Standards Institute (BSI) similarly takes the view that consumers are well protected by existing legislation such as the “BS EN 71” series. These stipulate that, before they reach the shelves, toys must undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are safe for children to use: “Safety testing a teddy bear, for example, might require tugging its eyes, to make sure a young child couldn’t easily pull them out and swallow them and setting it alight, to verify whether a child holding a teddy bear which caught fire would have time to drop it before being burnt”.

According to the BBC News Business reporter, Lucy Burton, almost all of the 30 “teddy factories” which once existed in Britain have closed down, due to the competition from cheap imported Chinese bears. One has, however, survived: Merrythought Ltd in the Shropshire countryside, founded in 1930. They emphasise that all their bears, which are made from “ a variety of bespoke mohair and other fabrics including alpaca, a range of wools, silks and cottons” are fully safety tested and adhere strictly to prevailing regulations.

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on April 3rd, 2018 by Colin D Gordon

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