Button battery safety failures

CHOICE says children’s lives are being jeopardised by business ignoring button battery risk, and are calling for an overhaul of product safety laws in the wake of recent tests which show manufacturers and retailers are ignoring safety risks posed by button battery powered items.

“10 out of 17 button battery powered household items failed CHOICE safety tests with the potentially deadly batteries easily accessible,” says CHOICE Head of Policy and Campaigns, Sarah Agar.

“Given that at least 1 child a month suffers a serious injury after swallowing or inserting a button battery[1], it’s essential that industry be forced to take this problem seriously,” Agar says.

Two children have died in Australia after ingesting button batteries and there have been at least 17 cases of children being seriously injured in Australia since December 2017[2]. The batteries are shiny, smooth and easy to swallow and there can be little indication anything is wrong until it is too late.

“While toys for children under three are legally required to have secure battery compartments, many everyday household items do not,” Ms Agar says.

“Thermometers, book lights, kitchen scales and a remote control were among the products that failed our button battery safety tests.

“Industry is aware of this significant safety issue. There is a voluntary code that requires manufacturers to make the batteries secure, but our test results show it is being ignored by some major brands sold in big retail outlets like Priceline, Dymocks, David Jones and JB Hi-Fi.

“Self-regulation is failing, and it’s putting Australian children at risk of serious harm.

“Unfortunately in Australia our product safety laws are reactive – when tragedy occurs, businesses might take action by ordering a recall, and individual people injured by products can seek individual remedies.

“But that leaves many dangerous products on the shelves until someone else is hurt. This is not even close to good enough.

“Until these laws change, we will continue to see companies prioritise profit over safety and in the worst cases, the safety of children.

“We believe the Australian government should make it illegal to sell unsafe products, which would see companies face large fines for flooding the Australian market with unsafe junk and would go a long way to curbing the risks associated with unsecured button batteries and other inherently unsafe products.”

CHOICE is calling for an overhaul of product safety laws as part of World Consumer Rights day.

For more information go to www.choice.com.au/buttonbatteries

Safety tips

1. If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, immediately call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or go to emergency. Do not let the child eat or drink, and do not induce vomiting.

2. Keep all button battery operated devices out of sight and out of reach of children.

3. Examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure.

4. Dispose of used button batteries immediately. Flat batteries can still be dangerous.

5. Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries, and how to keep their children safe.

Media contact: Nicky Breen, CHOICE, Spokesperson: 0430 172 669

Testing notes for Editors: 

Our testers checked to see if the batteries were secured in a screw compartment, whether a tool was needed to remove the battery and the degree of force needed to remove the battery, where no tool was required. In addition the testers carried out drop tests on compliant items and looked at whether safety warnings featured on the products.

While coin-sized lithium button batteries are known to have caused more serious injuries and deaths to children, all button batteries are potentially dangerous to children who access them.

 *Lithium batteries

[1] APSU National surveillance Unit, stats from Dr Ruth Barker[2]ibid