The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is urging businesses to adopt a new Code designed to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from children swallowing button batteries in Australia.
With the miniaturisation of electronic devices, unsecured button batteries are becoming increasingly accessible to young children, the ACCC says. You can find button batteries in TV remote controls, cameras, watches, calculators, greeting cards, scales and torches. They are also increasingly used in children's toys, novelty items and LED lights.
"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," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
The ACCC says 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. A new Code is an important step towards ensuring children cannot access the batteries, the ACCC says, reducing the risk that they will swallow them.
The Industry Code for Consumer Goods that Contain Button Batteries has been developed by a range of businesses with support from the ACCC and state regulators. Officeworks has led development of the Code with help from importers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, industry associations, testing and standards and regulatory affairs businesses.
Ms Rickard said it is vital that other businesses commit to the Code in order to save lives.
"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," said Ms Rickard.
"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."
The Code stipulates a number of safety mechanisms — including a design that makes the batteries inaccessible to young children, a battery compartment secured (preferably with a captive screw, a bolt or mechanism) so you need a tool to access it, and also needs 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.
The ACCC says information must be available at point of sale (including online) when a product needs button batteries and that these are hazardous to young children. 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.
"We all have a responsibility to protect young children from button batteries — businesses, parents, carers and safety regulators included," Ms Rickard said.