Keep this holiday season merry, bright — and as safe as possible

fdnybatteryfire-150x150For consumers who were too stuffed from their Thanksgiving feasting or too weary of stressful bargain hunting to jam the malls or to flock to the internet for Black Friday deals, the words to the wise have started flowing on how the savvy will ensure their holiday gifts also keep loved ones safe from unintended harms.

Kids toys, of course, are always cause for caution at this time of year, federal regulators say. But grownups also can glean safety reminders from disconcerting reports about an increasingly popular and practical potential seasonal acquisition — the so-called “e-bikes.”

With toys, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a timely and distressing study. The federal watchdog agency reported that in 2021:

“[T]here were more than 152,000 toy-related, emergency department-treated injuries to children younger than 15 years of age, including two deaths. The fatalities involved choking on a small part of a toy and suffocating on a soft toy in an unsafe sleep environment. Frequently, these injuries involved lacerations and contusions, and abrasions to the child’s face and head. Importantly, many of the incidents were associated with, but not necessarily caused by, a toy. For children younger than 15 years old, non-motorized scooters continued to be the category of toys associated with the most injuries. Males accounted for 58% of all of the injuries.”

These are the quotable agency bullet-points, based on staff research, on best practices for grownups to keep kids safer with toys:

  • Follow age guidance and other safety information on toy packaging and choose toys that match each child’s interests and abilities.
  • Get safety gear, including helmets, for scooters and other riding toys–and make sure that children use them every time.
  • Keep small balls and toys with small parts away from children younger than age 3 and keep deflated balloons away from children younger than age 8.
  • Once the gifts are open, immediately discard plastic wrappings or other packaging on toys before they become dangerous playthings.

Parents who want expert advice on the baffling and giant array of toy choices, including many that are electronic or digital, can consult the considered guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 67,000 specialists in the treatment of youngsters. The group in 2019 published a clinical report on selecting toys in the digital era and it is available by clicking here.

The study, in brief, urges parents not to be dazzled by product makers’ excessive claims and whiz-bang devices. Instead, basic, tried-and-true toys — think items like blocks and simple dolls — can be a great choice because these and other products of their kind help youngsters be creative and build their imaginations, and be safer too.

With technology’s relentless incursion into all our lives, the means of powering all those gee-whiz devices have become a major safety matter. The issue — which may be familiar but must be accounted for always— has surfaced anew with the increasingly popular bicycles with power-assisted electric motors.

E-bikes, promoted as environmentally friendly, relatively affordable, and a better way to get around metropolises from coast to coast, rely on lithium ion batteries. The batteries are long lasting, rechargeable, and store a lot of power in a small space, the New York Times reported.

Alas, as consumers found when they were packed into popular teens’ skateboards a few years ago, lithium-ion batteries also can overheat, explode, and be combustible in dangerous fashion. New York fire officials say e-bike fires have become a problem in a city in which commuters looking for every alternative to get around have made the devices almost common, the New York Times reported in mid-November:

“Fires involving lithium-ion batteries have become more common in New York City: Six people died and 139 have been injured as a result of battery-caused fires so far this year, according to the New York Fire Department. Last year, the batteries were connected to fires that resulted in four deaths and 79 injuries, the department said. The battery that caused a Nov. 5 fire was charging near the front door of an apartment, blocking its only exit, and prompting firefighters to conduct a rope rescue of two occupants. And in August, a fire caused by a lithium-ion battery killed a mother and daughter in Harlem. These fires can occur without warning and spread quickly, the chief fire marshal, Daniel E. Flynn, said at a Nov. 7 news conference. ‘We have a fully formed fire within a matter of seconds,’ he said.”

The newspaper reported that lithium-ion battery failures are rare, but with their proliferation has made them an increasing issue. The precautions experts suggest include:

  • Buy only batteries and devices certified by UL or another safety testing lab
  • Use only chargers and cables the product’s makers recommend as compatible. Incompatible chargers have been implicated more often in fires
  • Be aware of batteries aging and in need of replacement. The warning signs here include if the batteries heat up, take too long to charge, or swell.
  • Store spare batteries in fire-proof containers and handle them with care, avoiding damaging them with drops or bangs.
  • Don’t just toss old batteries in the trash. Consult with your local government or hauling service about dealing correctly with e-waste.

Just a reminder for grownups to be wary of the prevalence of lithium-ion and other “button” and “coin” batteries in increasing numbers of devices all around the household, including television remotes, key fobs, thermometers, scales, toys, flame-free candles — even singing greeting cards. These batteries pose high risks and can cause serious damage when children dislodge and ingest them.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them by defective and dangerous products, especially of the medical variety. Damages inflicted by devices can be devastating to the injured and their loved ones — and this cruelty is even truer when kids are involved.

We all want the weeks ahead to be festive and joyous ­— and not be remembered for tragedies involving those near and dear. Taking a few moments for safety precautions can be invaluable with the preparation of seasonal eats, or in putting up home decorations. Federal regulators also warn consumers to think twice about buying bargain goods from makers overseas in countries that may have less stringent safety laws.

Here’s hoping that you and yours have safe, affordable, happy, and healthy holidays!

Photo credit: screen grab from video posted by New York Fire Department of firefighters battling two-alarm lithium-ion battery-caused fire in Manhattan.
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