No Child’s Play

Fun is one thing, safety is another. Find out how you can protect your kid from dangerous play.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Fun is one thing, safety is another. Find out how you can protect your kid from dangerous play. 

"Besides, being a safety hazard, such walkers don’t help your child’s motor development."

It’s that time of the year when your kids look forward to unwrapping their favourite toys for Christmas.

While they deserve the joy that such playthings bring, it’s also timely to remember that toys can sometimes pose very real health hazards.

In fact, toy-related injuries account for more than 500 cases that the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s (KKH) department of emergency medicine sees each year, says a report in The Straits Times (ST).

Many of these injuries occur in children under five years old – of these, about half of the cases involve those aged one to three.

Dr Chong Shu-Ling, a physician with KKH, tells ST: “Although the majority of these injuries are minor, some are serious and have led to surgery or hospitalisation.” Here’s what you must know about common toy safety risks:


This is the biggest toy safety concern, Dr Kao Pao Tang, head and senior consultant at the children’s emergency department of National University Hospital (NUH) tells ST.

Toys sometimes come apart because of bad design or misuse. The result: small parts, beads, or Lego bricks end up in a child’s mouth or become lodged in her nostrils or ears.

In his ST interview, Dr Chong gave the example of a two-year-old boy who was left to play unsupervised, and had pulled out the button eyes of his rabbit soft toy.

He popped one button into his mouth but didn’t like how it tasted. He then accidentally inserted it into his nose, and had to be taken to the hospital.

It’s also important that parents look out for news on toy recalls. ST reports that in December last year, Toys ‘R’ Us Singapore issued a voluntary recall of Bruin Wiggle Ball toys – the rubber knobs and plastic backs could detach and pose a choking hazard to children.

And in Britain, several models of fidget spinners were taken off the shelves when it was discovered that their small parts popped out easily.


Enterprise Singapore has advised parents to ensure that fidget spinners have tightly secured cases to prevent children from opening them, says ST’s report.

These toys are operated by button batteries and battery fluid poses very serious risks. Swallowing the batteries causes not only choking, but internal bleeding and chemical burns as well.

It’s just as risky if your kid inserts a button battery up his nostril. Dr Kao tells ST: “In the worst case, we have seen the nasal septum totally perforated within half a day of the battery being inserted.”

He added that besides battery acid, the electric current is harmful as well. “Most modern toys are designed in such a way that it is not usually easy to remove the batteries, but failure of such design is not uncommon,” he points out.

Look out for wear and tear, which can cause the screws that secure the battery cover to come loose.


Did you know that a baby in a walker can reach a speed of 1m per second? This is too fast for you to catch up to if she gets near an open door, a staircase or a pot of boiling water, says the KK Women’s and Children's Hospital website.

Besides, being a safety hazard, such walkers don’t help your child’s motor development, either. Countries such as Canada have been banned these products, ST’s article adds.

Once your kid is older, always keep a close watch when she rides a skate scooter, tricycle or rideon toy, so she doesn’t accidentally slip and fall off it.

Keep ride-on toys away from stairs, swimming pools and other potentially dangerous areas, too.


Wielding a handheld lightsaber associated with the Star Wars movies may bring out the kid in you, but in the hands of a young child, it’s one of the most common potentially dangerous toys. The same applies to spinning tops that project laser beams.

Dr Janice Lam, from the NUH Eye Surgery Centre, tells ST: “When used unsafely, these toys can be dangerous and can cause serious, immediate and permanent eye injuries to the person using the laser and anyone else within range of the laser beam.”

No eye injuries related to laser toys have been seen at KKH, NUH or the Singapore National Eye Centre, though Dr Lam has seen eye injuries caused by lasers used in science or engineering labs.

“Eye injuries sustained after a laser beam is shone into the eye may not be painful and often are not reported until later when vision may already be impaired,” Dr Lam adds in the same interview.

Injuries from a laser beam include superficial corneal burns, damage to the eye lens leading to cataracts, burns to the retina which may result in a permanent retinal hole or scar, and blindness.

So, teach your kid never to shine a laser directly at anyone, or treat a laser pointer as a toy.

In fact, the National Environment Agency (NEA) regulates lasers and laser pointers here. Its website says “even at a very low power of 5mW (milliwatts), when the laser is aimed directly at the eye, it will cause temporary flash blindness”.


My Reading Room
How safe are Junior’s toys?

Make sure your play is safe for your kid with this checklist by Dr Chong Shu-Ling from KKH and Enterprise Singapore.


• Pick toys that are suitable for your kid’s age, interests and skill levels.
• Choose those that are designed and made well.
• Follow the age recommendation stated on the packaging.
• Look for warnings or other safety messages on the packaging.
• Avoid toys with sharp points or edges.
• Check the rigid eyes and noses on soft toys to ensure they cannot be pulled off.
• Make sure small parts of larger toys cannot be broken off.
• Avoid toys that shoot objects into the air.

• Avoid toys that are loud to prevent hearing damage.

• Read all the toy instructions carefully.
• Make sure to discard packaging such as plastic, cellophane and styrofoam.
• Check your kid’s toys regularly for wear and tear. If the toy is broken, throw it away immediately.
• Supervise your children when they play with balloons and throw away any broken bits as kids can swallow them or insert them into their nose or ears.
• If the edges of a wooden toy have become sharp or splitered, sand them down.
• Check outdoor toys for rust or loose parts.
• Check if a safety alert has been issued by visiting Enterprise Singapore's website at, or international sites such as US Safer Products at