Auckland importer warned by Commerce Commission

An Auckland-based importer has been warned by the Commerce Commission that a toy tool set imported from China and sold in budget variety stores may have breached an unsafe goods notice relating to levels of lead in children's toys. Anyone in possession of one of these toy sets is advised to dispose of them immediately.

In late 2007, importer United Top KidSmart brought into New Zealand 96 plastic tool sets. Independent testing found some parts of the tool set have paint containing more than 21 times the maximum level of lead allowed. The tool set retailed for about $3.50.

The toys tested and found not to meet the Standard required under the unsafe goods notice were part of a tool set sold through budget variety stores. The tool set came in yellow, blue, and red packaging and contained plastic toy tools such as a ruler, hammer, and screwdriver. Some of the tools in the set have a sticker on them saying 'Tools High Strength'. Of particular concern is the yellow paint on the hammer and the silver paint on the screwdriver.

Anyone who bought or was given a tool set matching this description should immediately throw it away. If parents are concerned that their child may have been exposed to excessive levels of lead through chewing on the toy, a blood-lead levels test may be a sensible precaution.

'It is the responsibility of importers and retailers to ensure that the goods they sell meet all of New Zealand's relevant Standards. The unsafe goods notice relating to lead in children's toys was put in place to protect some of our most vulnerable consumers, children. Consumers must be able to buy toys in full confidence that they are safe for children to play with,' said Commerce Commission Director of Fair Trading Adrian Sparrow.

'While any unsafe toy for sale in New Zealand is a concern, due to the relatively small numbers of this toy sold, a warning is the most appropriate action from the Commission in this case,' said Mr Sparrow. 'However, the Commission takes children's toy safety seriously and may consider stronger enforcement action if other cases of non-compliance come to light.'

The Commission investigated this toy after receiving a complaint from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. The Ministry had the toys tested as part of a series of spot checks to ensure that toys sold in New Zealand are safe and comply with all the relevant requirements.

All toys sold in New Zealand must also meet the mandatory product safety standard relating to choking hazards with toys for children up to 36 months of age. The fact sheet Children's toys – a guide to complying with the product safety standard [478 kB PDF] (http://www.comcom.govt.nz//Publications/ContentFiles/Documents/COM13866%20Childrens%20Toys.pdf) can be downloaded from the Commission's website www.comcom.govt.nz under Fair Trading/Publications.

A high-resolution image of the tool set is available on request.

Background

United Top KidSmart is an importer of clothing, shoes, and shelving. As of early 2008, United Top KidSmart no longer imports children's toys.

An unsafe goods notice is the legal instrument by which a good or class of good is banned from supply under the Fair Trading Act. Section 31 of the Fair Trading Act 1986 gives the Minister of Consumer Affairs the power to ban products by declaring them to be 'unsafe goods' by a notice published in the New Zealand Gazette. This action can be taken 'where it appears to the Minister that goods of any description or any class or classes of goods will or may cause injury to any person.'

It is an offence under section 31(5)(b) of the Fair Trading Act 1986 for any person (including a company) to supply, offer to supply, or advertise to supply goods for which a unsafe goods notice has been prescribed, unless those goods comply with the notice.

Unsafe Goods (Lead in children's toys) Indefinite Prohibition Notice 2009

Children's toys which contain lead in their accessible parts at a migration level greater than 90 mg/kg of toy material are declared to be unsafe goods and are prohibited from supply indefinitely.

Migration level means the value calculated after testing in accordance with the procedures and result interpretation provisions of the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS ISO 8124.3:2003 entitled Safety of toys, Part 3: Migration of certain elements.

This unsafe goods notice was first put in place on 20 September 2007 and was extended indefinitely from 26 March 2009.

The Commerce Commission is responsible for enforcing the notice and can investigate and prosecute a supplier of an unsafe toy.

Only the Courts can decide if the Act has actually been breached in any particular case. If convicted for breaching the Act, penalties can include fines of up to $60,000 for an individual and $200,000 for a company. These are the maximum fines for the most serious offences of non-compliance.

The risk of lead in toys

While there is no easy method of identifying a toy that may contain excess levels of lead, certain classes of toys pose a greater risk than others. They are:

  • children's face paints and toy cosmetics – as they may come into prolonged contact with the child's skin
  • children's finger paints – as they are applied with the hands, therefore the paint may be easily ingested
  • small toys and some toy jewellery which can be placed in the mouth and or easily swallowed.

Experts have also advised to look for the following:

  • dull, thick or heavy paint
  • red or yellow paint
  • soldered joints
  • bright silver metal appearance
  • heavy pendants on cheap lightweight chains
  • painted diecast objects
  • items which are heavier than expected for their size.

Reproduced from a Commerce Commission press release 22 October 2009

Related Standards

Published in business and ICT.