The dangers with button batteries
New Zealand lagging behind Australia’s mandatory safety rules.
The Australian government has introduced new mandatory safety rules for button batteries, while New Zealand still has voluntary guidance for suppliers.
Button batteries are coin-sized batteries common in various devices, including watches, toys, bathroom scales and car key fobs.
Globally, there’s a growing record of serious injuries and deaths of children from swallowing button batteries. In Australia, three children have died after swallowing the batteries.
Back here, on average, 20 children are taken to hospital each year after ingesting button batteries.
The new Aussie rules came into effect in June and aim to improve the safety of the batteries themselves, as well ensuring batteries in products are kept secure.
The mandatory standards mean products must have secure battery compartments to stop children getting into them. The batteries themselves must be supplied in child-resistant packaging.
Products and batteries must have a warning and emergency advice on packs. Suppliers must also ensure products have been tested for compliance.
The standards will be enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), with breaches attracting a maximum fine of up to $10 million for businesses, or $500,000 for individuals.
What’s the NZ Government doing?
In 2018, then Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi released a Product Safety Policy Statement. This provided guidance for manufacturers of button batteries and for manufacturers and suppliers of electronic goods that use these batteries.
The Product Safety Policy is being reviewed to see whether the guidance has been effective in reducing harm and if any other action is needed.
The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Dr David Clark is due to receive the review early next year.
The Product Safety Policy outlines guidance for the sale of individual batteries, along with products that contain batteries.
It advises all button batteries for individual sale should:
come in child-resistant packaging;
have warnings to alert consumers about the hazards of the item;
provide on-pack information on safe disposal and advice on keeping batteries out of reach of children.
For products that include button batteries the guidance states:
The battery compartment should have two mechanisms for release (both must be activated for the battery compartment to open).
The product must pass a ‘use-and-abuse’ test (including pressure and drop tests) to ensure it can’t be accidentally opened or become insecure.
While the guidance above is similar to the Australian rules, we’d like to see a mandatory standard. We’ve been calling for this since 2017.
What’s the risk?
When a button battery comes into contact with bodily fluids, it creates a chemical reaction. If swallowed or ingested, these batteries can cause burns and tissue damage in as little as two hours.
Child safety advocacy group Safekids Aotearoa said that, on average, 20 children are taken to hospital each year after ingesting this type of battery. Some must undergo emergency surgery.
The elderly may also be at risk, with overseas reports of button batteries – also used in hearing aids – being mistaken for pills and tablets.
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