The damage a button battery can do

Industry asked to address the dangers of button batteries.

button batteries

Safety guidelines for battery and electronics manufacturers aim to protect children from “button batteries”.

What are button batteries?

Button batteries are coin-sized batteries common in various devices including watches, singing Christmas cards, bathroom scales and car keys.

What’s the risk?

When a button battery comes into contact with bodily fluids, it creates an electrical current. If swallowed or ingested, these batteries can cause burns and tissue damage in as little as two hours.

Child safety advocates Safekids Aotearoa said, on average, 20 children are taken to hospital each year after ingesting this type of battery. Some must undergo emergency surgery.

Our Australian sister organisation, Choice, conducted this test as part of a campaign to get the government to tighten the law around the sale of button batteries.

The elderly may also be at risk, with overseas reports of button batteries – also used in hearing aids – being mistaken for pills and tablets.

What’s the government doing?

In 2018, Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi released a Product Safety Policy Statement providing guidance for manufacturers of button batteries and electronic goods using these batteries.

It advised all button batteries should:

  • come in child-resistant packaging

  • contain warnings to alert consumers about the hazards of the item

  • provide on-pack information on safe disposal.

The guide outlined two standards for all products requiring button batteries:

  • 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).

Mr Faafoi said the official guidance was “a necessary step to improve the safety of children and families. I’ll be asking officials to closely monitor safety outcomes over the next few years as the industry responds to this.”

Safekids Aotearoa director Melissa Wilson said the batteries “remain a risk for young children”.

Since the guidance was issued, four children have been admitted to Starship Children’s Hospital with serious complications after swallowing button batteries.

“It’s really too early to tell what influence [the policy statement] may have had. So we continue to ask that parents and caregivers make themselves aware of the risks, check to see if the various electronic devices they have at home contain button batteries and store them away out of sight and reach of children,” she said.

Safety tips

Here’s our advice:

  • if you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, immediately call the National Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 or go to a hospital emergency room – do not let the child eat or drink, and do not induce vomiting

  • keep all button battery-operated devices stored in a place children can’t access

  • examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure

  • dispose of used button batteries immediately, as flat batteries can still be dangerous

  • tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.

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