NSW: Parent alert: beware of button batteries

Published: 
1 Jun 2014

Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe is reminding parents of the dangers coin-sized lithium button batteries pose to young children.

New statistics for 2013 show that 120 people presented to NSW hospitals’ accident and emergency departments after swallowing the small batteries last year.* Of these, all but 12 cases involved children under the age of 10.

“These tiny objects can do enormous damage and even be fatal if swallowed, with children four years and under most at risk,” Mr Stowe said.

“Almost 80 per cent of cases reported last year involved toddlers and sadly, in Queensland there was one death of a four-year-old.

“While these types of batteries are often found in children’s toys, these products are heavily regulated. It is unlikely a child will be able to remove a battery from a toy that meets Australian Standards.

“However, other household items such as car keys, remote controls, reading lights, calculators, kitchen scales and wrist watches commonly require these batteries, regulations are less rigorous on how secure the battery enclosure must be and young children are attracted to these items.

“Check your home and make sure any appliance that uses one of these coin-sized lithium batteries is out of the reach of little hands.”

Once swallowed, the batteries can lodge in a child’s small throat, with saliva putting into motion a chemical reaction in just a few hours. Burns to the oesophagus and even through to the spine and surrounding tissue result.

Mr Stowe said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and electrical safety regulators such as NSW Fair Trading are working together to improve the safety of button batteries. Many manufacturers are now including warnings on the dangers of swallowing button batteries on their products’ packaging. Child-resistant packaging for button batteries is also being developed.

The ACCC has also released a series of safety tips for parents including the following:

  • Keep coin-sized button batteries and devices out of sight and out of reach.
  • Examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure.
  • Dispose of used button batteries immediately. Flat batteries can still be dangerous.
  • If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, immediately go to a hospital emergency room. Do not let the child eat or drink and do not induce vomiting.
  • Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.

For further information on the dangers of swallowing button batteries go to the ACCC’s product safety website at www.productsafety.gov.au. This website also contains a link to a Consumer Affairs NZ YouTube video on a time lapse experiment showing how burns can occur when children swallow batteries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HuUMe9CClw

For additional treatment information call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

*The 59 hospitals participating in the surveillance system account for about 85 per cent of all public hospital ED activity. Source: NSW emergency department and ambulance surveillance system, Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence and NSW Ministry of Health.

For more information about Fair Trading go to the Fair Trading website. Follow Fair Trading on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/FairTradingNSW
and Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NSW_FairTrading

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