Consumer-protection agencies highlight button-battery hazards

Each week, about 20 children visit Australian hospitals for injuries related to lithium button batteries, and two Australian children have died after swallowing button batteries.


Statistics like these have prompted Australia Consumer Law regulators, including NSW Fair Trading, to develop a two-year national strategy for improving the safety of button-battery consumer products. The strategy, which kicked off this week, also aims to better inform the community about the dangers of button batteries, and will include the development of education material targeting parents and carers of young children.


Button batteries are used in an increasing number of consumer goods, such as toys, flameless candles, key fobs, remote controls and musical greeting cards. In the past 18 months alone, 15 products have been recalled due to button-battery hazards.


These coin-shaped batteries are small, shiny and attractive to young children, who can mistake them for lollies. If swallowed, a button battery can lodge in a child’s oesophagus or intestines, burning a hole in soft tissue and causing internal bleeding in as little as two hours. Even a flat battery can have enough charge to cause life-threatening injuries.


Late last year, a Queensland Coroner found that four-year-old Summer Steer died in June 2013 as a result of swallowing a button battery. A Victorian Coroner is examining the death of another young child.


To prevent more tragedies like these, businesses are being urged to adopt a new industry Code for consumer goods that contain button batteries. The voluntary Code has been developed by a range of businesses, with support from the ACCC and state regulators, and with input from importers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, industry associations, and other stakeholders.


“We will continue warning parents and consumers about the dangers of button batteries, but industry has a vital role to play too, and this Code is a welcome step towards protecting the lives of young children,” NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said.


The Code stipulates product-design requirements that would make it difficult for young children to access or open battery compartments. It also encourages retailers only to sell goods that comply with the Code. Retailers are further encouraged to consider the height at which they sell button batteries, to ensure they can’t be accessed by youngsters.