As we start the countdown to Christmas, I have called for parents and grandparents to be aware as they buy gifts for their family, or the Christmas lights and decorations that fill our homes, to check if they contain button batteries, and if so, that these are in a child-resistant compartment. I also called on retailers to be aware of the safety standards of any product they have on sale which could be harmful to children.
The lasting legacy of Harper-Lee Fanthorpe, whose tragic death last year touched us all, must be the introduction of a law relating to the safety of products containing button batteries. I promised Stacy when we first met that I would campaign to raise awareness around this issue to ensure other families would nor suffer the pain and loss that she and her family were suffering. It is now time to ask for more.
The Harper-Lee Foundation was established as a charity a year ago and has worked with The British and Irish Portable Battery Association and the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) to try and reduce the likelihood and frequency of children swallowing button batteries. Our awareness campaign is designed to provide expert information and guidance to parents and professionals working with children and families on how to handle button batteries safely and the health risks associated with accidentally swallowing them.
I hosted a launch of the Foundation with our partners earlier this year in Parliament attended by many Members of Parliament and key agencies who signed our pledge to be Button Battery Aware. In September Stoke City Council was the first council in the country to pass a Motion to be a Button Battery Aware Council. It was unanimous – children’s safety is an issue that spans political divides.
Last December we sadly saw another button battery death in Motherwell, Scotland. Hughie McMahon was just 17 months old. He swallowed a button battery from a toy, unlike Harper-Lee, where the battery fell out of a remote control for an LED light. This is the issue that needs addressing. There are button batteries in so many different products that a child may come into contact with that a standard that just applies to a single type of product, such as toys, is not the answer. We need what is called a horizontal standard – which means it applies to anything containing a button battery.
So why do we not have one? The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 requires new and used consumer products are safe. In June 2019, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) produced a report on undetected button and coin cell battery ingestion in children. One of the report’s key recommendations was that a standard be produced to set out consistent safety requirements to apply throughout the lifecycle of such batteries. PAS 7055:2021 is the result. It was introduced in April 2021 to provide requirements in ensuring button batteries comply with The General Product Safety Regulations 2005’s rule on safety. However, these are only recommendations.
PAS 7055:2021, “button and coin batteries – safety requirements – specification”, states that there are specific product safety requirements for batteries present in toys, electronic devices, and medical devices. However, no consistent definitions, warnings, and test methods or global standards, and the key issue is that the PAS is voluntary, so there are no penalties for ignoring the recommendations.
Government has defined the key safety requirements for button and coin batteries, but sadly since their introduction there has been no evidence of a reduction in the incidents of injuries and fatalities caused by swallowing these batteries. It is time, therefore, to push for legislation.
Legislation in Australia has taken effect this year, following an eight year campaign after the deaths of three children. It sees significant fines for businesses and individuals that breach this safety law. I believe the UK should introduce similar legislation.
- All button battery-powered products must have a child-resistant battery compartment.
- Button batteries of up to 32mm diameter must be sold in child-resistant packaging.
- For products supplied with a button battery, batteries must be secured within the battery compartment and not loose in the product packaging.
- Products that use or contain button batteries have clear and concise warnings, making the risk clear to consumers at point of purchase (including online sales).