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Protection of children from unsafe toys - guide

29 July 2023
by eub2 -- last modified 29 July 2023

The European Commission proposed on 28 July a Toy Safety Regulation revising the current rules to protect children from potential risks in toys. While toys put on the EU market are among the safest ones in the world, the proposed rules will further improve this protection, in particular from harmful chemicals.


How are toys regulated today in the EU?

Toys put on the EU market are among the safest ones in the world. In fact, toys are currently regulated by Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys. The scope of the Directive covers all 'products designed or intended, whether or not exclusively, for use in play by children under 14 years of age'. This Directive lays down the safety requirements that toys must meet in order to be placed on the market in the European Union, whether they are manufactured in the EU or elsewhere in the world. At the same time, the Directive aims at ensuring the free movement of toys within the Single Market.

The Directive sets out a number of safety criteria ('essential safety requirements') for toys. The essential safety requirements are designed to ensure a high level of safety; they cover different aspects related to the characteristics of the toy or to its performance. These categories mainly concern physical and mechanical properties, flammability, chemical properties, electrical properties, hygiene and radioactivity. It is the manufacturer, whether established in the EU or in a third country, that is responsible for the compliance of the toy with the applicable requirements before it is marketed in the EU. When a toy is in conformity with the applicable requirements, the manufacturer must affix the 'CE' marking to it, identifying it as meeting the standards required for marketing in the EU.

Why does the EU need to revise the current rules on toy safety?

The Commission conducted an Evaluation of the Toy Safety Directive in 2020 which identified a number of shortcomings that have emerged during the practical application of the 2009 Directive. In particular, the evaluation identified certain limitations in ensuring a high level of protection of children from possible risks posed by harmful chemicals in toys. Although the Directive already prohibits substances that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMRs) in toys, it does not refer to other substances such as endocrine disruptors, substances affecting the immune, neurological or respiratory systems or substances toxic to a specific organ. The evaluation also pointed to the fact that the enforcement of the Directive was not effective enough, especially regarding online sales, and that there remain a high number of non-compliant toys on the Union market. In addition, the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (the CSS) also called for strengthening the protection from the most harmful chemicals including for consumers in vulnerable groups. 

This is why the Commission is proposing today a Regulation on toy safety that will replace the current Directive, address these shortcomings and strengthen the level of protection of children from possible risks, while improving the level playing field between toys manufactured in the EU and abroad.

What are the main changes which will better protect children from harmful chemicals?

To better protect children from harmful chemicals, the proposed rules will not only maintain the current prohibition of using substances that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMRs) in toys, but it will also prohibit the use of other harmful chemicals. For instance, this proposal will prohibit the use of chemicals that affect the endocrine system (endocrine disruptors), and those chemicals which are toxic to a specific organ, including the immune, neurological or respiratory systems. These chemicals are particularly harmful for children as they could interfere with their hormones, their cognitive development or more generally impact their health. It will allow for derogations to those generic bans only under limited circumstances where the use of these substances in toys do not pose a risk to children and there are no  alternatives. Introducing generic bans for the most harmful substances as soon as their hazards have been established under the relevant EU legislation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of chemicals  will guarantee that children are more swiftly protected from the possible risks of these substances when present in toys. Derogations to these generic bans will be allowed where the safety of children is not compromised, thus limiting the costs for industry.

What will be the main changes to prevent unsafe toys from reaching the EU market?  

The proposed rules will also strengthen enforcement so that only safe toys will be sold in the Union. All toys will have a digital product passport with compliance and other information on the toy. This will make it easier for national inspectors and customs officers to control them. Under the new rules, importers will have to submit the digital product passport to customs at the EU borders which will be checked to prevent that unsafe toys enter the Union market, including those sold online.

What other measures will be possible to remove unsafe toys from the market?

National authorities will continue to carry out market surveillance controls on toys in accordance with the EU market surveillance framework. In addition, the proposed rules will provide for additional means to act if there are unsafe toys presenting risks not clearly foreseen by the Regulation. In particular, the proposal ensures that the Commission has the power to require that these toys are taken off the market.

Will the proposed rules also regulate digital aspects?

Risks in toys linked to the use of digital technologies, such as cybersecurity or privacy concerns, are not addressed by the proposed Regulation because other recent legislation and proposals address the cybersecurity and personal data privacy issues for toys.

However, the proposal adopted today will require that children are protected when playing with toys, not only as regards their physical health but also as regards their mental health and well-being, as well as their cognitive development.

Proposal for a Regulation on Toy Safety

Evaluation of the Toy Safety Directive 2009/48/EC

Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability

Source: European Commission