13th September, 2017
by Suzie Radcliffe-Hart
Next review: 13th September, 2019
Within the furniture and child care product industries there can often be some confusion surrounding the classification of products and whether some items are considered to be a toy. It is therefore important to establish the differences between a toy and an item of children’s furniture or other childcare product, as the standards and test methods applicable to these categories of product are substantially different and take into account the particular hazards and risks associated with their use.
Throughout Europe, the sale and supply of toy products are governed by specific Legislation in the Toys Safety Directive 2009/48/EC.
This is useful in that it provides a focal point for compliance, although it should be remembered that this does not prevent toys falling into the scope of other European Directives such as the Radio Equipment Directive (RED) 2014/53/EU, the Low Voltage Directive 2014/35/EU or even the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD) 2001/95/EC.
In contrast, nursery and childcare furniture products are predominantly covered by the General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC.
It should be noted that the General Product Safety Directive applies to all products, either in its entirety where no other relevant Directive is in force, or partially where an existing Directive is available.
When considering what may or may not be classed as a toy, it is good practice to consult the European Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys which states in the Scope that it applies to:
“Products designed or intended, whether or not exclusively, for use in play by children under 14 years of age”
The Scope of the Directive also lists specific items which although described as toys, are not covered by the Directive as well as a further list of specific exclusions in Annex I of the Directive itself.
In addition to the Directive, it is also strongly recommend that the European Toys safety standard itself is consulted, specifically EN 71- Part 1 Mechanical and physical properties, which also effectively defines what is considered to be a toy in Clause 1. Scope:
“This European Standard applies to toys for children, toys being any product or material designed or intended, whether or not exclusively, for use in play by children of less than 14 years. It refers to new toys taking into account the period of foreseeable and normal use, and that the toys are used as intended or in a foreseeable way, bearing in mind the behavior of children.”
Whilst there can sometimes be a grey area surrounding certain activity toys which, due to their size or function, could appear to also be children’s furniture, we can again review the definition in the Toys Safety Directive.
‘activity toy’ means a toy for domestic use in which the support structure remains stationary while the activity is taking place and which is intended for the performance by a child of any of the following activities: climbing, jumping, swinging, sliding, rocking, spinning, crawling and creeping, or any combination thereof;
The European Commission has published a useful Guidance Document (No. 4) on the application of Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys entitled “Grey zone problem: Is a specific product covered by the Toy Safety Directive 2009/48/EC or not?”
Whilst there is no definitive or individual definition on what is or is not a child care product, the definitions given in the toys safety Directive and European Standard EN 71 can effectively be applied in reverse as a form of general guidance.
A child care product may be intended to be used by a child, for example a highchair, but the primary use is over short periods of time whilst feeding under supervision. It is reasonably foreseeable that a child will interact with the highchair by pushing or pulling at the tray and kicking the footrest, but there is limited interaction in an emotional or imaginative way which involves play and the child would not be left unsupervised.
When considering the definitions given in the toys Directive and European standard, children’s furniture in particular can be more simply defined as designed and intended to be used by children in essentially the same manner in which an adult would use a full size version.
Generally speaking if the primary function of a product is not to be played with, on, or in, then it should not be considered a toy.
Caution should always be exercised however when an item of furniture is either deliberately designed or intended to resemble, or features detailed decoration intended to resemble a well known character. A very young child is not likely to understand that a small, soft filled bear shaped fabric chair resembling their favourite friend is not something that they should interact with in the same way.
Similarly care should be taken when a product is designed to represent, at least in outward appearance, another product for example a car shaped or boat shaped bed. It would be reasonably foreseeable that the child could engage in imaginative play, leading to them climbing on or interacting with the product in a way which may not be originally intended.
The main difference between toy and children’s furniture testing is in relation to the legislative structure and standards used.
Toys will generally fall under the umbrella of the European toy safety Standard EN 71 which is divided into 14 parts and aims to include physical, mechanical, flammability, toxicity and chemical requirements for all toy products from simple plush toys to finger paints, chemical toys and even trampolines.
When looking at nursery and childcare or child furniture products however, these items are more likely to fall under individual standards (European, British or other national member state standards) which aim take into consideration the physical and mechanical properties that are more specific to the intended and foreseeable use of the product itself.
Each of the nursery and childcare product standards features a “scope” section to highlight what type of products and use that the standard covers. This can be extremely helpful in identifying whether a product is a childcare item or possibly a toy.
The main problems caused by incorrect classification and marketing of a children’s furniture product as a toy are:
In relation to marking, each toy must feature the CE mark either on the product itself or packaging and information supplied with the item if particularly small.
The CE mark itself doesn’t just apply to the toys safety Directive, but to a number of Directives described as “New Approach Directives” covering approximately 24 different product categories.
The purpose of the CE mark is widely misunderstood and can often be incorrectly applied to a wide range of products. The mark itself does not mean that an item is safe to buy, in fact the CE mark is not primarily intended for consumers at all but for enforcement agencies as a means to identify potentially non-compliant products.
By applying the CE mark, the manufacturer is making a declaration that the product meets the essential safety requirements of one or more of the applicable New Approach Directives; that it has been tested to the relevant standards; that it is subject to the relevant controls and that it is therefore able to be placed on the market within the European Community and should be allowed to move freely through this market.
In addition to a CE Mark, toys are likely to be accompanied by an age grouping or suitability. This is used either to designate development stages in which a child will benefit from using the toy or to highlight a potentially dangerous element, such as a small part of the toy which may be unsuitable for a very young child who puts everything into their mouth.
By contrast, children’s furniture does not require a CE mark, unless there is an integral function to which another Directive applies. It is worth noting that an importer, manufacturer or retailer may be subject to enforcement action if an item is incorrectly labelled with the CE mark as this may be misleading.
A nursery or childcare product such as children’s furniture is more likely to be given a size (height) or maximum weight range as well as a maximum or minimum age. In this case the age range is usually in relation to the ability of the child in order to highlight restricted use as opposed to identify an aid to development.
Typically any information such as age, height or weight that should be marked on a nursery or childcare product will be specified in each of the relevant product standards.
Categorisation of product and standard is essential in understanding and addressing the hazards associated with the intended and foreseeable use of a particular product.
There will of course be products where a childcare product standard and the toy standard are both applicable, for example where a highchair features toys fitted to a tray. Each standard addresses different and specific hazards associated with the use of a highchair and a toy respectively. The fact that the toy is attached to the tray of a highchair does not change the fact that it is a toy nor change the function of the highchair.
Whilst there are a number of nursery and childcare product standards that make reference to or implement certain requirements from BSEN 71- 1 Mechanical and physical properties or BSEN 71- 3 Migration of certain elements, this is where the similarities end.
The requirements and test methods in individual nursery and childcare product standards take into account a very different type and pattern of use that are specific to a product, its function and its intended users ability, age or weight.
These product specific standards aim to reduce identified hazards through design requirements or specific tests that aim to ensure the safety or durability of a particular product.
If a product is not tested to the correct standard, hazards that are specific to that product may not be identified leading to the production of potentially unsafe products.
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