It would be rare to find a household without button batteries, also referred to as coin batteries. This tiny circular battery powers all sorts of electronic devices that we use on a daily basis, from kids’ toys to reading lights but, if not properly managed, they can endanger our little people, create fire hazards and create an environmental threat.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has recently introduced new standards for all Australian businesses to increase the safety around these batteries. We discuss these new regulations below, along with information on how we can do our part to subvert the risks posed to our community from the ongoing use of button batteries.
What is a button/coin battery?
Button batteries are used in countless common household items, including:
- children’s toys
- key fobs
- remote controls
- reading lights
What are the new standards for products with button batteries?
The ACCC has recently introduced four new mandatory button battery safety and information standards which came into effect as of 22 June 2022. In a media release by the ACCC, Deputy Chair Delia Rickard expressed her view that, ‘These world-first standards are a critical step in helping prevent potentially life-threatening injuries to children.’
The new button battery safety and information standards apply to button/coin batteries and all products that contain these batteries. The regulations create stringent guidelines around how products and their packaging should be designed and the types of labelling, including warnings and emergency advice, that must be provided. Businesses are also required to have their products compliance-tested before supplying them to consumers to ensure they meet the requirements.
The ACCC has produced a fact sheet that summarises the four button battery safety and information standards which gives a comprehensive overview of the new rules.
How dangerous are button batteries?
If swallowed or inserted into the ear or nose, a button battery can generate an electrical current when it becomes wet (i.e., through contact with saliva) which causes it to leak harmful chemicals that burn through the throat or stomach. In Australia, it is estimated that one child a month is rushed to hospital after having swallowed or inserted a button battery into their body, suffering severe injuries and requiring ongoing medical treatment for the lasting consequences.
Button battery injuries are a genuine medical emergency which can cause injury to tissue within 15 minutes of being swallowed or ingested, and can even be life-threatening.
How can I prevent a button battery injury?
Here are a few ways that you may be able to avoid or prevent a child from accidentally swallowing a button battery:
- Only buy products that are considered to be safe. Look for larger batteries that are harder for children to swallow, or forgo batteries altogether by opting for products that are rechargeable and are not powered by batteries.
- Properly dispose of used button/coin batteries immediately after use by wrapping the button battery in sticky tape and placing it in a glass container. This will make it harder for your child to swallow and avoid the risk of it catching on fire, which is another hazard.
- Supervise your child if/when they play with a toy that is powered by a button/coin battery.
- If you don’t have small children of your own, you must still remain vigilant when there are children nearby to ensure that your environment does not present risks to their safety that you may have overlooked.
- Tell you friends/family about the dangers of button batteries to spread awareness.
If you suspect that your child has swallowed or inserted a button/coin battery, call the Poisons Information Centre immediately on 13 11 26.
While it is important that businesses have these safety and information standards to follow, education within the community surrounding the dangers that button batteries pose and the proper way to dispose of them is critical.
Where do I find product recall lists?
A number of businesses have already recalled various products powered by button batteries. For example, RACQ announced that they are no longer distributing promotional merchandise that use button batteries after the mandatory safety and information standards were introduced.
Since March 2022, the following businesses have recalled children’s toys for either not meeting the mandatory testing standards for products containing button/coin batteries, or because the button battery compartment is not adequately secured and is easily accessible by children.
- Happy Craft Supplies – LED Night Light
- Caprice Australia – Barbie, Spiderman, Star Wars, Frozen, L.O.L Surprise! OMG, Minecraft Thongs
- Olivia’s Classic House – Luminous Star Fairy LED Wand
- The Baby Shop – Children’s Character Slap/Snap Watch
- Smiggle Pty Ltd – Smiggle Fund Character Slapband Watch
- Kaisi (Australia) Pty Ltd – Rice Balls Snack-Yoghurt Strawberry Flavour 45g
For a comprehensive list of recalled products in Australia, details of the hazards of each product and actions you can take as a consumer, check the list of recalled products on the Product Safety Website.
How can I properly dispose of button batteries?
The majority of Australia’s used batteries end up in landfill, where they leak harmful toxins and chemicals into the environment. Once they are transported to landfill, batteries decompose and begin emitting greenhouse gases. A damaged battery will also start to leak toxic chemicals that pollute water supplies, contaminate drinking water and kill off plants and animals. As you can see, this has a hugely negative affect on our ecosystems.
Batteries are also not meant to be placed in normal recycling or garbage bins, as they can short-circuit and catch on fire.
B-cycle is a convenient and easy-to-use service that reuses the materials contained within batteries and safeguards Australia’s resource and energy security.
For easy and proper disposal of your batteries, just follow these three easy steps:
- Cover the battery in sticky tape, making sure all terminals are covered to prevent the risk of fire.
- Place your sticky-taped batteries in a glass container out of reach of children.
- B-cycle them by finding your nearest drop-off point then take your container home for further use.
What other information do I need to know?
Studies have shown that the consumption of honey or sucralfate can reduce the severity of battery-related injuries to children pending removal of the battery after it has been ingested or inserted into the body.
If you have a child that has suffered a battery injury, it’s important to seek urgent medical advice by immediately calling 000. If you have a child who is suddenly unwell, keep an eye out for noisy breathing or chest pain, problems swallowing or drooling, vomiting blood or runny poo, as these are the possible symptoms that they may have swallowed a button battery.
With the introduction of the ACCC’s new safety standards, we should see a significant decrease in the dangers button batteries posed to children, along with minimising the risk of fire hazards and environmental threats. Keep up to date with the latest safety standards and developments on the ACCC website and remember to take care when using any products with button batteries in your household.