This weekend my son Benjamin turns two years old. That means that whilst I’m pretty much out of the woods in terms of my terrible fear that he will stop breathing spontaneously in the middle of the night, the toddler years bring a whole new list of dangers to worry about.
As parents, the safety and wellbeing of our kids is paramount. Thinking about safety consumes a huge amount of the mental load.
There are all sorts of risks we can protect our kids from, like not travelling to dangerous countries, or keeping sharp objects out of reach.
Other dangers we can do our best to prevent against, but are usually unavoidable, like a fall at the playground.
But there are other risks, that exist in our homes, we might not even be aware of.
Button batteries present one of these dangers.
These batteries are found in a wide range of household items. They are small, round, usually silver and shiny. They almost seem designed to appeal to curious toddlers determined to put anything in their mouths.
And that is exactly what kids are doing.
An estimated twenty children each week are admitted to emergency departments across Australia because they have swallowed a button battery. In recent years two Australian children have tragically lost their lives.
Wen saliva comes into contact with a button battery, it can generate a chemical reaction powerful enough to burn through tissue. If swallowed, they can damage a child’s oesophagus and trachea, causing them to cough or vomit up blood and, in worst-case scenarios, lead to death.
Adding to the risk, the generic nature of these symptoms makes it hard to immediately tell that a child has swallowed a button battery. They might seem generally unwell, making it hard to identify what has gone wrong, particularly if the child is very young and cannot communicate what has happened.
What the law says
In Australia, our laws require that all toys designed for children under the age of three are safe. That means, if they contain button batteries, they are properly secured.
However, the law doesn’t say anything about products that are in the home, but not specifically designed for kids. Items like kitchen scales, watches or television remotes.
The problem is, if your child is anything like Benjamin, they probably aren’t only attracted to kids’ toys. My son is just as intrigued with the television remote as he is with any one of the well-intended educational toys he has relegated to the bottom of the toy box.
Instead of being appropriately regulated, these household items are only covered by a voluntary code, and that code clearly isn’t working. Two and a half years after it was introduced, a high level of unsafe button battery products remain available in the Australian market, and a meaningful decrease in the rate of button battery exposures has not yet been seen.
As both a Mum and a Senator, this is one of the issues that keep me up at night. That’s why this week in the Federal Parliament I have called on the Government to act immediately on button batteries, by ensuring products are safe and by making the voluntary code mandatory.
Keeping our kids safe is our number one job as parents. But where there are straightforward regulatory changes that could make that job just a little bit easier, and the dangers less, that’s where the Government can and should step in.
Please be mindful of the risks of button batteries in the home. And tell your local MP or Senator that you want to see an urgent change to keep kids safe from button battery harm.
About the Author
Marielle Smith is the Senator for South Australia.
She was elected in the 2019 Australian federal election as the second name on the Australian Labor Party list. Her term of six years commenced on 1 July 2019
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