An average of twenty children every week are treated in emergency rooms in Australia after suspected ingestion of button batteries. Some survive, facing dozens of surgeries; others die.
Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, Officeworks and Energiser Australia are leading the charge of major retailers adopting a new industry code intended to reduce the number of kids injured or killed after ingesting button batteries.
They’re everywhere, the seemingly innocuous little discs that power our remote controls, children’s toys and musical birthday cards. To children, they’re shiny and intriguing, and they look a bit like a lolly, but in reality they can be extremely dangerous.
According to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission group, Product Safety Australia, “If a child swallows a button battery it can get stuck in their oesophagus or elsewhere in their system, and burn through soft tissue in as little as two hours, causing serious illness or death. Recovery can require feeding and breathing tubes, and multiple surgeries. Lifelong disability can result.”
The ACCC is leading the national strategy for improving the safety of button batteries used in consumer products. The resulting industry code aims to reduce child exposure incidents. Adopting the code is voluntary, but big retailers and suppliers have been encouraged to participate to lend their clout to the campaign.
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard told the Sydney Morning Herald the main purpose of the code is to educate parents and doctors about the dangers of button batteries.
“A lot of doctors don’t recognise the signs, so we are making sure they know the symptoms,” she said.
To comply with the code, products and packaging need to be manufactured so that the batteries are not accessible to young children. That means battery compartments should be completely sealed, require two independent, simultaneous actions to open them or have other security features like a screw closure. Packaging should also be child resistant.
At the point of sale, there should be information telling consumers that the device requires button batteries and that they are hazardous to young children.
The very real risks of button batteries
We’ve covered three cases of toddler death or injury in recent times, as a result of ingesting button batteries. Last Christmas morning, two-year-old Brianna Florer was opening presents with her three siblings. The next day she was dead – she’d swallowed a button battery presumably found in one of the Christmas toys.
Melbourne mum, Allison Rees has been campaigning for tougher rules on the sale of button batteries after her 14-month-old daughter Isabella died from swallowing a button battery.
Emmett Rauch was luckier than the others. He underwent 65 operations between ages one and four to repair his damaged oesophagus. Today he has false vocal chords and a feeding tube, but he’s alive, and for that his mum is grateful.