The ACCC is urging parents to ensure Apple AirTags are kept out of the reach of young children, as the ACCC has raised safety concerns with Apple about the accessibility and security of the button battery inside the product.
Apple AirTags are small Bluetooth tracking devices that can be attached to, and then used to locate, items such as keys or wallets. They are powered by lithium coin cell ‘button’ batteries.
The ACCC is concerned that the AirTag’s battery compartment could be accessible to young children, and the button battery removed with ease. In addition, the AirTag battery compartment’s lid does not always secure fully on closing, and a distinctive sound plays when an AirTag’s lid is being closed, suggesting the lid is secure when it may not be.
“We were also concerned that the outer product packaging does not have any warning about the presence and dangers of button batteries, and we note that Apple has now added a warning label to the AirTag’s packaging. However, this alone does not address our fundamental concerns about children being able to access the button batteries in these devices,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
The ACCC has raised these safety concerns about the AirTag with Apple, and discussions continue.
The ACCC notes that in its public statements, Apple has stated the AirTag is “designed to meet international child safety standards, … by requiring a two-step push-and-turn mechanism to access the user-replaceable battery”, and that it is “working to ensure that [its] products will meet or exceed new standards, including those for package labelling, well ahead of the timeline required”.
“We are continuing to investigate to determine what actions may be required to address our safety concerns,” Ms Rickard said.
“We are also liaising with our international counterparts on the safety of Apple AirTags, and at least one overseas public safety regulator is also examining the safety of this product at this stage.”
“As a safety precaution, we urge parents to keep AirTags away from their children. We know that small children can be fascinated by keys and love playing with them, so there is a risk that they could access this product, which is designed to be attached to a key ring, among other things,” Ms Rickard said.
“We are aware several large retailers, including Officeworks, are currently not offering the AirTag for sale because of concerns about button battery safety.”
The ACCC is also assessing whether there are issues with button battery safety in similar Bluetooth tracking devices.
Three children have died and 44 have been severely injured in Australia from incidents involving button batteries in other products, and more than one child a month is seriously injured as a result of ingesting or inserting the batteries which are contained in millions of consumer goods worldwide.
The mandatory safety and information standards were introduced in December 2020, and apply to all button batteries and consumer goods containing button batteries in Australia. The mandatory standards come into force on 22 June 2022.
From this date, fines and penalties may apply for retailers or manufacturers that supply button batteries, or products containing them, that do not comply with the mandatory standards.
“Currently in Australia, suppliers are guided by an industry code which is voluntary. We urge all manufacturers and suppliers to be ready to comply with the new mandatory standards as soon as possible,” Ms Rickard said.
Button batteries are dangerous for children, especially for children five years of age and under. If swallowed, a button battery can get stuck in a child’s throat and cause a chemical reaction that burns through tissue, causing death or serious injury within a short amount of time.
Insertion of a button battery into body orifices such as ears and noses can also lead to significant injuries.
The ACCC is engaging with a number of suppliers of a range of different products in relation to concerns about the accessibility of button batteries in those products.
Button batteries are flat, round batteries with diameters up to 32mm and heights ranging from 1-11mm. They are found in a large number of common household items such as toys, remote controls, watches, digital kitchen scales, thermometers and hearing aids.
When ingested or inserted, the batteries can cause serious injury within two hours or death within days. When lodged in the body and in contact with bodily fluid, button batteries can burn through tissue and cause catastrophic bleeding.
In Australia and globally, there is a growing record of injuries and deaths from button batteries.
The ACCC has worked with industry and state and territory Australian Consumer Law regulators to improve the safety of button batteries and products that contain them for many years.
In October 2020, the ACCC produced a video outlining the danger of button batteries, under the slogan “Tiny batteries, big danger”. This campaign is currently being run again to increase consumer awareness of the button battery hazard.
Mandatory safety standards specify minimum requirements such as performance, design, construction, finish, and packing or labelling that products must meet before they can be supplied in Australia. Mandatory information standards help ensure consumers are provided with important information about a product to assist them in making a purchasing decision. Information standards do not necessarily relate to the safety aspects of a product.
While the standards are currently voluntary, after 22 June 2022 the standards will be mandatory. Manufacturers must implement any required manufacturing and design changes to products and packaging, undertake testing and remove non-compliant stock.
Information about button battery safety is available on the Product Safety Australia website.
Tips for parents and carers
- If you think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for 24/7 fast, expert advice. You will be directed to an appropriate medical facility that can manage the injury. Prompt action is critical. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
- Symptoms may include gagging or choking, drooling, chest pain (grunting), coughing or noisy breathing, food refusal, black or red bowel motions, nose bleeds, spitting blood or blood-stained saliva, unexplained vomiting, fever, abdominal pain or general discomfort.
- Children are often unable to effectively communicate that they have swallowed or inserted a button battery and may have no symptoms. If you suspect a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, you should ask for an x-ray from a hospital emergency department to make sure.
- Keep new and used button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children at all times – even old or spent button batteries can retain enough charge to cause life-threatening injuries.
- If buying a toy, household device or novelty item, look for products that do not use button batteries at all, such as products powered by other types of batteries or rechargeable products that do not need button batteries to be replaced.
- Examine products and make sure the compartment that houses the button battery is child-resistant, such as being secured with a screw. Check the product does not release the battery and it is difficult for a child to access. If the battery compartment does not close securely, stop using the product and keep it away from children.
- Dispose of used button batteries immediately. As soon as you have finished using a button battery, put sticky tape around both sides of the battery and dispose of immediately in an outside bin, out of reach of children, or recycle safely.
- Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.
Consumers are encouraged to report unsafe products through the Product Safety Australia website.
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