Some dangers are obvious. Keeping knives out of kids’ reach, or putting medicine in child-proof containers is common sense. However, the risks of abdominal injury associated with small, powerful magnets are often unknown or misunderstood.
Tragically, those dangers cost the life of an Australian toddler in late 2011. Two Australian pre-teens also needed medical attention after swallowing magnets in mid-2012. To prevent more deaths and serious injuries, Victoria and other Australian states and Territories have banned the sale of certain types of magnets.
Stronger than your child’s intestine
The banned magnets are small, but powerful. If two or more are swallowed, their attraction is strong enough to tear a hole in the intestines when they join. Even if the danger is detected immediately, children who swallow magnets often need urgent surgery.
On 23 August 2012, Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien and some of his interstate counterparts approved a 60-day interim ban – effective immediately – on small, separable or loose permanent magnetic objects, which are sold under the following brand names:
- Neodymium sphere magnets
Similar bans have been enacted in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
What’s the attraction?
Adults and children find these products attractive. Although some brands include clear warnings on the packaging, this is often thrown away after purchase and the shiny balls or cubes may be found and ingested by babies and young children.
Older children and teens have used them as fake piercings – their magnetic attraction means they are strong enough to be held in place on either side of the tongue or nostril. Young people who use the magnets in this way run the risk of swallowing or inhaling them.
Under the new ban, businesses must not sell these products and must remove them from sale (including online).
We have posted full details of the banned products in the Product Safety section of the Consumer Affairs Victoria website.
If you suspect a child has swallowed magnets, seek urgent medical help to prevent choking, suffocation, serious infections and death.
If you have bought a toy you believe may be unsafe, contact Consumer Affairs Victoria’s Toy and Nursery Safety Line: 1300 36 48 94.