Button batteries – tiny batteries, big danger

26 October 2020

The ACCC is urging parents and carers to be aware of the serious risks associated with button batteries, as it launches its ‘Tiny batteries, Big danger’ safety campaign today.

In Australia, one child a month is seriously injured after swallowing or inserting a button battery, with some of them sustaining lifelong injuries. In Australia and globally, there is a growing record of injuries and deaths from button batteries.

Button batteries are flat, round batteries with diameters up to 32mm and heights ranging from 1-11mm. They are found in a surprising number of common household items such as toys, remote controls, watches, digital kitchen scales, thermometers and hearing aids.

“Button batteries can be incredibly dangerous, especially for children five years of age and under,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“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.”

“They are tiny, shiny and similar in size to some lollies, making them very attractive to young children,” Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC is currently finalising regulatory options to address the dangers of button batteries before making a final recommendation to the Assistant Treasurer, the Hon Michael Sukkar later this year. 

“Button batteries are used in a wide variety of general consumer products, which is why we are looking at broad solutions,” Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC is also concerned about reports wristbands containing two lithium button batteries were offered to the crowd of 30,000 at the Gabba during the AFL Grand Final on Saturday. There are early reports the button batteries are not properly secured. These reports demonstrate the ease with which children can access these dangerous batteries.

The ACCC is currently investigating these reports and advises anyone who received these wristbands to immediately dispose of them, without exposing the batteries, which can be extremely harmful to children. If the mandatory proposed standard being proposed by the ACCC becomes law, supply of these types of products would be an offence.

The ACCC’s safety campaign includes a short video voiced by a child actor, describing the dangers of button batteries and explaining the importance of parents and carers keeping them away from children.

The safety risk to children from these tiny batteries arises when they can get access to them.

“Many parents, carers and grandparents are not aware of the number of products in their homes with button batteries, and they often may not be aware when their child has swallowed one. It is also very hard for health professionals to detect when a child has swallowed a battery as symptoms are similar to other conditions,” Ms Rickard said.

“That’s why we’ve launched this campaign, to help parents and other carers understand the dangers of button batteries and how to create a safer home environment.”

“If a product in your home must use a button battery, ensure the battery compartment is secured, for example with a screw, and that the battery is not accessible to a child,” Ms Rickard said.

“It is also important to remind grandparents, other family friends or carers of the dangers of button batteries and ensure other places the children go to are safe and secure too.”

More information on 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.

Background:

In March 2019, then assistant treasurer, the Hon. Stuart Robert issued a Safety Warning Notice about the dangers of button batteries and asked the ACCC to expedite the regulatory impact assessment process for developing regulation to address button battery safety.

The ACCC established a Button Battery taskforce in July 2019, and in August 2019, released a Button battery safety issues paper which sought stakeholder feedback.

In March 2020, the ACCC released the Button battery safety – Assessment of regulatory options – consultation paper for public consultation.

The ACCC is currently finalising regulatory options to address the dangers of button batteries which it will provide to Government this year.

Release number: 
226/20
ACCC Infocentre: 

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