NEW SPIN ON ‘HARM­FUL’ FID­GET FAD

Con­sumer bod­ies in the US and UK have warned that the lat­est dis­trac­tions in the play­ground could be dan­ger­ous

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IT’S THE hottest toy of the mo­ment, freely avail­able and just about any­one can have it: fid­get spin­ners. Orig­i­nally de­signed to re­lieve ner­vous en­ergy and stress in chil­dren (and adults) by help­ing them fo­cus and cen­tre, the wildly pop­u­lar, low-tech fid­get spin­ners are now sold on vir­tu­ally ev­ery cor­ner and stores can’t keep up with de­mand. Even my lo­cal com­puter re­pair shop now car­ries a few lines. My guess is it’s a case of you can’t beat them, join them.

For those not in the mar­ket for toys, the ba­sic fid­get spin­ner is a three-pronged whirling de­vice – sim­i­lar to a Lazy Su­san – made of plas­tic and metal, with a bear­ing at the cen­tre. They’re avail­able in a range of de­signs, from the cheap-and-nasty ba­sic toys to hi-tech de­vices that light up and glow, which can cost hun­dreds of rand.

As with many toy fads, it’s not likely to last long but par­ents and teach­ers are prob­a­bly ea­ger to see the back of it be­cause chil­dren “zone out” while play­ing with the spin­ners. It was orig­i­nally de­signed os­ten­si­bly to help “cen­tre” and fo­cus chil­dren with at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der (ADHD), but there’s no proven ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fit so it boils down to pro­vid­ing mind­less en­ter­tain­ment.

They’re all the rage on play­grounds (and some of­fices) and banned in many schools, with con­sumer bod­ies now sug­gest­ing that the toys can also be dan­ger­ous.

Bos­ton-based World Against Toys Caus­ing Harm (Watch) – which has warned against ex­plod­ing hov­er­boards, the dan­gers of back­yard tram­po­lines and jump­ing cas­tles, the drown­ing dan­gers of kid­die pools, and high-pow­ered toy guns – has re­ported that the spin­ners can fall apart and pose a chok­ing haz­ard, af­ter chil­dren in Texas were hos­pi­talised for in­gest­ing parts of the toys. One re­quired surgery. In Ger­many, cus­toms of­fi­cials de­stroyed 39 tons of the de­vices due to safety fears.

Two US moth­ers re­ported that their chil­dren’s Blue­toothen­abled fid­get spin­ners burst into flames while charg­ing and a fa­ther, about to leave home, pre-empted a fire af­ter notic­ing smoke ema­nat­ing from a charg­ing spin­ner.

Watch con­sumer ad­vo­cate Joan E Siff warned: “Do not be lulled into a false sense of se­cu­rity that a toy is safe sim­ply be­cause it’s pop­u­lar. Know the facts and what in­juries may have been re­ported be­fore choos­ing a toy for chil­dren. Avoid toys that may present a chok­ing haz­ard.”

Watch said a girl in Texas choked while play­ing with a fid­get and had to have a part of the toy re­moved from her oe­soph­a­gus.

The con­sumer body has also ex­pressed con­cern about hov­er­boards and the dan­gers of lithium bat­ter­ies. “(They) re­main on store shelves, de­spite con­tin­u­ing to be linked to tragic con­se­quences, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous in­juries and deaths from fires. In April, babysitters res­cued eight chil­dren trapped in a house fire al­legedly caused by a hov­er­board that was charg­ing. In May, the CPSC re­quested con­sumers to im­me­di­ately stop us­ing LayZ Board self-bal­anc­ing scoot­ers (hov­er­boards) due to the risk of fire af­ter two young girls died in Har­ris­burg, Penn­syl­va­nia.

“Hov­er­boards con­tinue to be linked to fires, chil­dren are dy­ing – with no sense of ur­gency on the part of the man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers,” said Watch di­rec­tor James A Swartz.

Added Siff: “It is a tragedy when a child dies but when that death could have been pre­vented, it’s in­ex­cus­able. The on­go­ing in­juries and deaths as­so­ci­ated with hov­er­boards con­tinue to be a wake-up call that prod­ucts should be tested be­fore they reach con­sumers and not tested on con­sumers.”

In the UK, Trad­ing Stan­dards, a lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­part­ment, has cau­tioned against the in­flux of cheap im­ported fid­get spin­ners from un­scrupu­lous man­u­fac­tur­ers.

The Tele­graph re­ported in June that trad­ing stan­dards of­fi­cers had seized and im­pounded 800 fid­get spin­ners which were be­ing im­ported from China through Heathrow air­port. The ship­ment of poor qual­ity and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous ver­sions of the toys – which seem to have flooded the South African mar­ket – was in­ter­cepted af­ter of­fi­cers found that warn­ings about chok­ing haz­ards were “barely vis­i­ble”.

Coun­cil­lor Mar­tin Veal, cab­i­net mem­ber for com­mu­nity ser­vices, said: “Our Trad­ing Stan­dards of­fi­cers have been look­ing at some of the spin­ners on sale and found them to have very small and dan­ger­ous parts, so for pub­lic safety it’s only right that they be with­drawn from sale. Any­one buy­ing a fid­get spin­ner should pur­chase it from a rep­utable trader and en­sure the safety warn­ings can be clearly seen on the pack­ag­ing.”

Christine Heemskerk, lead of­fi­cer for con­sumer and prod­uct safety at the Char­tered Trad­ing Stan­dards In­sti­tute, said there were con­cerns about chil­dren swal­low­ing lithium bat­ter­ies or be­ing in­jured by sharp edges: “The peo­ple im­port­ing them have got no idea of their le­gal obli­ga­tions.”

Word to the wise: any toy can be dan­ger­ous, which is why fid­get spin­ners, build­ing blocks, toys with small parts and the like should not be given to very young chil­dren. With mil­lions of fid­get spin­ners on the mar­ket, chances are some­one’s go­ing to get hurt. But it doesn’t hurt to ex­er­cise cau­tion. And steer clear of the cheap-and-nasty knock-offs.

PIC­TURE: PIN­TER­EST

ALL THE RAGE: Fid­get spin­ners are avail­able in a range of de­signs, from toys to hi-tech de­vices.

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