Jul 29, 2012

Hands Off My Buckballs

Last week, CNN reported that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was suing the maker of Bucky Balls, the widely popular set of high-powered magnetic balls (0.5 inch or 0.5 cm in diameter) that can be manipulated and made into different shapes and forms, to require them to stop selling the product.  The reason: at least a dozen small children had ingested the tiny metal balls, requiring surgery and, in some cases, lengthy hospital stays to correct.

Okay, I get it.  Magnets bad for small children.  Instead of suing the manufacturer, however, who is asking ... "where were the parents"?!

In case you haven't seen this little gift idea, a video has been included below.  It is an entertaining little accessory, especially for the fidgety types who enjoy a little additional tactile enjoyment while engaged in other mundane tasks, such as talking on the phone (disclosure: I am an owner of Bucky Balls, and quite fidgety at times).

Clearly, the tiny magnetic balls are a clear and present hazard to small children.  Without even working in the toy industry, I could figure that out.  All small trinkets are dangerous, so I would start by requiring the manufacturer to only market the item to adults, clearly disclose the hazard on the product, and potentially provide a public awareness campaign for others who may not be aware of the dangers.

Wait ... they did.  As one company spokesperson points out:
We market these products to adults age 14 and above ... There are warning labels to keep the magnets away from children on five places on each box, and in accompanying instructions. A public awareness campaign about magnet safety with videos distributed by the government and a special website (www.magnetsafety.com) was launched several months ago, with the full cooperation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
This is the warning sign:

It is also interesting to note that half a billion magnet balls have been sold since the company started.  According to the CSPC, less than two dozen cases of ingestion have been reported (and this is not a case of under-reporting, because if ingestion has occured, and the magnets do not pass and instead stick on the inside of the stomach or intestine lining, the cases would be known).  While no injury is acceptable, that is a fairly stellar safety record.

I understand the job and the goals of the CSPC ... keep consumers safe.  But this is a massive over reach of government intervention.  There are tens of thousands of threats to small children, around the house and outside.  There is no possible way to regulate each and every one of them.  

Instead, we should be looking toward the parents.  Instead of "victimizing" the parents of children who were harmed, we should be asking how their children came to have the balls in the first place.  We should also be putting emphasis, as a society, on parents' responsibility for raising children properly instead of creating default fallbacks when they do something wrong.

Allow me to personalize this.  My 16 month old daughter loves to throw a blanket over her head and play hide-and-seek.  The other day, she walked with the blanket over her head into a cabinet door, leaving a nice welt on her forehead and scaring the dickens out of herself.  Do I blame the blanket maker ... the cabinet installer?  No.  It's my own fault, because I turned away for a few seconds as she took off in a trot.

My responsibility ... not that of the CSPC
Make no mistake, the CSPC has a very important function.  Instead of this lawsuit, however, the agency should focus on assuring that foreign and domestic manufacturers and suppliers are following the proper manufacturing guideline and practices and providing products free of harmful materials and substances that, on the surface, are completely undetectable by consumers.  Period.

I believe we should all actually be gravitating to this case.  If the CSPC is successful, there is no end to what the agency will pursue next with the precedent.  We need to show our support for Bucky Balls, and emphasize the responsibility of parents.

You can visit http://www.getbuckyballs.com/save-our-balls/ for more information.