ISO 8124 "Toy Safety Standards": Harmonizing Global Safety Concerns

Over the last ten years, there has been an increased global focus on the quality and safety of toys after a series of toy recalls made international headlines. 2007 was considered a particularly egregious year for recalls on children's products, with a total of 231 recalls, including the largest crib recall in history.

With the majority of the world's toy manufacturing output housed under one roof (China manufactures 80% of the world's toys), countries are seeing not only how internationally intertwined the toy industry is, but how truly universal are our concerns over safe children's products. In response, individual countries have both strengthened national safety regulations and taken a greater interest in conforming to a more harmonized set of international standards.

ISO 8124 "Toy Safety Standards" is an attempt by the International Organization for Standardization to establish a comprehensive set of testing methods and/or uniform standards for toy products meant to "minimize potential hazards associated with toys." ISO 8124 has been modeled largely on the European Union's EN-71 and the United States' ASTM F963.

However, ISO emphasizes that national markets still have the final word on market compliance and that toy manufacturers and importers should stay up to date on all individual market requirements.

Here are the eight principal Toy Safety Standards which make up ISO 8124.

ISO 8124 part 1:2018 & A1:2020+A2:2020: "Safety aspects related to mechanical and physical properties"

Part 1, with a few exceptions, covers all toys meant for children 14 years and younger. The focus of this section is on the physical and mechanical aspects of a toy's various components. The standard published 2 amendments in 2020 to harmonize with ASTM F963 and EN-71. Amendments include:

  • Updated existing terminologies and the addition of new entries in Clause 3 “Terms and Definitions”
  • Updated the expanding material requirement & test method to align with ASTM F963-17
  • Revised the warning requirement of cord on toy & the instructions requirements for projectile toys
  • Replaced the original clause 4.19 “Rotors and propellers” by “Flying toys” to more closely align with EN 71-1:2014+A1:2018
  • Added leading edges requirement on rigid parts of flying toys
  • New test method of perpendicular tension test for rotor blades of flying toys
  • New test method of tension test for rotor blades of remote-controlled flying toys

Perhaps the most common deviation of ISO 8124 from various national standards would be for labeling requirements, as it is difficult for an international body to establish definitive phrasing for countries with different languages. Labeling standards here are largely generalized, so even if you follow ISO 8124 closely, you should pay particular attention to your target market's labeling (and language) requirements.

ISO 8124 part 2:2014: "Flammability"

This section is concerned with the potential of all toys to catch fire under the slightest ignition source. Under the standard, particular attention is paid to toys:

  • meant to be worn (costumes, wigs, fake mustaches and beards, masks, hoods, head-dresses, etc.)
  • toys meant to be entered by a child
  • soft-filled toys (stuffed animals, dolls) with either a piled or textile surface.

ISO 8124 part 3:2020: "Migration of certain elements"

The chemical makeup of toy products have come under increased scrutiny as more and more traditional manufacturing materials have been found to be hazardous to children's health. Toys come in constant contact with children's skin (and babies' mouths) and substances can thus be easily absorbed or ingested.

This standard specifies acceptable substance threshold levels, as well as methods of sampling and extraction prior to testing, for migration of antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium.

Toy materials with established acceptable migration levels include:

  • coatings (paints, varnishes, lacquers, inks, polymers)
  • laminates
  • paper and cardboard
  • natural and synthetic textiles
  • metallic materials
  • modeling materials (clays, gels)
  • children's use paints
  • packaging material

ISO 8124 part 4:2014 & A1+A2:2019: "Swings, slides and similar activity toys for indoor and outdoor family domestic use"

This section addresses home playground equipment, also classified as "activity toys" -- "intended to bear the mass of one or more children" -- such as swings, slides, seesaws, carousels, rocking toys, climbing frames, fully enclosed toddler swing seats and other products intended to bear the mass of one or more children.

Safety standards cover aspects of these activity toys, such as their:

  • anchor (the device used to connect the product to the ground)
  • barrier (the device used to keep children from falling from elevated surfaces)
  • entrapment (potential for the body or clothing to become trapped in a section of the product)
  • forced movement (the swinging, sliding, rocking or revolving of equipment under a child's use).

Part 5:2015: "Determination of total concentration of certain elements in toys"

Part 5 is associated with Part 3 "Migration of certain elements." It defines a method for determining the total concentration of the elements specified in ISO 8124.3:2020.

Any material with total concentration limits below the prescribed threshold can also be considered in conformance with Part 3 of ISO 8124.

Part 6:2018: "Certain phthalate esters in toys and children's products"

Over the last few decades, research has brought new focus to the potential harms of these commonly used plastic softeners. Because they are used as intermolecular "lubricants" and are not chemically bonded to the host material, phthalates, particularly those with low molecular weight, can easily become separated from plastic. Phthalate residue, when ingested or absorbed by the body, has been linked to long-term developmental disorders, such as disrupted hormonal development and reproductive disorders.

The EU introduced the first major phthalate restriction in 1999, which restricted the use of six phthalates. In 2008, both the United States and China implemented similar phthalate restriction standards.

The goal of this section isn't to set prescriptive phthalate limits in toy materials -- ISO acknowledges that national standards determine those limits -- but to establish a standard method for conformity assessment.

Part 7:2015+2020A1: "Requirements and test methods for finger paints"

Because of the tactile nature of finger paints, and the fact that these substances will inevitably find their way into children's bodies -- through the mouth, the eyes and the skin -- this section focuses on the use of safe ingredients and limitations on impurities which may be found in these ingredients (occurring either naturally or during production).

ISO makes clear that this standard specifically applies to finger paints and not paints meant for the face or the body.

Substances, such as colorants, humectants (which helps delay drying), binding agents and preservatives, are addressed in this section, along with specific packaging and labeling requirements.

ISO/TR 8124 part 8:2016: "Age determination guidelines"

One of the most important first steps to toy development is determining the appropriate age for toy product usage. Part 8 is a technical report that harmonizes with leading national standards (EN-71 and ASTM F963), so that a reliable guide can be used to provide information about ages at which children begin playing with certain toys. It is useful for toy manufacturers and compliance evaluation agencies, as well as for toy product safety organizations and individual parents.

International Standards for Streamlined Testing and More Consistent Production

In essence, the international harmonization of toy safety standards aims to:

  • Reduce testing redundancies
  • Close toy safety testing gaps
  • Allow more various national input into improving current standards
  • Produce more uniform technical reports -- like ISO Part 8 "Age determination guidelines"
  • Eliminate discrepancies and oversights between a toy company and their factory.

To the last point, a significant amount of toy recalls are not caused by initial design flaws, but rather by problems introduced during production -- and often after successful initial batch tests. The continued harmonization of toy safety standards will help make communication between toy companies and factories more transparent.

So will a proven testing service with extensive lab and factory inspection experience.

QIMA provides toy safety testing and factory line inspections that begins at the quality assurance stage and continues through your initial product check and beyond, so you can stay on top of your production, batch after batch. With constant eyes on the factory floor, you do not need to worry about sudden production deviations that can put your safety standards -- and the safety of children -- at risk.

Our testing methods are in line with all national and international specifications so that your toy product won't fall through regulations gaps.

Toys and children's products are truly part of an international industry, with shared concerns and increasingly shared specifications. ISO 8124 "Toy Safety Standards" has developed into an essential touchstone for national markets as they continue to evolve their own testing requirements. With QIMA lab testing and inspection, your safe toy product is capable of making any market.

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