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HSIB issues recommendations to prevent ‘devastating’ deaths from button/coin cell batteries

by Communications team

In our latest report (published 27 June) we have put forward a number of safety recommendations to prevent serious injuries or death from the unknown ingestion of button/coin cell batteries.

We have recommended improvements in three key areas:

  • Product safety
  • Public awareness
  • Support for clinical decision making.

Button and coin cell battery dangers 

HSIB highlighted the dangers in the run up to Christmas last year after we launched an investigation following the death of a three-year old child who swallowed a 23mm coin cell battery. The case highlighted the significant risk to under 5’s especially if powerful lithium coin cell batteries are swallowed. These types of batteries can become lodged in the oesophagus (food pipe) and a chemical reaction can occur that erodes tissue in just two hours.

Improving product safety 

The investigation examined where there could be opportunities to improve safety. It found, for example, that whilst there are product safety regulations for children’s toys, there are no equivalent safety regulations for household items to ensure button/coin cell batteries are secured in compartments. In consultation with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) who host the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), a recommendation has been developed to create a targeted safety strategy. This includes producing a fast-track standard and considers areas like product casing, packaging and safe retailing practices.   

The Chair of the British and Irish Portable Battery Association (BIPBA), Frank Imbescheid, said: “We welcome HSIB’s report which draws further attention to the risks associated with children swallowing lithium coin cell batteries. These batteries are increasingly being used in many household essentials making everyday life more convenient. However, as they are more powerful than alternatives, it is important that consumers have the right information and advice to be able to keep their children safe.

“The portable battery industry remains committed to working collaboratively on this issue; whether that be on safety standards to improve child resistant packaging, placing warning icons on such batteries, or investigating new technologies and design and providing education materials in partnership with CAPT.”   

Raising public awareness 

Although there have been a number of safety awareness campaigns, our investigation reinforced that there is still a lack of public awareness around the dangers of coin cell batteries to under 5’s. It was found that there had been no long-term, nationally led campaigns on the issue. In response, OPSS are taking this recommendation forward and working collaboratively with key partners. Starting today, they are launching a safety campaign to be rolled out across the country. 

Katrina Phillips, Chief Executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said: "We rely on button/coin cell batteries to power so many things in our homes, from remote controls to key finders. But few of us know about the dangers they pose to small children. What parent would think that something the size of a 5p piece could cause life-changing injuries or even death, if it gets stuck in their child’s food pipe?

“The insights from HSIB’s report help us to work effectively with OPSS, BIPBA and others to make sure parents are aware of the real dangers and know how to manage the risks. When you know where coin cell batteries are in your home, then you can keep them out of reach and keep your children safe.”

Supporting clinical detection 

The investigation recognised there is a lack of national guidance to help support decision making for clinicians. A recommendation has been made to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) to work with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine to enhance the existing decision-making tools. The report includes a safety observation for a study to be conducted evaluating the use of handheld metal detectors as a non-invasive way to scan when children present with non-specific symptoms. 

Professor Derek Burke, a consultant in paediatric medicine who advised the investigation team, said: "Treatment and management of children under 5 even when a button/coin cell battery is suspected or known is a major challenge for frontline clinicians. This is made even harder when unknown due to the nature of symptoms and other conditions that need to be considered.

“The HSIB report shines a light on this issue and the recommendation made to the RCPCH will help to support this decision-making process, especially when clinical staff are in a busy environment and faced with time critical decisions."

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