Safety Guide for Santas Lists 25 Toys to Avoid : Consumers: Groups tag the gifts most likely to cause injury. The No. 1 problem: parts small enough to cause choking.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three days before the busiest shopping day of the year, a consumer group warned holiday gift buyers to examine toys carefully for hidden safety hazards that could endanger small children.

"Toys are supposed to bring children pleasure and joy, but too often they cause pain and sometimes even death," said Jon Golinger, field director for the California Public Interest Research Group.

The group's annual toy safety report, "Trouble in Toyland," identifies 25 toys it says pose significant risk to children. Most of the toys named on the list released Tuesday have tiny parts that could easily cause a small child to choke--the leading cause of toy-related deaths in 1992. Moreover, many of the toys are sold without the age-appropriate labeling required by the federal government, Golinger said.

Among the toys cited is the 27-piece Sesame Street Farm, manufactured by Illco Toy Co. USA, which has a small part. The group said it believes the part presents a choking hazard, although it is big enough to meet federal safety standards.

The group's report contends that federal standards are not realistic when it comes to gauging the size of a part that can pose a choking hazard. It is also pressing for more specific labeling of toys.

Many of the toys on its list are produced overseas by unknown manufacturers and sold through discount retailers, the group said.

A spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has issued its own list of unsafe toys, said the federal agency will also evaluate the safety of the products cited by the research group. If any of them is found to be unsafe, it could be recalled within three to four weeks, she said. She said federal standards are adequate.

Golinger said the research organization shared its findings of defects earlier this week with the toy manufacturers and distributors it could identify.

At least one retailer, Pier 1 Imports, has voluntarily removed from a line of wooden pull-toys a small part that the consumers group said could easily choke a toddler. Although the company said the toys had passed federal testing requirements, it said it re-examined the toys after it received the research group's list and found that some parts were loose.

To obtain a list of dangerous toys and a booklet on buying safe toys, send $7 to Toy Project, P.O. Box 1621, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20773.

To report an unsafe toy, call 1-800-638-2772.

Tips for Toy Safety Government regulators and consumer groups say shoppers should pay careful attention to safety when buying presents for children. Here are some tips.

* Avoid toys with small parts, especially for young children who like to put objects in their mouths. One rule of thumb: If a toy or one of its detachable parts fits in an empty toilet paper roll, don't buy it.

* Keep balloons, marbles and small balls or other objects away from young children.

* Read the label. Age recommendations often pertain to safety, not the developmental stage of a child. If a toy is not recommended for children under 3, it may contain small parts that could pose a choking hazard.

* For children under the age of 8, avoid toys that have sharp points or edges and electric toys with heating elements.

* Don't buy toys with long strings or cords that could strangle children, especially infants.

* Inspect toy chests to make sure they don't close on their own.

* Discard plastic wrappings on toys immediately, before they become deadly playthings.

* Always supervise young children during play.

Sources: Consumer Product Safety Commission; CalPIRG; Institute for Injury Reduction

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