Child-safe packaging: a must without (environmental) burden
For safety reasons, a growing number of products need to be packaged with fasteners that young children cannot open. Such packaging is subjected to thorough certification tests. These tests also ensure that most elderly people are able to handle the fastening systems. Child-safe packaging therefore has few drawbacks. The additional production cost is limited and the environmental impact is generally negligible.
Legislation becomes tighter
Chemical substances and mixtures that can be harmful to small children must be packaged with a child-safe fastening system. The European 1272/2008 Regulation—better known as the Classification, Labelling, Packaging (CLP) Regulation—defines the substances and mixtures to which this applies. ‘The legislation has become tighter,’ observes Didier Wittebolle, Coordinator Child Resistant Packaging at the Belgian Packaging Institute (BPI). ‘Because of the new CLP Regulation, a larger number of products will require the use of child-safe packaging.’
Various techniques to ensure child-safe fastening
In practice, such substances are packaged in bottles and flasks (often as a liquid or as a powder) as well as in blisters (pills). Various efficient solutions have been available on the market for some time to make such packaging child-safe. ‘A number of systems exist for reclosable bottles and flasks,’ explains Wittebolle. ‘The push-turn system, for instance, requires pressing vertically on the cap while simultaneously turning it, in order to open the bottle. Another approach is the squeeze-turn system: the cap is released by squeezing it. Less known is the snap-cap technique, whereby the cap must be precisely turned up to a specific visual marking. The child safety aspect of blisters is based on force: small children cannot exert the necessary force to get the pills out of the pack.’
A certificate is only granted for a given flask and cap combination.
Practical tests with children ensure safety
In order to obtain the child safety certificate, a packaging must successfully pass a series of stringent tests. These are described in the ISO 8317 (reclosable bottles and flasks), EN 14375 (non-reclosable packaging for medicine), and EN 862 (non-reclosable packaging for non-pharmaceutical products) standards, as well as in the American US 16 CFR §1700.20 protocol (Child resistant and senior use effectiveness). The Belgian Packaging Institute is the only body in Belgium that is accredited to grant certificates.
‘The various test procedures work according to the same principles,’ states Wittebolle. ‘We gather a test panel of 30 children aged between 42 and 51 months, often children from the first kindergarten class. The children are given a well-conditioned packaging without seal in order to create an experience that is as realistic as possible. They then have five minutes to open it. If they can’t, the supervisor shows them how to open the packaging and then gives the children another five minutes to try. The goal is that no child is able to open them.’
Children test the packaging in realistic circumstances for ten minutes. They should not be able to open it.
Good to remember
- Products that are potentially harmful in the case of improper ingestion must be packaged in a childsafe manner
- Child safety and ease of use are tested during panels with children and adults
- Child-safe packaging has a limited extra manufacturing cost and entails virtually no additional environmental impact
- Bottle and cap form a whole; it is their combination that is tested
Practical tests with adults ensure ease of use
Obviously, adults must be able to handle the packaging. That is why the procedures also include a test involving grownups. ‘This test is slightly different,’ notes Wittebolle. ‘The test panel is comprised of individuals between 50 and 70 years old. We first provide them with a packaging example that they can experiment with for five minutes in order to familiarize themselves with it. We then give them a new, perfectly conditioned packaging. They have one minute to open it and then close it. In order topass the test, a maximum of 10% of the participants are allowed to get it wrong. That way, we are sure that the vast majority of adults can use the packaging.’
Advice to the industry
According to Didier Wittebolle, a large number of packaging types on the market are not yet certified. ‘There is still a lot of work to do,’ he says. ‘Not everyone is properly aware of all aspects of the regulations. Some think that it suffices to purchase child-safe caps from renowned vendors. That is not true: a certificate is only granted for a specific container and cap combination. If these do not function perfectly together, child safety cannot be guaranteed.’ The BPI does more than just testing. ‘We also provide advice,’ adds Didier Wittebolle. ‘If a packaging fails, we usually know what the cause is. We put the manufacturer on the right track so that they can adjust their manufacturing process quickly. Everyone gains from it.’
Virtually no drawbacks, no additional environmental impact
Developing and certifying child-safe packaging implies costs, but this additional production cost remains limited. ‘The regulating bodies aim to contain this cost as much as possible to maximize safety. That is why special, simplified testing procedures exist for modifications to existing packaging.’
In addition, child-safe packaging is not or only slightly heavier than other packaging. ‘They are of course a little bit more complex, but they contain virtually no additional materials,’ states Wittebolle. ‘Any additional impact on the environment is therefore negligible.’
For additional information
The Belgian Packaging Institute (BPI) promotes the rational use of packaging and supports authorities and industry in the fields of legislation, information, and education. The BPI owns an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory where standardized tests are carried out on materials and packaging. www.ibebvi.be
The European Classification, Labelling, Packaging (CLP) Regulation: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/ghs/index_en
Reducing the risk of poisoning
Certain household products can present a health risk. The same is true for medicine when it is not taken in the recommended dosage. Welldesigned packaging gives consumers – particularly the youngest ones – better protection.
50.000 emergency calls a year
Accidental poisonings still occur too frequently. The AntiPoison Centre in Belgium receives approximately 50.000 emergency calls a year. These primarily involve medicine (45%) and household products (31%). Cosmetic products (4%) and pesticides (4%) are also a source of accidents, although to a lesser extent.
‘The majority of poisonings occur when a young child is not under the supervision of an adult,’ explains Martine Mostin, Director of the Anti-Poison Centre. ‘Over half the accidents concern children aged 1 to 4 years old. At this age, children tend to put everything in their mouth. Special efforts must therefore be made to protect them against the inherent risks of certain products.’
Consumers are prone to errors
Which products entail the greatest potential risks for consumers? Among household products, accidents often involve corrosives and irritants (unblocking agents with caustic soda or sulphuric acid, ammonia, hood cleaners, etc.), petroleum distillate based products (white spirit, furniture cleaners, barbecue lighting liquids, etc.), methanol, and anti-freeze products.
‘ Accidents involving white spirit, for instance, are usually related to its transparency as well as its resemblance to water or vinegar,’ observes Martine Mostin. ‘On the other hand, although it is sold in a secure packaging, a product such as rat poison presents a high risk once it is put out and children are playing nearby. For this type of product, accidents occur once the packaging has been opened and are therefore inherent to their usage.’
A large number of the poisonings involving medicine result from overdoses or product misidentification (because of similar containers, for instance). Accidents regularly occur when the same medicine in identical packaging is used in different doses for both children and adults.
Mouthwash, anti-allergy syrup, and disinfectant in similar flasks; it is easy for an inattentive consumer to swallow the wrong product based on the shape of the container.
Good to remember
- Well-designed packaging protects consumers from risks related to toxic products.
- Safety caps and dose measurement devices lower the risk of an accidental ingestion
- Consumer safety also requires clear information and unequivocal labelling.
After placing safety caps on its bottles, a paracetamol-based syrup manufacturer noticed a substantial reduction in the number of accidents per year involving children.
(Source: Anti-Poison Centre)
Packaging must protect…
The safety cap is the most common packaging element used to protect consumers. Such safety caps are legally required for products that are toxic in small quantities (see also Feature). ‘The efficacy of safety caps has generally been proven,’ says Mostin. ‘For instance, the number of poisonings resulting from the excessive ingestion of a sweet, paracetamol-based syrup dropped substantially when the manufacturer decided to put a safety cap on the bottle.’
However, the safety of a package also depends on other elements. The container must ensure that the product is dispensed in appropriate amounts. In the case of toxic products, packaging must be especially robust. These elements protect (young) consumers against an inappropriate usage of the product.
… but also clearly inform
Information also plays an important part in improving the safety of a product. Informing consumers can be done both formally (labels, instructions) and informally (general appearance of the product/packaging combination).
The packaging must clearly indicate how the product must be used and unequivocally inform the consumer of its potential dangers. ‘Ideally, these two types of information are provided separately and written on both the secondary as well as the primary packaging,’ adds Mostin. ‘It is important, however, not to provide too much text on the packaging. This is of course a challenge given the amount of information that is legally required in two languages.’ In addition, the overall appearance of a packaging plays an equally important role because it ‘informs’ the child about the product and helps avoid any confusion. For instance, a sheet of pills should have a shape, a texture, and a colour that are very different from those of candy
Anticipate accidents right from the design stage
It is important that a company anticipate accidental ingestion or exposure as early as the design stage of a product and its packaging. Ideally, various safety aspects should be integrated into the tests carried out during consumer panels. How a consumer takes a product into their hand provides a good indication of the potential risk of accidents.
Optimizing packaging safety
To ensure safety, an ideal packaging should:
- Provide clear information on how to use the product
- Provide separate instructions regarding safety issues
- Be designed to allow dispensing minimal doses
- Not confuse consumers about the content
For additional information
- Anti-Poison Centre: www.poisoncentre.be
- European Classification, Labelling, Packaging (CLP) Regulation: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/ghs/index_en