Mum’s plea: ‘These things are like loaded guns’

"I DON'T want any other mother to have to hold the hand of their child and see the fear in their eyes as they lie dying from button battery acid eating away at the inside of their little bodies."

Those are the raw words of Queensland mum Andrea Shoesmith as she joins doctors, industry experts and parents in Canberra on Wednesday today to demand immediate safety legislation to rid shops of dangerous, unregulated, junk products with ill-fitting batteries.

The Tewantin mum lost her precious daughter Summer at the age of four when the child swallowed a button battery.

It's been six years since Summer died and consumer body Choice, which is leading the fight for mandatory safety laws, says the long-term inaction by the Australian Government is unacceptable as an investigation found 10 out of 17 button battery-powered household items were dangerous.

Summer Steer, 4, from Tewantin, who died after swallowing a lithium battery.
Summer Steer, 4, from Tewantin, who died after swallowing a lithium battery.

Button batteries, also known as coin cell batteries, are flat, round, single cell batteries, used in personal and household products such as children's toys, hearing aids, lights, watches, remote controls, digital thermometers and bathroom scales.

Little girl dies after swallowing lithium battering at Tewantin

"The Australian Government should make it illegal to sell unsafe products. New safety laws would see companies face large fines for flooding the Australian market with unsafe junk. " Choice chief Alan Kirkland said.

"Businesses should be legally required to take reasonable steps to make sure the products they sell are safe. It's really that simple. Without this reform, people will continue to be hurt and even killed by dangerous products like button battery-powered devices. It's essential that parliament be forced to take this problem seriously and legislate a solution," he said.

Victoria's Allison Rees also lost her daughter Bella in similar circumstances, nearly a year and half after Summer's death. The 14-month swallowed a button battery in 2015 and died as a result of the damage it caused when it lodged in her oesophagus.

There have been at least 17 cases of children being seriously injured in Australia since December 2017. At least 64 children have died globally.

"The batteries are shiny, smooth and easy to swallow and there can be little indication anything is wrong until it is too late," Mr Kirkland said.

More than 25,000 Australians have joined the Choice campaign asking for action from the Federal Government.

"These things are like loaded guns and they're everywhere. I feel like we're being fobbed off," Ms Shoesmith said.

"We didn't realise that Summer had swallowed the battery and by the time it was detected it was too late for her. She was a beautiful child and so full of life," she said.

Last month the ACCC set up a Button Battery Taskforce to investigate ways to reduce risk to the Australian community, particularly children.

"If a child swallows a button battery it can get stuck in their oesophagus or elsewhere in their system, causing death or serious illness," ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

Andrea Shoesmith at the inquest into the death of her young daughter.
Andrea Shoesmith at the inquest into the death of her young daughter.

"Button batteries burn through soft tissue in as little as two hours and continue to pose a severe injury risk for children. It can be hard for doctors to identify the symptoms of battery button ingestion if the parent isn't aware the child has swallowed one," Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC is seeking feedback from consumers, retailers, manufacturers and health practitioners. This deadline for is at the end of this month. The ACCC will provide a draft recommendation to Government by the end of the year with a final recommendation to be made in 2020.

"It is so important for me to be in Canberra today to represent Summer. It may be six years but the pain of losing her is as great today as it was on day she left us," Ms Shoesmith said.

"Summer's legacy should be honoured with the urgent mandating of a general safety provision that would force manufacturers and retailers of button battery-operated products to adhere to a strict safety protocol," the mum said.

Button battery safety tips

* If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, call Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

* Or go to a hospital emergency room.

* Do not let the child eat or drink and do not induce vomiting.

* Keep all button battery operated devices out of sight and out of reach of children.

* Examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure.

* Dispose of used button batteries immediately.

* Flat batteries can still be dangerous.

* Spread the word about the risks

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