Wenjun Chen's workplace looks like a toy store’s shop window. It’s a jumble of stuffed animals, rocking horses, a play grocery store, garishly colored dolls and packages of building blocks on long shelves. Very special rules apply to all these items: those who wish to sell these toys must ensure that they pose no danger. This means that they must be completely harmless, both physically and chemically. After all, these toys will end up in children’s rooms, will be put in mouths or held to cheeks, they’ll be tugged on and chewed. “Physically harmless,” for example, means that not one single part—such as the bunny’s ears—that a toddler could swallow and choke on will detach. As for the chemical composition, lawmakers in the majority of countries have set very strict limits: dangerous heavy metals, cancer-causing agents such as PAKs or phthalates—softening agents used in plastic toys—are not allowed at all in these items, or only in extremely small quantities.
THE WORLD´S WORKBENCH
Wenjun Chen tests all of these things. A test engineer, she works in the TÜV SÜD laboratory in Shanghai, China, a metropolis that is one of the world’s largest commercial hubs. From here almost everything is exported to the world—all sorts of toys, for example. And some of them pass over Wenjun Chen’s desk, day after day. She began working for TÜV SÜD a year and a half ago, directly after graduating from college. The responsibility of her job, doing something meaningful and protecting children from potential dangers, is how her employers won her over.
But right now the stuffed bunny is up next. Wenjun Chen examines it in accordance with EN 71-1:2014, an international standard for “toy safety” that is mandatory for exports into the European Union. Every manufacturer or distributor bringing such a product to market in an EU country must prove that it fulfills the requirements of this toy standard.
Because safety is so important for toys, Wenjun Chen takes the utmost care conducting the prescribed tests—even if it sometimes seems silly for a particular product. And so Wenjun Chen picks up the bunny, raises it to a height of 85 centimeters next to a measuring tape mounted on the wall and lets it fall—over and over again. Unsurprisingly, the stuffed animal survives the test unscathed.
After the paws, glass eyes and little stumpy tail have all been tested to see if an individual part detaches under standardized strain, Wenjun Chen picks up a pair of scissors. Now she’s getting down to the nitty-gritty! Below the bunny’s head, the TÜV SÜD inspector cuts a hole in the fur. White stuffing billows out. Wenjun Chen rubs several of the small balls in her hand, places them on a platter in front of her and moves them about with tweezers, scrutinizing them. Later, she’ll write in her spreadsheet that the visual inspection of the stuffing material revealed no impurities and no admixtures of substandard materials.
Only the chemical tests can show whether the fur and stuffing are truly harmless. To accomplish this, Wenjun Chen slices and dices the bunny some more, cutting off small parts at various spots and packaging them up in small, precisely labeled sample bags. They’re taken to a chemical laboratory where the contents will be subject to a detailed analysis. The data will later be integrated into the inspection report.