This week on Australian Story is “Sisters in Arms” which profiles two mothers who campaigned for safety regulations on button batteries.
Button batteries lurk inside many seemingly harmless household items from musical birthday cards to remote controls to stuffed toys.
To an adult they’re just a battery but to a small child their shiny appearance can be fascinating. And potentially lethal.
For emergency paediatrician Ruth Barker, the dangers of button batteries are a dirty industry secret. “Button batteries are really like cockroaches in our houses. They’re everywhere,” she says.
Barker estimates our hospitals see up to 20 children a week who are suspected of having swallowed or inserted a button battery.
They can cause catastrophic burns and bleeding. Three Australian children have died.
“It worries me sick that I could miss the next kid who comes through… because the symptoms are so non-specific,” Dr Barker says.
United by the loss of their daughters, mothers Allison Rees from Melbourne and Andrea Shoesmith from Noosa formed a deep connection and began lobbying for change.
The women were shocked to discover there are no product safety laws that make it illegal to sell unsafe products in Australia.
“Battery manufacturers have known about the issue with button batteries for a really long time,” Allison says. “They know children are getting injured and dying, yet they haven’t improved their product. That makes me angry.”
Together the women built a national campaign and challenged politicians to fix the problem. Late last year they achieved a world-first when Australia finally committed to stronger safety regulations for button batteries.
Producers: Mayeta Clark and Annie Gaffney.
Monday 15 February at 8pm on ABC.