The child-safe choice

23 May 2016

The child-safe choice

The child-safe choice

With creative solutions abound in the packaging industry, manufacturers are able to address all manner of consumer and regulatory concerns, and health and safety is no exception. There's regular 'safe packaging', however, and then there's child-safe packaging: a sector with its very own demands and challenges. Emma-Jane Batey speaks to Child-Safe Packaging Group's Stephen Wilkins and Ecobliss's Marc Linssen about the current state of child-safe packaging formats, including Ecobliss's Locked4Kids carton for pharma products.

Children are constantly learning: hardly a day goes by that they don't discover how to do something they couldn't do yesterday. Whether that's standing up in their cot or getting perilously close to opening the cupboard under the kitchen sink, each new discovery comes with its very own list of associated risks, which makes keeping children safe a full-time mission.

In 1970, the US Government passed the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, aimed at reducing the risk of young children opening household products and consuming or otherwise injuring themselves with the chemical-laden goods inside. The UK also introduced child-safe packaging in the mid-1970s, although legal standardisation was only set in 2001.

Child-safety standards

While child-safe packaging is not the same as 'child-proof' packaging, the basic premise of most packaging in this category calls on the same medically-agreed premise that the majority of children under 52 months old cannot perform two highly dextrous tasks at once. This is why child-safe packaging tends to use two dissimilar motions to open, such as pushing and twisting, pressing and squeezing, or lining up arrows.

The Wrexham-based Child-Safe Packaging Group (CSPG) is run by packaging expert Stephen Wilkins. Now in its 21st year, the pressure-group-turned-trade-association was largely responsible for making blister packs and other non-recloseable packs for medicines child-resistant in 1999, and has been a driving force in "strategically promoting child-resistant packaging alongside the interests of its members".

Wilkins tells Packaging Today, "CSPG has been a catalyst for the introduction of two new standards - one British and one pan-European - that help to create better flexible packs. We are affiliated with the Packaging Federation and have a UKAS-accredited testing lab: Davies Development and Testing."

Lifesaving packaging

"Since its introduction, child-resistant packaging has been improved and made more effective not only in levels of resistance to opening by children, but also in ease of use for adults," Wilkins says. "Increasing and ongoing efforts have also been made to create more lightweight packaging.

"Over the past 40 years, this type of packaging has proven itself to be a lifesaver and an agent for the prevention of less serious - but still worrying - ingestions by children. This is recognised by regulatory authorities throughout the world, and bodies such as UNICEF and WHO."

For a pack to be approved as child resistant, it must meet four BS EN ISO standards relating to the reclosability of medicine and household product packaging. These tests involve children and adults. The nature of these tests uses a selection or subjects from a panel of 200 children aged between 42 and 51 months, who are are each given a pack to open. They may attempt to open the pack themselves, then they are shown a demonstration of how to open it and given a further five minutes to open it themselves. For the pack to pass this test, 85% of the panel must fail to open it before the demonstration, and 80% afterwards.

Critics of the standards used to determine CR packaging have expressed that testing panels of children are ethically suspect, as they expose the children to the packaging and effectively teach them to open it. Wilkins denies that this is the case, however: "There are safeguards built into the test, and the children are taught to hand such packages to their parent if they ever find one. Most importantly, the children on the panel are at least six months older than the at-risk age group, which peaks at 36 months."

Shelf appeal and safety

For manufacturers and brand-owners of toddler-focused products, not only is the safety and suitability of packaging necessary for the well-being of children, but it is also a key part of brand identity. Dorset-based Organix, a 100% organic baby and toddler food company that also operates the popular Goodies brand knows that while the right packaging is important in terms of shelf appeal and suitability, CR initiatives take the lead.

"Our primary goal is to make sure our foods are safe for little ones to eat and is packaged in appropriate portions for babies and toddlers," says Organix technical manager Stephen Stones. "We enforce strict quality and transport standards to ensure our foods arrive in the way we intend for them to be enjoyed."

Using as little packaging as possible and 100% recycled or recyclable board, Organix also focuses its sustainability drive on child safety. "Our key challenge is sourcing recyclable packaging materials - particularly flexible film - that meet our strict food safety and quality standards, to ensure our food stays safe to eat through the supply chain," says Stones. "And our team is constantly working with packaging experts to find ways to improve on what we already do."

Fit to format

A variety of factors can affect the CR status of a container's closure system. The British Standards Institute's consumers' guide to the standards for CR packaging includes in this list: foil and blister materials or adhesive, the orientation of blister pockets, the use of wadding materials in closures, and the inclusion of a liquid medicine in a container closure system previously used for solid dosage forms. Factors such as these must be considered carefully if a company is to packaging its goods responsibly.

In the pharma sector, for instance, blister packaging is on the rise as a prominent child-safe format, although bottles are still leading the way in the US. In 2015, Netherlands-based packaging manufacturer Ecobliss created Locked4Kids, offering the first reclosable CR carton, certified according to EN 8317, US 16 CFR 1700.20 and ISO 17025.

Marc Linssen, packaging design and prepress director for Ecobliss, says, "Locked4Kids is specially designed to prevent young children gaining access to contents that are hazardous or poisonous. It's portable, easy to use - once you know how to open it - and can be opened and closed countless times without losing its protective function. This unique concept is all about simplicity."

Founded in 1995 by Ron Linssen, Ecobliss launched pioneering, ecofriendly cold-sealing technology for blister packaging. Now well known across Europe in its specialised fields of blister and high-visibility packaging, Ecobliss launched Locked4Kids to harness its expertise in an important packaging niche.

Linssen continues, "It's extremely difficult, but also fascinating, to create something that is so simple, inexpensive and easy to produce, and easy to use - except, of course, for little children."

The product supports blister packaging due to the inherent safety and integrity the format offers - something that the global industry is fast picking up on. Linssen explains: "In Europe, approximately 80% of all tablets and capsules entering the market are packed in a blister strip and then a retail carton. In the US, meanwhile, around 80% of medicines are packed in bottles, but this is changing rapidly, with trends leaning towards the increased use of blister packs.

"There are a number of very good reasons for this: a blister warrants the integrity of tablets and capsules much better than a bottle can; production batch numbers and expiry dates can be stamped or printed on each blister; a blister protects individual doses against moisture and contamination; and unlike a bottle, a blister clearly shows if a product has been tampered with."

Smart carton

The Locked4Kids concept offers these benefits plus a child-safe container, crucially filling a hole in the market. While cartons are a smart and economical solution for blister packaging, Linssen explains, there are few widely available child-resistant carton formats, and those that do exist tend to be "speciality packaging" options.

It wasn't an easy solution, however: "At first, it was a struggle to get positive test results with Locked4Kids: it is hard to beat the minds and physical capabilities of young children with something as simple as a carton," says Linssen. "But with every negative test, we got a lot of feedback on the behaviour of adults, seniors and children, and this learning curve was used to perfect the original design. We now have certification for three sizes of carton, and the industry is receiving the package very well."

The success of Locked4Kids can be seen in the achievements it has gained since its launch, claiming the CPhI Pharma Award, the WPO WorldStar President's Award and silver in De Gouden Noot contest.

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