“Help! My toddler's swallowed a button battery." Denise Macfadyen googled this within seconds of her three-year-old son Trent telling her he'd swallowed a tiny shiny battery.
It could be fatal, said the first search result. The second result was the Poisons Hotline. Ms Macfadyen called, and its staff coordinated with Westmead Children's Hospital to ensure Trent was treated on arrival.
Trent was lucky he could say what had happened. Many toddlers and babies can't, and those cases are difficult to diagnose.
"I call them the walking dead," says pediatrician Dr Ruth Barker of those children who swallow a battery without anyone hearing, seeing or knowing.
In 2013, Summer Steer was the first Australian child to die after swallowing a lithium, or "button", battery, but nobody knew. Doctors twice sent the four-year-old girl home after she was taken to hospital with "black poo". A Brisbane hospital later found a small lithium battery stuck in her oesophagus, but it was too late.
Summer died of blood loss, said Dr Barker. "She walked around with (the battery) inside for two weeks. I think for any parent, what was devastating was that battery was sitting inside her and they didn't know."
As button batteries become more ubiquitous in household items including TV remotes, cameras, watches and scales, children are being injured far more frequently, found a study by Dr Barker, the head of Queensland’s Injury Surveillance Unit.
There have been nine cases of serious injuries reported in NSW and Queensland this year, nearly double what was expected. About 20 children who swallow batteries (often like Trent thinking they are lollies) are admitted to hospital each week. Every day the Poisons Hotline gets a call from a parent who fears a child has swallowed a battery. About one older adult calls every week, too, because he or she swallowed a battery from a hearing aid.
Doctors and consumer groups including Choice are pushing for the Federal Government to move faster on its promise to make it illegal to sell an unsafe product in Australia. They say injuries and deaths will only stop when the law is changed.
A survey by Choice found that 80 per cent of Australians already thought it was illegal to sell unsafe products - it isn’t.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission backs the change, saying prevention is the only way to stop injuries and deaths.
"If we really want to take product safety seriously, we need to stop unsafe goods entering the market place," ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
Federal Treasury is currently evaluating the costs of introducing a new safety standard, and considering who should be liable when products are faulty.
Ms Rickard said it was large, complex reform, which people were actively working on, but it would take a little time.
It has yet to be approved by Federal Cabinet, she said.
There were 3,000 reported injuries and deaths from unsafe products reported to the ACCC last year. Ms Rickard said these were “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Many parents are reluctant to report injuries for fear of censure by others. Someone has to be injured for a product to be recalled. There are around 600 recalls of unsafe products each year, yet very often products identical to those recalled are sold online or by importers of cheaper versions.
Ms Rickard said the problems with button batteries illustrated the need for the introduction of a general safety standard.
"At the moment it is not illegal to sell unsafe goods. We have a regime that's reactive so when it is recognised that it is an unsafe good in the market, there are a whole range of steps we can take to get it removed."
Sarah Agar, the head of campaigns and policy with the consumer advocate and publisher, Choice, said a range of high profile product safety issues have highlighted the need for a change in the law.
"We are seeing Samsung washing machines catching fire, we are seeing Thermomixes exploding, and children being injured by button batteries, " said Ms Agar.
Only a small number of Australian goods are subject to mandatory or voluntary safety standards, and many standards are out of date. A Choice survey of products subject to a mandatory or voluntary standard found that 98 per cent of portable cots and 68 per cent of cots were unsafe, for example.
Ms Agar said it was impossible for regulators to inspect every product. "We need an overarching rule that says all products need to be safe.”
These days button batteries are everywhere, said the Coroner investigating Summer's death. And nobody ever discovered the source of the battery that killed her.
Standards for toys for children up to and including 36 months say the battery compartment must be secure so it can't be opened by a child and the buttons exposed.
While the batteries in quality toys sold by reputable retailers are usually secured safely, those in common household products are less secure. The danger is greatest in novelty items and inexpensive products like tea lights sold online and in discount stores. Very often the cheap gifts sold at schools' Father's Day sales run by Parents and Citizens' associations to raise funds can be dangerous.
Trent's mother Ms Macfadyen of North Rocks purged the house of batteries, including in calculators and remote controls. The source of the battery that Trent swallowed was a toy for an older child - not covered by the standard - that his eight year old brother Kobe had opened while experimenting to see if button batteries were magnetics.
When one gets stuck, it's "worse than acid", said Jared Brown, the director of the NSW Poisons Information Centre at Westmead Children's Hospital.
The 3 volt 20mm button batteries are often the worst, because they can contain a charge for as long as 10 years and they are big enough to lodge n a child's oesophagus. When they come in contact with body fluids, such as mucus or saliva in a nice warm environment, they create a circuit that releases a substance like caustic soda, which is a strong alkali that can burn through tissue.
Like many experts, Dr Barker says prevention is the only real way to stop these injuries, and eradicate the risk.
Industry very often responds to reports of injuries and deaths by offering a warning label: "I like to say a warning label is an admission: It is saying we know this product is dangerous but we haven't redesigned it," Dr Barker said.
No comment was available from business groups by deadline.