What exactly is Safety Standard ASTM F963-92?

I figured it was some sort of benchmark for the amount of damage you could do with a toy. Which again makes you wonder: What are you not suppored to be able to do with a RazorBeast? Put out somebody's eye? Puncture a lung? Cause irreversible brain damage?

I had to find out. I quickly called the Toy Manufacturers' of America (TMA) and was put onto an endless voice-mail tree ("If you have invented a toy, please press 5"). Eventually, I reached a real human being, and posed my question. They faxed me back a three-page brief outlining the history of the Safety Standard.

ASTM, as it turns out, stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. The ASTM was developed by the Toy Manufacturers Association and the government in the 1970s, in the wake of other regulatory measures—such as 1958's effective but unfortunately named National Clearinghouse for Toy Injuries. The goal of this government-industry partnership is to prevent toys from posing "electrical, thermal, mechanical, chemical or flammability hazards."

F963-92 is the ASTM's main voluntary standard for toys, and is updated every few years—the most recent revision took place in 1992. While the regulations are fairly silent on the topic of a, say, psychosexual trauma, they do aggressively target other areas for comprehensive in-house laboratory testing, including:

While adherence to ASTM F963-92 is "voluntary," the TMA assures me that the industry is extremely compliant, given that building toys that are safe is essential to high sales. Which makes perfect sense, of course—although there's still a nagging little section of the federal product Improvement Act that requires firms "to report to the Commission whenever a particular model is involved in three lawsuits alleging grievous injury, resulting in judgment or settlement in each two-year period beginning January 1, 1991." Yee-ikes.