WASHINGTON (AP) _ Shoppers in search of holiday gifts for little ones should be on guard because potentially dangerous toys and children's items are more readily available than ever, a consumer group said today.

There are so many hazardous products on the market for children that ''toy safety has become a contradiction in terms,'' according to the 18th annual toy quality and safety report of the Consumer Affairs Committee of Americans for Democratic Action.

The committee said it was ''inundated by potentially dangerous toys'' and blamed ''the pitiful ineptitude of the Consumer Product Safety Commission'' for the availability of dangerous toys.

''In past years the commission only played dead. This year it was officially dead,'' said the report, citing the panel's lack of a quorum since January which makes it unable to take official actions.

Additionally, ''bottom-line considerations have outdistanced safety considerations'' by toy makers, said Ann Brown, committee chairwoman.

Dan Rumelt of the CPSC said agency officials were unable to comment on the criticisms because they had not seen the report.

The report, which previously focused on toys, this year includes infant and children's products because ''they are inextricably linked and it just became too dangerous to ignore,'' said Brown.

The group recommends from among this year's heavily advertised toys 10 products for the ''toy box'' and an equal number for the ''trash box.'' The committee also cites 13 toys, a baker's ''dirty dozen,'' of the most potentially dangerous toys from the 51 surveyed.

Bob Jacobs, president of Aqua Sling, whose water balloon slingshot is among the group's ''dirty dozen,'' said most of the problems associated with the product were related to user responsibility.

''We haven't had anybody hurt by the product. Everybody that's had any problems with it has been with misuse of the product,'' said the California businessman. The report said hundreds of people had been injured after being struck by water balloons fired by the slingshots.

An executive at Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc., said the company was unaware of any safety concerns with its Bouncin' Babies Cuddly Baby doll that also was listed among 1989's worst toys. The ADA report said the toy has a pacifier with a stick that could poke a child's eye.

''It's a design that works and kids seem to enjoy it and it meets all safety regulations,'' said Stan Clutton, vice president for marketing at Lewis Galoob.

The committee said categories of potentially dangerous toys include:

-Exploding items designed to make loud noises which can be damaging to ears or cause hearing loss.

-Projectiles, including a water balloon sling shot, that use guns or rubber devices to throw items a distance with force.

-Toys that invite eating because that's what young children will do ''whether edible or not.''

-Inexpensive toys with small parts hazardous to young children that are offered near the checkout counter to encourage impulse buying.

-Novelty items such as spray-can party string sold in toy stores ''where unsuspecting kids and parents can buy them.'' Emergency rooms have reported skin irritation from party string.

-Toys with inadequate or misleading age labels. In some cases manufacturers label toys ''not for children under 3'' when they are intended to appeal to exactly that age group.

-Flammable items, including a stuffed doll, cuddling cushion and baby linen set that burns.

-Poorly made licensed items with familiar childhood and cartoon characters.

The report cites CPSC statistics that estimated there were 142,000 toy- related injuries in 1988, an increase of 11,000 incidents over 1987. Nursery product-related injuries to children under 5 totaled 72,000 in 1988, according to commission figures quoted in the report.

The ADA gives parents and child caregivers these safety tips for buying toys:

-Don't trust age recommendations on labeling and packaging.

-Safe and non-toxic are advertising terms that may be meaningless on toy packages.

-Never leave a child alone near water.

-Throw away infant pacifiers when the child outgrows them.

-Avoid excessively noisy toys.

-All toys with wheels require adult supervision.