RoSPA's guide to buying second-hand goods
Second-hand goods have become increasingly popular from charity shops, car boot sales, pawn stores and auction websites – but buying a product second-hand is never as safe as buying something new.
RoSPA has compiled important safety advice and risks to consider so consumers can protect themselves as much as possible when buying used products.
Child car seats, helmets and other protective headgear
Never buy these items second-hand unless you are assured of their history because they are "one hit" products – something that must not be used again if involved in an incident.
This is because involvement in an accident or simply dropping the item can affect the internal structure, even if any damage is not visible on the exterior. If it is not structurally sound, then it will not protect you or your child.
When you buy a second-hand car seat, crash helmet, cycling helmet or riding helmet, in most cases, you cannot know for sure if it has been damaged. But that vital information could make the difference between life and death.
Solution – Be extremely careful about buying these items second-hand. If you are getting a second-hand car seat or helmet from a relative or friend that you know well, and know the full history of the product and that it has not been subject to damage, then that is very different from buying it at a car boot sale where the seller may not be as honest about its history. Our advice is to never buy one of these items if it has been involved in some kind of accident already.
Electrical household products
Unsafe electrical equipment can kill you. An electric shock can be deadly, while other risks involve burns, minor shocks and a fire in the home.
An electric shock commonly comes down to whether a person comes into contact with frayed wires – caused by wear and tear. Everyday items, such as irons, hair dryers and hair straighteners, can be a risk if the cord is frayed, so always check for exposed wires which can be a real danger.
The law is as strict for selling new items as second-hand goods. There is clear guidance out there that sellers should comply with including the Plugs and Sockets etc (Safety) Regulations 1994 and the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994.
Solution – One way to trying to find out if a second-hand electrical item is safe is to ask if a PAT test – Portable Appliance Testing – has been carried out. A PAT test examines electrical appliances and picks up on internal defects. A PAT test gives the consumer some security if you can't afford to buy a brand new electrical item. It is worth checking with a shop or seller if a PAT test has been done.
Power tools and household machinery
One of the biggest problems with these second-hand items is a lack of instructions. Often re-sold items no longer contain the warnings and instructions that came with them when new.
A key issue is that a consumer will buy a second-hand item, such as a hedge-strimmer or drill, without the instructions and then guess at how it should be used. There may have been a warning like "wear protective equipment" or "don't go up a step-ladder while using this item", which the user is then oblivious to.
Some products may also be unsafe due to their condition. Power tools may have deteriorated because they are old or well-used, and some, such as chain-saws, need regular servicing.
NHS figures in England show that in 2011-12 there were 3,461 admissions to hospital after accidents involving household machinery and other powered hand tools. That is why being as prepared as possible can only help to keep you safe.
Solution – Try and make the best choice from what is available. You can often find instructions online by checking the maker's website. Also, before buying a product, check the internet to see if there has been a recall on the item or other problem, which could explain if a lot of those products are being sold at car boots. To ensure security over whether there are any electrical defects, check if a PAT test – Portable Appliance Testing – has been carried out, which examines electrical appliances and picks up on internal defects.
The main thing to look out for on toys is whether they have a CE Mark. This indicates that the product complies with European safety requirements. It gives a sign to consumers that the toy is safe. If it does not have a CE Mark, don't buy it.
Second-hand toys are often missing instructions, which include important information such as the age range of the product, particularly whether it is suitable for children under 36 months due to choking hazards, and other safety warnings.
Although a toy may look pristine, the structural integrity and inner workings of the product may be questionable, especially if it has been squashed, bashed around and generally well-loved by a child. Ask yourself whether the parts still fit together, does it work properly, how strong is it and could sharp pieces fall off and harm your child when they are tempted to stick it in their mouth, eyes or ears?
On the microbiology side of things, remember that a new teddy bear should be exceptionally clean but a second-hand one may be teeming with germs from being put in a child's mouth, dragged along the floor, taken to bed every night, or even left on a cat litter tray or pet's bedding.
Solution – Always check for a CE Mark. To get rid of germs, give any stuffed toy a good wash in hot water before giving it to a child. For lost instructions, check manufacturers' websites for information.
All furniture needs to be labelled under the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. Flammability of items from sofas to mattresses are a risk and any filling material, whether foam or non-foam, in furniture made after 1950 must meet specified ignition tests in the UK to ensure it will not go up in flames easily.
Unfortunately, the fire label is often missing for second-hand goods as many people cut these off. This makes it difficult to know whether the product meets this regulation and if it is as safe as necessary. If it doesn't have a label, it may not comply with the fire safety regulations.
The risks are very real when you consider the most recent fire statistics for Great Britain; in 2011/12, there were 979 house fires in which upholstered furniture was mainly responsible for the development of the fire and a further 928 blazes in which mattresses or beds were primarily responsible for fire development - leading to 71 deaths between them.
Glass in furniture, such as coffee tables and cabinets, should meet relevant safety standards, indicated by a British Standards kite mark, to ensure its thickness in terms of the impact it can withstand, and that if it breaks, it does not shatter into long shards of glass that could cause serious injury, particularly to a child. It is important to consider this when buying second-hand furniture, but the irony is that without the original packaging or kite mark on the glass, the only way to know for sure is to smash the glass.
Solution – Check for fire labels under the main cushion of a sofa or on the base of furniture and the kite mark on the glass. Remember it is about choosing the best product available, so if it doesn't have a label, it may not comply with safety regulations.
Be aware that not all products purchased over the internet are being sold from within the UK and may not comply with British safety standards.
For example, the UK has the toughest furniture safety laws in the world, so if buying a household item from other parts of the world, it may not meet the same standards that are taken for granted in Great Britain.
Solution – Check product information and safety markings on manufacturers' websites before making a purchase.
It is a requirement that all gas appliances are fitted by a Gas Safe registered fitter including second-hand appliances. If you are buying a second-hand gas cooker or fire, get it checked and fitted by a "Gas Safe" registered engineer as the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a life and death matter. CO is a colourless, tasteless and odourless poisonous gas that kills. For more information, visit www.carbonmonoxidesafety.org.uk. Other gas products, such as a barbecue, can also be a risk if they do not work properly.
Solution - Things to look out for on gas cookers include clear markings on the controls. You can find a registered gas fitter at www.gassaferegister.co.uk/.
RoSPA cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or completeness of any pages on linked websites.