Archive for ‘Product Safety’

14 January, 2016

How safe are baby slings for a newborn? A mother shares her tragic experience.

Marianne Matthews, from Harrow, was celebrating the birth of her first child Eric when, within weeks, he had died after having been carried in a baby sling. Marianne explains what happened.

I write this blog in memory of my first child Eric, and with the hope that this message will help prevent more tragedies like ours.

Baby Sling story Eric Matthews first days with parents Marianne and Bob Matthews

Parents Marianne and Bob Matthews with Eric when he was first born.

Eric was four-weeks-old when he became unconscious while I was carrying him in a stretchy wrap baby sling – soft fabric that wraps around the chest and waist and holds baby, allowing a parent to keep their hands free as they go about their everyday tasks.

As a new parent, you get marketed at relentlessly with baby products. I wasn’t fully aware of the risks involving baby slings, and you never think these kinds of tragedies are something that will happen to you. The dangers of slings were not mentioned in the antenatal classes we attended, or in any of the baby books we read. Maybe because baby slings are newly popular, safety warnings aren’t yet part of the standard information given to expectant parents.

I bought a stretchy wrap sling online. It came with minimal instructions and had no safety label.

baby carrier baby sling

The safest method is in a carrier that keeps the baby solidly against the parent’s body, in an upright position.

It was Christmas Eve 2013 and Eric was quite unsettled so I put him in the sling and took him out for a walk to the local shop. He started to get a bit hungry and I tried to breastfeed him whilst carrying him. I then decided to go home. At the time I thought Eric was just falling asleep.

Everything happened so quickly and quietly I didn’t realise that something was very wrong. He had either choked or got into difficulties. By the time I got back, he had stopped breathing.

We called 999 and tried to resuscitate him. Sadly Eric never regained consciousness, and passed away in our arms a week later on New Year’s Day 2014.

We loved Eric so much and wonder how things went so wrong. Eric was our first child, and as new parents, we were finding out what to do for the first time. Our inexperience was to have tragic consequences, sometimes love just isn’t enough.

Eric is now a big brother, our little girl Sola Eden was born in October 2014, and she really is a miracle for me and my husband Bob, especially as we had her when we were still grieving. I have learned a lot from Eric. I’ll never use a baby sling again. Safety is an absolute priority.

Baby sling story Marianne Matthews with husband Bob and daughter Sola Eden

Marianne and Bob Matthews have celebrated the birth of daughter Sola Eden since the tragedy.

My advice is not to use a baby sling for a newborn baby – wait a few weeks until they are stronger and have more neck control. Don’t be tempted to multi-task by feeding a baby in a sling and check for safety standards and warnings before choosing a product.

The part that concerns me most is that some slings are marketed as ‘breastfeeding slings’. In my opinion, the feeding position is unsafe for baby (particularly a newborn) to be carried in, as they need to be kept upright to keep their airways clear. A baby trying to feed may make similar sounds to a baby struggling for breath, or make no sounds at all, and tragedy can occur in a minute or so. Added to this, the use of a sling while out and about may mean there are more distractions, and parents may not be fully aware of what’s happening.

I hope other parents find our story helpful, and it can in some way prevent another avoidable death like Eric’s from happening.

Marianne Matthews.

You can read more on RoSPA’s detailed advice on baby slings at the RoSPA website.

amber teething necklace baby

RoSPA is aware of risks attached to these products because a sling’s fabric can press against a baby’s nose and mouth, blocking the baby’s airways and causing suffocation within a minute or two.  Suffocation can also occur where the baby is cradled in a curved or “C-like” position in a sling, nestling below the parent’s chest or near their stomach.

Because babies do not have strong neck control, this means that their heads are more likely to flop forward, chin-to-chest, restricting the infant’s ability to breathe. RoSPA advocates products that keep babies upright and allow parents to see their baby and to ensure that the face isn’t restricted. Your baby is safest travelling with you in a pram or pushchair in which they are lying flat, on their back, in a parent-facing position.

8 August, 2014

RoSPA’s top 5 tips to keep your sleeping baby safe

A new baby is the greatest gift imaginable. They bring joy and happiness (not to mention sleepless nights!) to parents, but with this gift comes added pressure.

baby_nappyNew mums and dads will have many questions buzzing around their heads.

Things like where is the safest place for baby to sleep? Should anything be in the cot with baby? What are the risks that babies face when they are asleep?

This blog looks at some of those issues and offers The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ top 5 tips to keep your sleeping baby safe.


1. Room temperature

Many parents may be aware that a baby’s room temperature should be regulated at between 16°C and 20°C as one of the key risks they face when going to sleep is “thermal stress”, or overheating.thermometersmaller

Having a basic room thermometer can often help in monitoring this as it is not always obvious to an adult what temperature a baby is comfortable at.

Thermal stress is thought to be one of the factors that can contribute towards Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) with “at risk” babies less able to adapt to changes in temperature.

Keeping a baby on their back with only suitable bedding in the cot is therefore recommended by many charities to avoid overheating. Keeping a baby’s head uncovered is also important as the head helps with temperature regulation.

2. Avoid soft toys and soft bedding in a cot

No soft toys or other products which cocoon your baby in any way are needed in a cot – these can, in fact, cause a

Snuggly and soft are often words used when marketing children’s bedding, but remember babies need ample oxygen all around them for their brains to develop.

Soft pliable bedding can mould around a baby’s face but they won’t know how to remove the bedding for themselves from positions of danger.

Sleeveless sleep sacks are a good choice as they keep a baby warm without the risk of them slipping underneath blankets in the cot.

If using blankets, make the cot up in the feet to foot position to help minimise the risk of your baby being able to slip under the covers.

3. Don’t clutter with extra products

Before adding extra products to a cot, which in themselves can add risk, it is worth remembering that the cot is the only piece of baby equipment designed for babies to be left in unsupervised (as they sleep).

All other equipment, like buggies and high chairs, are used under parental supervision.  As such, modern cots that comply with the latest safety standards are designed to be as safe for babies as possible.

There are a lot of products on the market that purport to protect baby when in the cot.  Cot bumpers, for example, are soft materials that are designed to sit inside the cot and are often attached to the cot bars with ribbons in order to protect babies from injuring themselves against cot bars. They are also marketed as being useful in preventing babies from getting their limbs stuck between bars.

However, cot bumpers may pose other hazards in several ways.  The ribbon can pose a strangulation hazard and this has been linked to at least one death in the UK.

 The bumper itself can be used as a foothold by more agile children to escape the cot, leading to a risk of falling. Also, the material may restrict the amount of oxygen that the child intakes – a process known as “rebreathing”.

The most extreme risk is that cot bumpers could pose a suffocation hazard if a baby rolls over with their face against the cot bumper and is then unable to move.

Nap Nanny_Consumer Product Safety Commission Pic

A Nap Nanny that has been linked to deaths in America.

Another product raising concerns in America is Nap Nanny, which has, sadly, been linked to the deaths of six babies. These products are used to place the baby in a reclined position to sleep and can also be used to “strap” the baby into their crib or on the floor, ensuring that they do not move around when they sleep.

 Some babies have suffocated on the inside of the Nap Nanny while others have partly fallen or hung over the side and been trapped between the product and cot bumpers, leading to suffocation in at least one case.

There is also controversy surrounding sleep positioners – foam wedges that manufacturers claim are suitable for babies to sleep in and aim to keep baby in one fixed position.

Be aware that if a baby manages to turn their body or slip down, then these products also present suffocation, thermal heating and re-breathing risks.  Baby’s face can get stuck against the foam and there have been many baby deaths attributed to these products.

4. Look out for packaging

nappy-sack-posterBe aware of the packaging that these products arrive in.

I have seen some that are supplied in drawstring bags and these present a strangulation risk to a baby. This adds a hazard immediately into the home over and above the product inside the bag.

Nappy sacks – plastic bags to place dirty nappies in – are also a concern.

RoSPA is aware of at least 14 babies in England and Wales that have suffocated or choked to death on this product.

Babies naturally grasp anything and put it in their mouths, so always keep nappy sacks, other plastic bags and wrapping away from babies and buy them on a roll if possible.


5. Be aware of blind cords

Finally, RoSPA is aware of at least 28 child deaths caused by blind cords and most of these accidental deaths occur in toddlers aged between 16-months and 36-months-old, so it is something to bear in mind as your baby starts growing.blinds_boy

The main issue that as a toddler start to get mobile their head still weigh proportionately more than their body, compared to adults, and their muscular control is not yet fully developed, which makes them more prone to be unable to free themselves if they become entangled in a cord around their neck.

RoSPA advice is to:

  • move beds, cots, highchairs and playpens away from windows where there are cords and chains
  • make sure all blind cords are always secured out of reach of babies and young children
  • move furniture that children can climb up on away from windows that have cords and chains.

I hope these tips can help you make informed decisions and I’d also recommend visiting The Lullaby Trust website for more detailed safe sleeping advice.

Being a parent is not easy but there is help and guidance all along the way.  The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone and to ENJOY this time as they will be 15-years-old before you know it!

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA Product Safety Adviser

21 July, 2014

Your holiday checklist – don’t forget to pack the carbon monoxide alarm.

Swimming costume – check. Sun lotion – check. Inflatable lilo – check.

Your holiday packing is almost complete but you’ve got that nagging feeling that there is something missing from your suitcase.

Go safe and enjoy your holidays

Go safe and enjoy your holidays

Well, if you are heading off to a holiday apartment, cottage, caravan or even boat, you have most likely forgotten to pack one small item that could make all the difference to your long-awaited vacation – a carbon monoxide (CO) detector.

At The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), we recommend that people take a small, portable CO detector with them whether they are going home or abroad to prevent tragedies that we have sadly seen many times before.

Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because you can’t see it, hear it, smell it or taste it, meaning its deadly fumes can act without families even realising it, often through the night while they are asleep.

The problem is that fumes can be caused by a faulty or badly-serviced gas and other fossil fuel-burning appliance, whether it’s a heater, gas stove, generator or even barbecue in an enclosed space.

Follow our tips for a happy, safe family holiday

Follow our tips for a happy, safe family holiday

Seven-year-old Christianna Shepherd and her six-year-old brother Robert, from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, died from carbon monoxide poisoning during a holiday in Corfu after a faulty boiler leaked gas into the hotel bungalow where they were staying in October 2006.

Last year, an Easter boating holiday turned into tragedy when 36-year-old mum Kelly Webster and her 10-year-old daughter Laura Thornton died after inhaling CO fumes as they slept on a moored motor cruiser on Lake Windermere in the Lake District. Investigators found that fumes from a generator, whose improvised exhaust and silencer system had become detached, had spread into the cabin.

So, when you get to your holiday home, here are three simple tips to remember:

  1. Take a portable CO detector to check for any signs of the dangerous gas – these can be bought for just a few pounds from most DIY stores but are priceless in terms of the lives they can save
  2. Make sure the premises are well ventilated and never use a barbecue inside
  3. Be aware of the symptoms and dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

RoSPA’s carbon monoxide safety website has more details on CO symptoms but the main signs to look out for include:

  • suffering prolonged flu-like symptoms – headaches, nausea, breathlessness or dizziness
  • the boiler pilot light flames burning orange, instead of blue
  • sooty stains on or near appliances
  • excessive condensation in the room

    Spot the signs of CO poisoning

    Spot the signs of CO poisoning

Just knowing a few of the signs to look out for will already have equipped you with some useful knowledge. This RoSPA video, below, highlights why being aware of carbon monoxide is so important.


I’m sure you will have a lovely break and I’ll leave you to get on with that packing. Oh, and remember, when summer is over, it will be time to arrange for that all important Autumn service to your boiler at home.

Alison Brinkworth, RoSPA public health support officer.


16 May, 2014

How safe are e-cigarettes?

We all know that smoking is one of the hardest habits to kick and most smokers have at some stage wished that a new invention would come along to get rid of their cigarette cravings.

E-cigNow electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have emerged onto the marketplace and more than 2 million smokers in the UK have turned to them as a way to quit smoking tobacco.

As their use has tripled over the past two years, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has become increasingly concerned over safety issues reported about these products, particularly fire risks and the potential for children to be poisoned.

Whilst e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, new legislation is being proposed which will ban the sale of these products to under-18s in this country and similar plans have also been announced in the USA.

E-cigarettes use a small battery and atomiser to turn nicotine liquid into an inhalable mist that is an alternative to tobacco smoke. The water vapour is almost odourless and designed to be harmless to both the user and anyone else in the room.  They are often sold in flavours such as strawberry and in bright coloured packaging, both of which can be appealing to children.

There have been reports that very young children are copying their parents’ behaviour by putting e-cigarettes into their mouths when unsupervised.  This has led to a number of children being poisoned by ingesting the liquids contained in the e-cigarette.  Many parents are failing to realise that e-cigarettes should not be left unattended when children are around even though they are not “alight” like traditional cigarettes.

Very young children often copy their parents' behaviour.

Very young children often copy their parents’ behaviour.

Another area of concern is the risk of e-cigarettes overheating and catching fire, especially when they are plugged into a mains supply or a USB port and left to charge.  Last year, 68-year-old Evelyn Raywood was killed when a fire tore through her care home in Hasland, Derbyshire. Fire investigators ruled that a heated battery pack used overnight to charge her e-cigarette overheated and sparked a fire which sadly caused her death.

It’s important to remember that e-cigarettes are relatively new to the marketplace and there are no specific regulations governing their safety.  The cigarettes themselves do not currently need a CE Mark (a sign that shows consumers that a product should be safe).  As such, consumers should exercise caution when considering whether to buy or use these products.

The law also currently allows e-cigarettes to be smoked in public places. Following claims that e-cigarettes help to
normalise smoking, along with concerns that their use in public undermines the existing tobacco smoking ban, there have been proposals for a ban on their use in public places in Wales.

Here at RoSPA, we completely understand how difficult it can be to kick a habit like smoking cigarettes, but our message is clear – if you want to use e-cigarettes as a substitute for smoking tobacco then please be aware of some of the reported hazards associated with them.

Always buy them from a reputable retailer, avoid charging overnight if possible and keep them well out of the reach of children at all times.

I hope that this blog has been of use to you, and good luck if you are trying to kick the habit!

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA product safety adviser.

27 January, 2014

A Walk on the Safeside

I was a child in the 1970s, when, as the cliché goes, we had to make our own entertainment.

A young Helen Halls.

A young Helen Halls.

Growing up in a small Yorkshire town, I played outside, walked to school and was off on my bike for hours. Mobile phones hadn’t been invented, so my parents couldn’t call to summon me home.

Being out and about from an early age, I learnt about risks and keeping safe largely through experience, though I was in the Tufty Club and did my RoSPA cycling proficiency test.

Helen now as RoSPA's campaigns officer.

Helen now as RoSPA’s campaigns officer.

Today, many children are ferried to and from school/activities and spend free time online or on a games console, so they don’t get the opportunities to experience risk that we old goats had. 

Plus, the rise of the internet has led to new dangers online.

Which is why LASER (Learning About Safety by Experiencing Risk) centres are a great idea, giving children the opportunity to experience risk and learn how to stay safe in an interesting, interactive way.

As RoSPA hosts the LASER Alliance, I was lucky enough to get a tour of Safeside, Birmingham’s LASER centre.

The Safeside 'village'.

The Safeside ‘village’.

Run by West Midlands Fire Service, it boasts a full-size indoor street scene featuring a road crossing, bus, train, canal, car, home, pub, dark alleyway, police station – and more.

Children learn about many aspects of safety via scenarios, activities, videos and discussion. They work with presenters, guides and even students from the Birmingham School of Acting.

Safeside presenter Dave Bailey.

Safeside presenter Dave Bailey.

It’s a practical, at times shocking, but fun way for children to get to grips with real life issues and consider what they should do in those situations.

And it works: presenter Dave Bailey tells us of children he first met at primary school who come back to the centre in their teens.

They often tell him about situations where they’ve used what they learned at Safeside – it really has saved lives.

If you’re a parent group, nursery, SureStart or school, I’d really recommend organising a visit to Safeside.

To find out more about Safeside and its activities , click here.

Helen Halls, RoSPA campaigns officer.

27 November, 2013

Bunk beds – are your children sleeping safely?

New arrivals in the family are a joy, but they soon need their own bed. Often this will mean smaller rooms being turned into bedrooms or siblings sharing a room.  In this edition of my blog, I will look at how parents can safely use bunk beds for their children to sleep in.

ClimbingIt is estimated that there are seven bed-related fatalities a year in the UK, along with 1,000 children injured after falling from beds.

Unsurprisingly, most accidents involving bunk beds occur when children are playing on them and so they should be discouraged from doing so.

At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), we recommend that no child under the age of six sleeps in the top bunk.

In one study of accidents involving bunk beds, the age group found to be most at risk was between two and six years (which represented 57 per cent of the accidents studied).

Of the accidents, 40 per cent resulted from “children playing”, but entrapment leading to strangulation has also been recognised as a particular hazard and is dealt with by the safety laws.

We want families to keep bedtime safe and happy.

We want families to keep bedtime safe and happy.

In fact, the harmonised European standard for bunk beds requires that the manufacturer’s instructions provided with new bunk beds contains the phrase “be aware of the danger of young children (under six) falling from the upper bunk”.

Sadly, it is not just the top bunk that can be dangerous. Earlier this year an eight-month-old girl accidentally hanged herself when she became wedged between a mattress and ladder while wriggling in her bunk bed.

She had been sleeping in the bottom bunk for two months after a health visitor said she should be given her own room.

Her parents fitted a bed brace to ensure the baby didn’t fall out, but somehow she managed to wriggle between the bars of the ladder leading to the top bunk and got stuck against the mattress.

Our advice here at RoSPA is very clear – bunk beds are perfectly safe for kids as long as safety checks are in place.

Children under six should not be allowed on the top bunk, although they may seem safe and be responsible. It can only take one awkward fall to sustain an injury.iStock_000012073096Large

Parents should consider very carefully whether allowing a child younger than six to sleep on the bottom bunk is safe for them.  Babies should always have their own cots, and toddlers can get trapped, as we have seen, so please don’t think that just because your child is under six, they will automatically be safe on the bottom bunk.

Another thing to consider is a thinner mattress for the top bunk as a standard single mattress may be too thick and will allow the child to roll over the safety barrier.

Importantly, do not allow any type of cord, rope, belt, scarf or anything similar to be hung from the top bunk. Also, do not place bunk beds near windows which have cord operated blinds – it is safer not to have this type of window covering in a child’s bedroom. This is because children can be strangled quickly and quietly by looped blind cords, sometimes with parents or carers in close proximity, potentially unaware of what is happening.

red_houseI know only too well from my own children that youngsters love to play on bunk beds, but climbing and bouncing around on the top bunk should not be permitted.

Every part to a bunk bed is important, so when assembling bunk beds, ensure that all safety barriers are in place, especially if buying a second-hand one.

Finally, when booking your holidays, please check what the sleeping arrangements for your children will be.  RoSPA has received reports in the past of holiday firms booking rooms for children under six with bunk beds.  My advice is to be very explicit at the point of booking whether or not bunk beds will be suitable for your children.

I hope this blog has been of use to you, so sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

Philip le Shirley, product safety consultant at RoSPA.

4 November, 2013

The countdown is on, November 5 here we come!

The big night is nearly upon us and soon the cold night sky will be lit up by spectacular fireworks of all colours, shapes and sizes.

Fireworks show on Independent DayIt’s a family occasion full of whizz-bangs and excitement that keeps everyone entertained, and while many of you will be attending an organised firework display, there will be others who will be holding their own at home. This is why it is a smart move to brush up on the Firework Code – essential reading for adults who are going to be handling fireworks.

Planning a firework display should not be rushed. There’s a lot to consider both before and after the fireworks have been set off! Ask yourself, is your garden big enough for the fireworks you are buying and seriously consider if your garden can cope with having a bonfire? Lighting it too close to a fence or shed could spell disaster. Do you have a safety plan in place in the event of an emergency? Have you set up an appropriate cordon? Young people should watch and enjoy fireworks at a safe distance and follow the safety rules for using sparklers. Remember, sparklers should not be given to children under five-years-old. All fireworks are explosives which have the potential to cause injury and damage if they are misused. This is why adults should help children and young people understand the dangers and share the important message that fireworks are not toys or missiles.

Each year, RoSPA hears about people being injured by fireworks and the traumatic experiences victims have gone through, including lifelong scarring and years of treatment. This is why it’s important that families ensure that fireworks are handled only by adults and treated with respect.

About half of these injuries happen at family or private parties and about a quarter in the street or other public place. A much smaller proportion – around 10 per cent – of the injuries happen at large public displays. Strictly speaking, attending an organised firework display is the safest option.

A rogue firework exploded from inside Ben's jacket, setting his shirt on fire in the process. Ben has since undergone seven skin grafts and is continuing to receive steroid injections to help stretch and soften the skin.

A rogue firework exploded from inside Ben’s jacket, setting his shirt on fire in the process. Ben has since undergone seven skin grafts and is continuing to receive steroid injections to help stretch and soften the skin.

Amy McCabe, whose son Ben was injured at a street firework display, has called on the public to choose the safer option of attending an organised display. Ben was four-years-old when he was left with permanent scarring after he was hit by a firework at the display held in a residential cul-de-sac in Cumbernauld, near Glasgow.

The rogue firework exploded from inside his jacket, setting his shirt on fire in the process. The firework, which had fallen over in the wet grass after being lit, flew off into the crowd at such speed, that initially spectators were none the wiser. It was not until Ben started screaming in pain that people realised he had been hit. Despite Ben’s jacket being zipped up to his chin moments earlier, the firework had somehow found its way inside. Surgeons told Ben’s mother Amy, 37, that her son would be scarred for life after suffering third degree burns to his chest, neck, under his right arm and behind his left ear. Ben who is now six-years-old has since undergone seven skin grafts and is continuing to receive steroid injections to help stretch and soften the skin.

Data collected across Britain in previous years shows that, on average, around 1,000 people visit A&E for treatment of a firework-related injury in the four weeks around Bonfire Night, with half of the injuries being suffered by under-18s. The minimum age for buying fireworks is 18 across the UK. Only buy fireworks from a reputable retailer and ensure the packaging carries the ‘CE’ mark or is marked with ‘BS 7114’.

RoSPA’s fireworks website – – provides details on UK law, tips for setting up a display and the Firework Code:

  • Plan your fireworks display to make it safe and enjoyable
  • Keep fireworks in a closed box and use them one at a time
  • Read and follow the instructions on each firework using a torch if necessary
  • Light the firework at arm’s length with a taper and stand well back
  • Keep naked flames, including cigarettes, away from fireworks
  • Never return to a firework once it has been lit
  • Don’t put fireworks in pockets and never throw them
  • Direct any rocket fireworks well away from spectators
  • Never use paraffin or petrol on a bonfire
  • Make sure that the fire is out and surroundings are made safe before leaving.

Have a wonderful time and wrap up warm! I hear it might be a chilly one!

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

7 October, 2013

Parents – let us fuel your knowledge on battery risks to children

What do key fobs, musical toy books and calculators all have in common? All three, along with some remote controls and other electrical devices are powered by small button cell batteries.


The poster by Newcastle City Council’s Trading Standards department on button cell batteries.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is warning parents about the dangers of children swallowing these batteries as with more and more compact electronic devices appearing in the home, the risk of children swallowing these small batteries is increasing.

We all know that very young children find out about the world by putting things in their mouths, but what many parents don’t realise is that lithium batteries react with saliva so that they leak acid within as little as an hour.

Therefore, if a child swallows a battery it can cause severe trauma, such as burning a hole in their throat or stomach or further damage to other internal organs within a few hours.

The Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit in Australia estimates that four children a week are admitted to hospital after swallowing batteries. Meanwhile, the National Capitol Poison Centre in the USA reports that there are around 3,500 incidents a year where swallowed batteries require urgent treatment. Newcastle City Council’s trading standards officers also launched a safety campaign highlighting this issue this year in a proactive approach to preventing further injuries.

So what can we all do to protect our children from these dangers? Some products (predominantly toys) have lockable battery compartments and these should mean that they are safe for our children to use.

Keep little hands safe from harmful button cell batteries.

Keep little hands safe from button cell batteries.

Other products though, such as musical greeting cards, flameless candles and remote controls do not have lockable compartments, and so it is with these products that parents need to be extra vigilant.

RoSPA advises that children should not be allowed to have access to these products if the battery compartment is not secure. Also, it is a very good idea to ensure that spare batteries are locked away, and used batteries are disposed of correctly.

Most importantly, if your child does swallow a button cell battery you should, seek medical advice immediately. Remember that the saliva in their body will react with the battery and so time is very much of the essence in these cases.

It is always better to be safe than sorry, so please look after your little ones, especially as Christmas is approaching.

For more information about child safety or please see our RoSPA advice pages or RoSPA product safety pages.

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA’s product safety consultant.

24 July, 2013

The danger of scrimping on fireplace installation costs

We all want our homes to look fantastic and price cuts to fireplaces and large televisions in recent years are very tempting. Most people love a bargain, but when buying wall-mounted televisions or fireplace surrounds, the focus is often on the price of the product and not the wider costs of having them safely installed in the home.

HomeFor a television this can mean paying up to £100 for an appropriate bracket and an additional £50-£100 to have that bracket properly fixed to the wall by a professional. For fireplace surrounds, safe fitting by a professional can add more than £100 to the overall cost of the product.

The tragic case of four-year-old Matthew Green, who was killed when a fireplace surround fell on him, has prompted the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise awareness in this area of safety, which unfortunately often gets overlooked.

The HSE issued a specific warning about modular, stone or artificial stone fireplace surrounds and the importance of their safe installation.  The key issue is about the fireplace surround falling, particularly onto children.  Toddlers can also try to climb up these surrounds, which can bring them crashing down onto the child.sofa_girl2

Individual components of these fireplaces can weigh more than 50kgs and the mantelpiece may also have a significant overhang, projecting forward from the lintel.  Unless fitted in a secure manner, this makes the mantel, in particular, liable to topple off the lintel.

RoSPA has been aware of problems with fireplace surrounds for the past few years and we are concerned that this seems to be developing into a significant issue.  Our advice is to do three things when buying one of these products:

  • Seek professional advice BEFORE buying the product.  Get assurance that the product you intend to buy is suitable and safe for your home
  • Get quotes for the fireplace surround AND fitting in advance.  Ensure that the combined cost is within your price range
  • Get the fireplace surround fitted by a professional.

In recent years, RoSPA has also issued warnings about the dangers of big, unstable flat screen televisions falling or being pulled onto toddlers, causing deaths and serious injuries. We are pleased to note that this issue appears to have been accepted by a number of retailers who are now promoting their professional installation service, encouraging homeowners to spend a few extra pounds on getting their expensive new television professionally installed.


Additionally, there are now safety straps that can be bought for less than £10 to secure screens that are on top of cupboards and other areas, to stop them from toppling over.

In summary, both fireplace surrounds and televisions are normally perfectly safe at the point of purchase.  It is when they are fitted that they then become unsafe, especially if proper installation is not given the priority it deserves.

Yes, this can cost more, and yes, this may mean a wait until a professional can fit the product. But these are small prices to pay when you consider the injuries and deaths that unsafe installations have caused over the years.

For more information about safety advice, please visit

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA’s product safety adviser.

28 June, 2013

Safety is order of the day for new Scottish parliamentary group

There are extremely exciting times ahead in terms of tackling unnecessary deaths and injuries in Scotland…

Sensible safety is the order of the day – it’s not about wrapping everyone up in cotton wool, but about parents, carers, teachers, employers and others all having a role to play in empowering people to make their own decisions about safety, based on the facts.

Safe At Home 034

Children can easily get hold of toxic cleaning products if safety catches are not put on cupboards.

Sometimes the facts have been difficult to find of late as the collection of useful data, or rather lack of it, is a frequently discussed matter. But obviously, the more we know about how an accident happened, the more we can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

A new Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness has been set up in the Scottish Parliament which can delve more deeply into how and why accidents happen. This will be a fantastic opportunity to bring together politicians, practitioners and the public to discuss not only the everyday dangers we might face at home, on the roads, near water, in schools, or at work, but more importantly to offer practical solutions to avoid serious injuries that can usually be prevented.

I’ve been with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) for 18 years and have worked in both the home and road safety sections. I also have my NEBOSH National Certificate in Occupational Safety as well as a Masters degree in Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion.  All of the above has led me to look at safety from a holistic point of view and not as being compartmentalised into separate silos.

If a child, for example, is injured in the home, then it is very likely that a parent will take time away from work to see to that child, take them to hospital or care for them if they need to be off school. Therefore, employers should be interested in safety in the home “off the job” as well as safety in the workplace.  Small to medium enterprises in particular will depend more on their few key members of staff and should think about helping employees to prevent accidents happening to themselves or their families at home or on the road.

Elizabeth Lumsden from RoSPA with MSP Clare Adamson

Elizabeth Lumsden from RoSPA (left) with MSP Clare Adamson

Importantly, everyone has a role to play in ensuring places are as safe as they need to be, while also recognising that we still need the freedom to do those exciting (and healthy) activities we relish in our leisure time.

Politicians and government officials have an array of policies within the respective administrations of the countries of the UK to help them make big decisions.  But dare I say that, perhaps, when policy decisions are made at these senior positions, it can be difficult to track whether they have been converted into practice at a grassroots level?

Unfortunately, well meaning, well researched guidance intended to be used at a local level might not always be translated into a practical solution suitable for the communities they were intended for.

I am, however, delighted that this new Cross Party Group has emerged and that RoSPA Scotland is providing the secretariat for it. Convened by MSP Clare Adamson, the group also includes committee members: James Dornan MSP (SNP) as vice-convener; Alison Johnstone (Green Party); Jim Hume MSP (Liberal Democrats); David Stewart MSP (Labour Party); and Liz Smith MSP (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party).

childChild safety was the key topic at the group’s first meeting at the Scottish Parliament in June when the potential poisoning dangers of children getting their hands on toxic cleaning products, like liquitabs, were highlighted. Discussions also focussed on a new partnership between RoSPA and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to provide education and practical solutions to families across the city on this issue, like keeping cupboard doors fitted with a catch. Discussions also looked at the wider issue of how families can prevent accidents from happening in their homes.

The inaugural meeting of the Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness at the Scottish Parliament

The inaugural meeting of the Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness at the Scottish Parliament

Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, even joined in with this inaugural session and noted RoSPA’s recent work with the Early Years Collaborative to provide home safety education to 800 families across Scotland, along with providing, and most importantly, fitting the safety equipment they require.

The meeting room in the Scottish Parliament was full to capacity with people who had travelled the length and breadth of Scotland (and beyond) to attend this first meeting.  It was overwhelming to see so many senior people from a wide variety of disciplines – trading standards, environmental health, motoring organisations, community safety, education for example.

The lack of meaningful data came up time and time again in discussions, and particularly “why are we still not getting this right?” I have a suspicion this topic will be back on the agenda at future meetings.  Watch this space!

Further meetings will take place on October 2, November 27 and January 29 next year, and members are keen to hear from the public about topics they feel need to be raised. Anyone with suggestions, no matter how big or small, should email me at:

As I said, it’s an exciting time and we want to bring everyone along with us.

Elizabeth Lumsden, community safety manager at RoSPA Scotland and secretary of the Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness.

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