Among the first welcome signs of spring across Canada are garage sales. However, whether you are an eager garage sale buyer hunting for "deals" or a determined lawn sale seller out to cash-in on the sale of accumulated "treasures," you may be in for more trouble than you bargained for. (The same holds true when shopping at resale stores, accepting hand-me-downs or taking advantage of curbside shopping on rubbish day.)

Safety in yard sales is a two-way street," says Emile Therien, president of the Canada Safety Council. "They're a bargain hunter's delight, but no matter how low the price, if your find endangers you, your family or anyone else, it's not a good deal."

Children's items are a popular draw at garage and yard sales, but beware.

  • Cribs made before September 1986 don't meet current safety standards and can't be fixed to meet these standards.
  • Strollers made before 1985 may not meet current standards.
  • Accordion-style baby gates made of wood or hard plastic with diamond-shaped openings and large V's at the top can no longer be sold in Canada since children ( and perhaps pets ) can get caught in the openings and strangle themselves.
  • Lawn darts with elongated tips can no longer be sold in Canada.
  • Toys must pass flammability, electrical and thermal risk, and toxicological testing.

    The Canada Safety Council strongly cautions against buying used helmets and car seats. Seats that have been in a collision must not be used again and seats older than 10 years are unsafe because plastic deteriorates.

    Toy chests are another cause for concern. Buying an old cedar chest to use as a toy box may be a great design move, but these chests can close and lock with an airtight seal, trapping your child inside. Lane Home Furnishings, which began building cedar chests in 1912, will provide a free safer replacement lock for their pre-1987 chests ( including Virginia Maid Chests ) if you call 1-888-856-8758 or register at their site.

    Electrical appliances are another danger area. Make sure the item has a CSA certification mark. Your insurance company may disallow your claim if the appliance is not properly certified and starts a fire. If you are attracted to vintage toasters and the like, have the appliance checked by a qualified repair shop before you plug it in.

    Garage sale sellers beware

    Checking the liability section of your home insurance policy may be a wise if seemingly extreme pre-sale precaution, but did you realize you may be unnecessarily exposing yourself to liability when you haul your forgotten "treasures" out on to your lawn? Therien points out that it is illegal to sell hazardous or unsafe items.

    "If you are caught selling items that don't meet safety standards you can be held responsible if someone is injured from a product you sold to them," he explained. "Even with informal transactions such as those at yard sales, vendors must take responsibility."

    Canada's Hazardous Products Act, which sets safety requirements for many products, provides heavy fines and even prison sentences for serious violations. Contact your local municipal office to find out what items are considered hazardous and how to safely dispose of them.

    In a world where increasing numbers of Canadians live by the 3 R's (reduce, reuse, recycle), it is important to make sure saving money or the environment does not put anyone's safety at risk.

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