One of our members got a serious fright when his glass table "exploded". When you're over 80 you really don't need this sort of shock – so he asked us to put out a warning.

Our member's table was made of toughened safety glass. This is created by heating glass so that stresses are set up inside. This makes the glass stronger. In the unlikely event of a breakage, the toughened glass shatters into small crumb-like particles that are much less likely to cause injury than large shards of ordinary glass.

Because the glass is highly stressed, spontaneous shattering is possible. A small impurity in new glass can create a trigger point that sets off an "explosion". Heating and cooling of the glass can also do this. In older glass, scratches may trigger spontaneous shattering. Our member's table was 6 years old and was outside, so heating and cooling could have contributed to the bang.

It's not just tables. Any house built or substantially renovated since 1993 is likely to have safety glass – either toughened or laminated – in windows and glass doors, glass splash-backs, shower doors and screens, glass canopies, structural glass walls, partitions and balustrades. You may also have safety glass in your rangehood, oven or stove, cookware, pot lids and tableware. A lot of this could be toughened safety glass.

Exploding toughened glass is relatively uncommon. When we get complaints they usually involve new ovens – especially one brand or even one model, which indicates that a batch of safety glass has problems. The Consumer Guarantees Act entitles you to replacement glass.

Try to find out if glass in your house is toughened or laminated. Laminated safety glass doesn’t have the potential to explode.

We say

  • Be careful about cleaning toughened glass – take off your diamond rings to minimise the risk of scratching it.
  • If you’re buying a glass table, check that it’s safety glass and what kind. Then compare tables. Choose a table with thicker glass: this is less likely to break or shatter.

Tip: If you buy a house built before 1993, chances are that doors with glass panes, ranch sliders and windows that go to floor level are not safety glass. In any area where boisterous playing is likely, consider fitting safety glass – at least to above adult-waist-height.

About the author:

Hamish Wilson has been working for Consumer forever. Well, at least longer than most of our staff can remember! He's tested old technology such as video recorders along with a steady stream of the latest washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, TVs and DVD recorders.

It's the variety that keeps him here. There's always new technology to explore, or even to go exploring with. It can be entertaining following directions from car navigation systems through dead end streets.