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At the 30th Annual Product Liability Conference held recently at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, there was a lot of talk about safely integrating IoT when designing products. This went hand-in-hand on how to prepare individuals on how to effectively use smart products without misusing them. But, in order to ensure products aren’t misused, they must have the appropriate warning labels. Ultimately, an array of elements go into creating devices and products that are not only safe, but follow stringent protocols.  

Components Galore

Speaker Kenneth Ross, counsel for product liability prevention at Bowman and Brooke, says the ultimate goal for product engineers and manufacturers is to not have an accident, and prove all the components in a product are safe and appropriate to stand up to stipulations.

Kenneth Ross
Product Liability and Product Safety Lawyer

 

Take, for instance, a steering column that has 100 to 400 components. Ross says companies are relying on others for all these components, and the company purchasing these components needs to follow procedures to make sure the end product steering column is safe. Sometimes, component manufacturers don’t know what their products are being used for, but oftentimes this isn’t the case, says Ross. In order to ensure safe products and parts, companies must be transparent for what application their product should be used.

For example, Ross gave the example of a hot air balloon manufacturer using Velcro to attach parts to a hot air balloon. When there was an accident, Velcro knew they were selling to a hot air balloon company, and Velcro had a duty to tell how it should be used properly (attaching parts with Velcro to a huge flying machine may not have been the best use).

In order to ensure safe products, Ross recommends spending more time on parts that will cause harm if there is a defect. In addition, he says to include instruction manuals and important warnings, but to ensure these elements get to the end user.

“You’re responsible as an OEM to develop a safe and responsible product,” says Ross. “Work together to create a safe product.”

Other instances of misused products include jaw implants that used Teflon, concrete used in a water pump and many more instances.

Label It Right

Another way to keep products from being misused and to keep users informed is to include the correct warning and instructions label. Ultimately, a product can be found defective if there is a warning defect, says Angela Lambert, head of standards compliance at Clarion Safety Systems.

Angela Lambert
Head of Standards Compliance

 

According to Lambert, product designers should first understand the foreseeable use and hazards of their product for which to consider warning labels. When a product undergoes a product risk assessment, this process might try to mitigate the hazard, but oftentimes it’s not possible to completely get rid of the hazard, so a warning label has to be put on the product.

Lambert says companies should make sure the safety sign harmonizes with the product and provides the most information in order to avoid the hazard. This isn’t always as easy as it seems.

“Even though there are these global symbols, it’s still being done consistently wrong,” says Lambert. “There’s no need to clutter and put three warnings on top of one another, or put different sizes and colors all over your product.”

For instance, an example of a poor warning label would be a label that says, “Danger High Voltage.” Because the label does not tell an individual the specific avoidance or the action in order to avoid the interaction, it does a poor job at communicating the hazard. Lambert says a good warning label would include, “Danger: blade hazard, keep hands clear while operating and lock out power before servicing.”

Lambert notes that although the signal words “Danger, Warning and Caution” are used quite frequently, each word indicates a different hazardous result when using a product. “Danger” indicates the hazard will result in serious injury or death. “Warning” signifies it could result in serious injury or death, and “Caution” means the hazard could result in minor or moderate injury.

Although some may want to be overly cautious and put “Danger” on their warning label no matter the product, Lambert warns there is a downside to using “Danger,” because users might consider it too dangerous of product to use.

It is vital to create safe products, but even with rigid protocols and warning labels, it has begun to get more complicated with the integration of technology.

Part Two of this conference session writeup will discuss how products connected to the internet pose high-security risks, and how to mitigate people from misusing technological products.

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