Engineers and safety professionals spend a great deal of professional time on safety issues in the workplace. There is a whole body of knowledge used by professionals in this area that includes OSHA regulations, EPA regulations, transportation regulations and many other standards and practices such as those published by ANSI, the National Safety Council and other organizations. Although many injuries are prevented through the efforts of these professionals, workers are still injured on the job.
Outside the workplace there is the world of the ordinary consumer. There is a comparable body of knowledge that governs the design of consumer products, retail areas, and other areas open to the public. This includes CPSC standards, ANSI standards, UL standards, and other practices. The same engineering principles and practices used in workplace situations are also applicable in the design of consumer products and public areas. But is the "after hours" world reasonably safe or is it "let the buyer beware?"
Every year thousands of consumers are injured or killed by defective products. Others may be injured or killed in retail establishments. Warehouse superstores, a combination of the industrial warehouse and retail store, expose shoppers to new risks of injury from powered industrial trucks and falling merchandise. There are also hazards in public places such as playgrounds and other recreational areas.
This paper will take a look at consumer safety. First, several government agencies that regulate consumer products, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission will be discussed. Next, engineering design practices will be presented. These practices include techniques to identify hazards, foreseeable use and misuse, eliminating hazards through engineering design, and the use of warnings. Retail store safety will also be discussed. Lastly, real world case studies will demonstrate the application of engineering design and safety principles. Consumers should not have to settle for "what you see is what you get" when there is a body of engineering knowledge governing the design of consumer products.
In 1970 the National Commission on Product Safety issued a report which concluded that millions of consumers were being injured by defective products. Based on this report Congress enacted the Consumer Product Safety Act. This law, which became effective in 1972, set up the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as the agency to oversee consumer product safety. The agency has four main objectives: to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury, to assist consumers in evaluating the safety of products, to develop uniform standards, and to promote research and investigation into causes of product related injuries. CPSC safety standards include architectural glazing materials, matchbooks, walk-behind lawnmowers, swimming pool slides, and automatic residential garage door openers.