Buyer, beware!

September 9, 2010
By: Eric Lundin

A colleague recently sent around some photos of the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago. If you saw these photos too, you probably recall seeing the glass-bottomed ledge. If you’d like an unobstructed view of Chicago from 1,353 feet up, this is for you.

 The photos came with a short narrative that said that adults tend to be a lot more cautious than children about stepping onto the ledge. Why would that be? Trying to imagine the mindset of a 10-year-old, I suspect that a child’s perspective is akin to “They wouldn’t have built it if it weren’t safe.”

 Adults naturally have a more cautious view, especially those who own any of the products that were recalled recently—various Toyota models, a Char-Broil vertical gas smoker, a 2010 Kawasaki model KLX110 off-road motorcycle,  or a DePuy ASR XL Acetabular System (an artificial hip). If you go to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Web site and spend enough time there, you’ll probably get an entirely new perspective on the products you buy and use every day.

 The aforementioned are sophisticated devices, requiring no small amount of engineering, testing, and so on. On one hand, it would be asking a lot to insist on every one of these devices working flawlessly every time it was put to use; on the other hand, we expect the engineering and testing to be thorough enough to prevent unintended acceleration, explosions, and whatnot. I suppose this is a debate that will never end.

Moving along, another aspect of this caught my attention recently: the simple products that don’t perform as expected. Imagine that you’re using a sledge hammer and the head suddenly sails off the handle; or your lawn tractor’s fuel line is too long and can come into contact with moving parts, posing a fire hazard; or the wiring in your drill press can be pinched, leading to a shock hazard. What gives? It shouldn’t be that hard to assemble a sledge hammer, cut a fuel line to the correct length, or route some wires carefully so they don’t get pinched.

 It gets better. If you think stainless steel is stainless, think again. Enter “rusty stainless steel” into your Web browser and see how many results you get. Many of the discussions center on silverware, and plenty of advice is available for getting rid of the rust and preventing it from forming again, but I noticed a lack of outrage. Little ranting and raving about substandard imported junk steel going into supposedly stainless products.

I see a bigger problem than iron oxide showing up where it shouldn’t be. Much bigger. If we can’t get the simple things right, how can we expect to get the complex things right?
Eric Lundin

Eric Lundin

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8262