Product safety depends mainly on two components:
- Avoiding restricted substances – both the standards and the way to conduct chemical tests are relatively clear.
- Making sure no user will get hurt — there are many murky issues here, especially when it involves mechanical product features.
I got great examples from Jo Van Landeghem, Quality Assurance and Safety Department Manager at C&A.
One of the most sensitive categories is baby items. Small parts that can be ingested are a big problem because a baby might choke and die:
First example: a zipper from a well know brand is sewn into a baby sleeping bag but the zipper train and puller is of the kind with a “non end zipper stop” so it can easily be removed when required. Now these zippers are for a specific usage but certainly not for a small baby product that could remove the zipper part by himself when unsupervised in his “safe” cot bed.
And these babies put everything in their mouths believe me, that’s how nature programmed us at that age.
But many other unforeseen issues can come up:
Second example for those people buying for themselves baby products or as a gift for someone expecting a new baby. They might have come across the “cot bed set”. It has a cot duvet, or baby sleep bag in combination with a cot “bumper”. Now it looks all very nice and safe but what many do not realise is that these bumpers designed to “protect” baby from hitting the head against the cot bed are actually causing CO2 build up sometimes causing cot death.
Now as nature intended a baby needs to hit his head against objects like the cot bed as that is part of learning and discovering the world around.
As harsh as that might seem the baby will not die from hitting the bed a couple of times at worst the baby might cry once or twice.
A proper cot bed is designed to achieve a good airflow and follows a measurement standard so heads do not get stuck in between pillars or have sharp edges and so on.
Over time babies become more agile and some are agile very quick so they will even use the cot bumper to stand on and climb out of the “safe” cot bet.
Guess what happens when the get over the edge of the cot bed…
Jo is also involved in the development of safety directives and new EN standards at the EU level. So he has an opinion about the ever-expanding set of standards:
Now I do need to add that yes some “safety” requirements are overdone in my opinion/experience and cause more damage than they solve issues.
But applying some common sense very often does the trick when you need to decide on design and safety requirements in your own company. As a consumer you can take these very nicely decorative cot bumpers out and choose not to use them. Yes, even parents do have there responsibility to watch over their kids.
There is an interesting tradeoff here.
On the one hand, we need standards to protect consumers. Manufacturers and importers should give some thought to the safety of their products. Nobody would accept to buy a TV set that overheats and goes up in flames (in their house) after 3 hours in operation.
On the other hand, piling up regulations on top of other regulations drives importers toward more complexity and more legal risks. If European safety standards become as complex as the French labor law, very few people will know and understand them. Unreasonable recalls are a threat to honest businesses.
Also, one of our consultants thinks standards are mostly a nuisance because they make it harder for small businesses to start or to stay alive. And small businesses are those that create jobs (on a macroeconomic scale), while big businesses tend to destroy jobs (again, on average).
So, where to draw the line between “not enough requirements” and “too many requirements”? And should a batch of 10,000 baby cribs be recalled and destroyed because 1 baby died?