Teaching Design Safety Early

Nancy Cowles

Children's Product Safety and KID's TEST Program

Kids In Danger was founded in 1998 after the death of Danny Keysar in a recalled portable crib. Danny's parents first set out to warn other parents of recalled products - something KID still does 14 years later. But they soon realized that the real hazard was products reaching the market without adequate safety standards or testing. KID's president, Linda Ginzel, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, attended her first juvenile products meetings of ASTM International's Committee F15 on Consumer Products in 2000.

KID continues to participate actively in F15's juvenile products subcommittees, lending a consumer voice to the discussions on performance requirements and testing on products from cribs to slings, from toys to highchairs. KID's participation in voluntary standards development is a vital part of its mission.

KID's mission is three pronged: advocating for children, educating parents and caregivers about dangerous products, and promoting the development of safer children's products. But the organization's leadership realized there was a need to do more to influence engineers and designers to think differently about product safety. So KID launched TEST: Teach Early Safety Testing. With this program, the goal is to reach tomorrow's designers and engineers through undergraduate education. KID works with student design teams, professors and organizations to provide the engineering classroom with the same consumer viewpoint it brings to ASTM International.

The TEST objectives are to introduce undergraduate engineering students to design safety concepts, especially with regard to children's products. Examples from past incidents or recalls illustrate design flaws that have led to serious injury. In the classroom or workshop setting, KID engages students in discussions on key design and engineering concepts with real life examples. Students start thinking in new ways about end users and the foreseeable uses of a product. The student design teams are able to review a recalled product, an incident report or a pattern of incidents and make design changes to produce a safer product.

The first TEST student team in 2003 at the University of Michigan looked at the portable crib design that killed Keysar and 18 other children, and redesigned the folding mechanism to eliminate the entrapment hazard. Another team developed visual and audio cues that alert parents when a stroller is not fully engaged in the open position - addressing false latching that caused strollers to collapse while occupied. At Northwestern University, where KID works with first-year teams, a design solution was developed for infant monitors. In addition to addressing overheating issues that had caused recalls, the teams, rather than design an eye-catching cute nursery product, went in the other direction, making the product as unnoticeable and neutral as possible to lessen the likelihood that a baby or toddler would find it appealing and reach for the corded device.

These are just a few of the dozens of projects that have addressed known or emerging hazards. Just as the students use ASTM International standards in developing their prototypes, insights from the student projects have been integrated into future ASTM standards.

The vital design concepts that TEST addresses - end user analysis, human factors and use of standards to respond to known hazards - all transfer to any type of design work. But it is KID's hope that as TEST engages more students and universities, the designers of tomorrow's children's products will be designing with safety foremost in their minds.

Nancy Cowles is executive director of Kids in Danger, Chicago, Ill., and a member of ASTM International Committee F15 on Consumer Products.

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