Better Safe Than Sorry

Abstract:Last year’s record number of product recalls involving 110 million products was the largest number of recalls the U.S. has seen in ten years. Media attention focused on children’s toys made in China, but food, drug, and pet products were included in the recalls as well. These events highlight the problems associated with doing business with unproven suppliers overseas. If products are defective or cause injury, the company bringing the product into the country will bear the liability and costs. Last year’s recalls were the result of U.S. corporations’ failures in design reviews, product safety and hazard analysis efforts, product testing, or in-process quality control. Quality programs don’t offer much protection from recalls. To understand the entire scope of product safety and liability prevention, everyone must understand the potential issues and get on the same page. A sidebar article details the ins and outs of product safety and liability …

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The article does a good job at bringing awareness for product safety mishaps. I speacially like the "Product Safety, Liability Protection" section, however, I think articles like these should close the loop providing answers rather than just questions. It has been my experience that management typically looks for someone to bring awareness and with it a blue print or road map to the solution. As quality professionals we can influence to set an infrastructure in place, however, the parameters or the how to get it done seems to be the black hole that nobody wants to touch or don't know how to. So the question is...we got awareness, where do we go from there to our management?
--Dieter, 05-19-2008

The review missed a key reason for safety mishaps. The following true story is a good way to describe it. (It did not happen at my present company.)

An engineer wrote a report that contained a warning that a new design could be dangerous if the customer failed to follow certain procedures. It was olbvious to all that the old design did not have this drawback. Nevertheless, the company chose to market a product using the new design.

Several years later the legal department gave a presentation on the dangers of what employees say in documents. They used the engineer's warning as an example of what not to say.

A scientist in the audience suggested that the engineer was just doing his job by issuing a warning when a warning is appropriate. He further suggested that the multimillion dollar liability suit was the fault of whomever chose to ignore the engineer's warning.

The suggestion was very definitely not appreciated by the upper management people present. (The scientist no longer works there.)

When upper management encourages a corporate culture like that, other hazardous products will be produced because people will learn that speaking up is bad for their career.
--Friedman, 05-15-2008

A very good review. There are additional steps that can be taken, however, with the focus on complete communication of design, engineering and other specifications with the off-short subcontractor. Contracted suppliers off-shore are to be controlled to a set of specifications particularly manufacturing process steps. The subcontractors/suppliers to the controlled prime contractor off-shore may not be controlled, however, and that is the source of potential problems. For example, lack of control of subcontractors was the cause of lead paint being used where it should not have been (subcontractors were switched mid-production run) in at least one example as reported in the media. In addition to the design steps mentioned in this article the manufacturing processes need to be specifically documented step-by-step in detail (in the language necessary) for off-shore contracting. The entire flow of documentation needs to be reviewed to insure all requirements are communicated and flow through not only to the prime contractor but are passed-down to the subcontractors/suppliers. Insuring thorough manufacturing steps as requirements may not have been necessary with subcontracting & suppliers in the U. S. - it is mandatory at off-shore subcontractors.
--Larry G. DeVries, 05-05-2008

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