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Basic Elements of Product Safety Engineering

Product safety and public expectation

"Manufacturers have a responsibility to produce products that satisfy the safety expectations of society." (American National Standards Institute, Guidelines for Organizing a Product Safety Program, 1978)
"The public does have special expectations of technical people. Engineers, designers, and other technically trained people do have special responsibilities to the rest of society with respect to personal safety. Society invests in the training and professional development of technical people. Concomitantly, society invests with the professions and their institutions certain trusts, among them a trust that the professions will watch over the well being of society, including its safety. Professional responsibility is based on the belief that the power conferred by expertise entails a fiduciary relationship to society." (William W. Lowrance, Of Acceptable Risk, 1976)

Basic elements of product safety management and engineering

Product safety engineering involves the application of the principles of safety engineering to the design and marketing of products. Basic elements of product safety programming are designed to identify and evaluate potential product hazards for systematic control using the techniques of safety management and safety engineering. Generally, basic elements of product safety programming include (but are not limited to):

  • A clear, explicit, and documented statement of product safety policy.

  • A clear, explicit, and documented assignment of individual responsibility for the conduct of product safety activity.

  • A clear, explicit, and documented product safety program plan outlining the specific steps, procedures, and techniques to be followed on conducting product safety activity during the product design and marketing processes to achieve product safety goals.

  • As a starting point, a documented search for authoritative literature and relevant standards relating to a potential safety concerns associated with the product to be designed or marketed.

  • The conduct of explicit and documented activity giving attention to the systematic discovery or identification of reasonably anticipated potential product or system hazards, followed by an evaluation of those hazards in terms of associated risk factors (likely loss event probability and severity).

  • The documented use of the core concepts and principles of safety management and safety engineering, and the cardinal rules of hazard control, to reasonably eliminate or minimize unacceptable product hazards (though, in order of preference and effectiveness, use of design, safeguarding, or warning means).

To summarize, an effective product safety program must (a) formally declare to all personnel that product safety is important, (b) assign responsibility to specific individuals (or heads of departments) to assure product safety during the product design, manufacturing, and marketing process, (c) establish specific activity to identify and evaluate potential product hazards based on reasonably foreseeable conditions of product use, (d) utilize reasonably well established and available safety standards and guidelines to design hazards out of products "on the drawing board," (e) add components or devices to products to safeguard the remaining hazards, and following this, (f) provide adequate product warnings and instructions that address hazards that must remain part of the product design (cannot be reasonably eliminated or controlled through design means) or are inherent to product use.

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