Curriculum materials to encourage the integration of safety into design for the undergraduate engineering student
Developed by Kids In Danger, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting children by improving children’s product safety.
Funding provided by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.
Kids In Danger
116 W. Illinois Street, Suite 4E
Chicago, Illinois 60654
Kids In Danger (KID)
KID’s TEST Program
How to use these materials
Teach Early Safety Testing: Curriculum
Goals and Objectives of Individual Lessons
Lesson Plan Title: Safety Matters
Lesson Plan Title: Ethics in Engineering
Projects for Student Teams
In 2003, Kids In Danger, a Chicago based non-profit organization, conducted a review of safety approaches among college engineering programs and found little design safety education in the undergraduate curriculum. No courses were found that emphasized safety, or even used the word "safety" in the syllabus. In June 2004, Kids In Danger surveyed 46 students in the Mechanical Engineering program at the University of Michigan. Although the sample size was small, a few trends were apparent. Only 33% felt any confidence in their ability to test their designs for safety, and about a third expressed a desire to take a class on safety standards and issues.
This gap in education about design safety was troubling in light of the numerous design flaws in the juvenile product manufacturing industry (Why Are So Many Children Killed or Injured by Unsafe Products? by Megan Word, Chicago Parent, February 2002). It suggests that engineering education could benefit from more coverage of the methods and tools necessary to ensure the safe design of products.
The National Society of Professional Engineers’ Code of Ethics makes clear that professional engineers must “[h]old paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public," and yet teaching hazard analysis and risk prevention does not appear to be a major priority in engineering education. Given the myriad of other topics and facts engineering students must master, it is understandable that finding time to focus on safety in product design has been difficult. It is the hope of KID that these materials will provide easy means to incorporate this lifesaving information into engineering programs.
Until the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, manufacturers of most children’s products were not required by the government to test their products for safety before placing them on the market. As that safety law continues to be implemented, most safety testing or standards are still part of a voluntary system. The shortcomings of this system are clear, as many dangerous products are only discovered and recalled after injuring or even killing children. Even mandatory safety standards do not require in-depth hazard analysis or address all hazards. It is up to the engineers who design products to ensure that their designs are as safe as possible.
To ensure safe product development, engineers need to employ comprehensive, scientific hazard analysis techniques. No standard methodology exists, but many techniques reach an objective estimate of risk, thereby preventing design flaws and product failure. It is the purpose of this curriculum to challenge future engineers to design products with public safety as a primary concern. Being aware of how a product is used in daily life is an important component to making a safe product. Design cannot be done without that knowledge.
The TEST curriculum will prepare engineering students for the dynamic between professional and social responsibilities, and broaden their awareness of product interactions and safe design. The curriculum addresses ethical, health, safety, and social concerns, as well as standards and professional constraints.
KID has undertaken outreach projects on children's product safety with a variety of public constituencies. We found that caregivers, health care providers, legislators, and policymakers take action to reduce dangers once made aware of the risk. We believe the same holds true for engineering students. We envision TEST as contributing to safety-conscious product development.
Students who have participated previously with the TEST program have spoken highly of the interesting and interactive nature of the program. One student stated, “I learned to look into the smaller details of designing something safely. It is not something I had much experience with in school at the time. It is definitely a good skill to learn as a future engineer.” From TEST, students can take away a multitude of lessons and skills; a student said when asked what he learned from his experience with KID, “It is important to look deeper into how a design will be used and all possible failures of a product. Negligence in this has been disastrous in the past and such mistakes should be learned from for the future.”
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Kids In Danger (KID) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting children by improving children's product safety. KID was founded in 1998 by University of Chicago professors Linda Ginzel and Boaz Keysar, after the death of their son Danny. Danny died in his Chicago child care home when a portable crib collapsed around his neck. Although the crib had been recalled five years earlier, word of its danger had not reached Danny's parents, caregiver, or the state inspector who visited the home just days before Danny's death. Subsequent legal documents show the product had not been adequately tested for safety before it was sold.
KID’s vision is a system that ensures the safety of all children through stringent standards, independent testing and a commitment from government and manufacturers that safety is their priority. Our goal is to make every parent aware of how to protect children from unsafe products before they leave the hospital with their newborn. We want every manufacturer and engineer committed to strong safety standards and independent testing before any children’s product reaches store shelves.
KID has designed the Teach Early Safety Testing (TEST) project to promote the development of safe products by integrating children’s product safety, standards, and testing practices into the engineering curriculum. TEST has allowed students to examine product design from a unique perspective and redesign various children’s products with an emphasis on user safety first and foremost. Students have redesigned numerous common child and infant products and created innovative prototypes.
Our goal is to encourage engineering students to think about safety in design from the onset of their careers. While KID’s interest and this curriculum focus on children’s product safety, we believe the activities and tenets can be easily transferred to designing for any population. The topics covered are particularly applicable to other vulnerable populations such as the elderly or disabled.
The TEST curriculum focuses on understanding product design, how standards work, safety considerations at various stages of design, ethical engineering practices, human factors, end users, the importance of safety considerations, and design ethnography among other topics. Design ethnography, a key element for safety design, is the study and incorporation of foreseeable product (mis)use in daily life that helps to account for product failure and thus allows engineers to design around these issues.
Lesson plans, PowerPoints, and student projects within the program are designed to be flexible and fit the individual needs of each university and professor. Additionally, the program can easily be adapted to other groups beyond children such as the disabled and elderly. Safety considerations are an integral part in the design of any commodity. The TEST program enables future engineers to understand and develop the necessary skills to incorporate safety into their future work and prevent harmful injuries and deaths from dangerous products
These materials allow professors to integrate safety awareness easily into their courses. The lessons provide the materials needed to cover the basics of safety in product design that KID believes every engineer or product designer needs to assess risk and design safe products. The project ideas are intended as ways to evaluate the students’ progress as well as to educate them about safety. The course materials can be used together as a unit or can be integrated into other lectures and class activities. Please contact KID at any time if you have any questions, suggestions, or requests for additional material. KID can also provide other services including leading discussions related to product safety design, introducing TEST, testing the unit or various parts of the program, serving as a client for design projects, offering internships for students, and other resources. Please contact KID for any help or clarification. TEST is an interesting and effective way for students to understand and actively participate in learning about the importance and significance of safety considerations in every aspect of product design.
Introduce students to the concepts and importance of design safety, ethics, and standards, using children's products as an example.
Students should know where to find information on product safety and standards.
Students should be able to consider design hazards in sample products and the likely way a product will be used by consumers that might contribute to hazards.
Each student will be able to identify the standard setting agencies that apply to children’s products.
Students will know where to look for standards that might apply to products they design in the future.
To make the students aware of common ethical issues that occur in engineering.
Each student will be able to identify his or her duties as an engineer.
Students will be able to discuss ethical issues in the Playskool Case Study.
Students will be able to identify and discuss common ethical dilemmas.
Students will know how to access the full guide of ethical guidelines for engineers.
This page includes project ideas for engineering students to design with safety in mind.
A sample of some of the prototypes designed by students studying the TEST Curriculum.
Federal Safety Standards for all products can be found be searching at the Code of Federal Regulations website.
Links specific to the lesson are provided below:
Some items such as the following may be available on loan from Kids In Danger:
Please contact Kids In Danger for information on available items or to make requests.
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Kids In Danger would like to acknowledge the support of our TEST advisory committee
In addition KID is grateful to Underwriters Laboratories, Inc for funding this project and providing support.
We would also like to thank the following professors who helped critique the initial efforts of KID in developing this curriculum:
 Public Citizen, Hazardous Waits: CPSC Lets Crucial Time Pass Before Warning Public About Dangerous Products; http://www.citizen.org/documents/HazardousWaits.pdf January 2008
 The Playskool Travel-Lite Crib Case with more information is available from KID
This lesson plan and an accompanying PowerPoint presentation are also available directly from Kids in Danger.
Some of the information for this lesson plan was obtained with the help of the Online Ethics Center and the Playskool Travel Lite Case Study.
* “The Playskool Travel-Lite Crib” Case Study
* The National Society of Professional Engineers Code of Ethics for Engineers
Make copies of the following scenario and questions to hand out to the class:
You are a product designer for The Baby Spot, a manufacturer of children’s products. You recently designed a new portable crib, one which can be collapsed when not in use. The prototype was shown off at a trade show, and several top retailers expressed interest. A few potential buyers had slight difficulty “locking” the crib in the open position, but the reception was still generally good (the locking mechanism is essential to the crib’s safety, as it is the only thing that prevents the crib from collapsing on itself when occupied). Upon receiving the few complaints, you slightly redesign the crib so that it makes a clicking noise when locked properly. You are concerned that the redesign does not fully address the locking problem, but fear that a more thorough redesign would make the crib too heavy. You know that The Baby Spot’s CEO is expecting to make a big profit off of the crib, and wants the crib to be as light as possible. You also know that the crib is technically acceptable, because it meets all existing safety and testing standards. The reason for this is, as Trot Nixon, head of effort to sell the crib, states “there are no government or industry test standards applicable to the Playskool portable crib.”
Option 1: Trust that management will make the right decision.
– Pro: Management might decide to fix the crib.
– Con: Management might decide not to fix the crib.
Option 2: Stand your ground!
– Pro: The crib has a better chance of being fixed.
– Con: Your boss now hates you.
Option 3: Don’t say anything!
– Pro: Your boss doesn’t hate you.
– Con: The crib is still dangerous, and this time you didn’t even give management a chance to fix it.
Best Solution: Probably the best thing to do is approach the management in a non-confrontational way and explain to them your safety concerns, as well as ways to address these concerns.
BEST: A better solution is always to address all safety concerns throughout the design and development phase to avoid these either/or situations.
In August of 2012, the CPSC announced the recall of 4 million Bumbo infant seats. Babies had suffered skull fractures when they tipped the seat over or fell out. Most injuries resulted when the seat was used on raised surfaces, but babies have also been injured when using the seat as intended on the floor.
Since the first recall notice in 2007, CPSC was aware of 84 incidents, including 21 skull fractures. Most, but by no means all, of the injuries took place when the seat was on a raised surface.
The recall involved getting a restraint strap and a new warning label to reinforce the message that the product should only be used on the floor.
(Adapted from IEEE Cases 1999 - Infants Under Pressure on the Online Ethics Center.)
Sam Wilson, an experienced engineer was employed by MedTech, a company that made medical equipment. An important line of products were respirators, used in hospitals. A colleague of Sam asked him to check out one of these respirators, one designed for infant use. He soon determined that a relief valve intended to protect against overpressure being applied to the infant's lungs was incorrectly placed, so that, under certain circumstances, the infant could experience dangerously high pressure. Correcting the error would not be difficult, since all that was needed was to reposition the relief valve. In similar circumstances in the past, Sam had seen such problems handled with dispatch. He called the matter to the attention of the appropriate manager and assumed that it would be taken care of. A month or so later (Sam was not directly involved with this particular device) he learned that nothing had been done. Hundreds of these devices were already in use, and Sam was concerned about the increasing likelihood of a tragic event. He went back to the manager and urged him to take appropriate action. When the manager fended him off, Sam said that if prompt measures were not taken to correct the problem he would have to report it to the cognizant regulatory agency. The response of MedTech was to fire Sam.
(Adapted from IEEE Cases 1999 - Air Bags on the Online Ethics Center)
SafeComp is a company that, among other things, designs and makes sensing devices for automobile air bags. Bob Baines was hired to work in the quality control department. About six weeks after starting work, he was asked to sign off on a design that he felt very uncertain about. He checked with people involved in the design and found the situation, at best, ambiguous. Bob told his manager that he would not feel right about signing off, and, since he was relatively inexperienced with SafeComp's procedures, asked that he not be required to do this. His manager kept applying pressure. Eventually, Bob decided that he wished neither to violate his principles by doing something that he thought was wrong, nor to become involved in a battle in which his career would certainly be major casualty. He quietly resigned.