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 page includes project ideas for engineering students to design with safety in mind as part of the Teach Early Safety Testing (TEST) curriculum. You can also view examples of prototypes created by students in response to these assignments.
More than a hundred children’s products are recalled by the government as hazardous every year, and patterns have emerged among those myriad models and products. Namely, certain products are recalled at a far greater rate than others, due to either some inherent danger in the product or the fallibility of a particular design that has been picked up by several different manufacturers. The purpose of these projects is to challenge students to attempt to solve problems and create ideas that can be applicable to future designs. The following projects can be assigned to engineering students at any level.
Students will become intimately aware with safety issues relating to one specific product and more aware of design safety issues in general.
Note: Information on all of these products, as well as general statistics, can be found at www.KidsInDanger.org and www.cpsc.gov. Students who have been assigned one of these projects are strongly encouraged to contact and meet with Kids In Danger in order to discuss specific ideas, previous attempts and product history.
Problem: A crib is unique among child products in that it is intended to keep small children safe without any supervision. Despite this, about 50 children are killed each year by their cribs, along with 12,000 others who are injured in similar fashion. Today, cribs face the toughest product safety standards of all children’s products, yet many consumers are weary of buying newer cribs as they can be more expensive than older, often dangerous cribs.
Goal: Design a crib with enhanced safety features that has a decreased risk of harmful consequences for children. This design must include all legally required crib mandates and pay close attention to the market price of the completed design. Cribs must be affordable, easy to store and move. Most importantly, the product must deliver a safe sleeping environment for the child with new design features to appeal to parents.
Problem: In 2012, an estimated 12,900 children under age 5 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with strollers, according to CPSC Nursery Product Reports. Most of the injuries were caused by falls and almost 90 percent of those were head injuries. Many of these injuries are caused by ‘false latching’ where parents believe a latch is engaged because the stroller appears to be steady, but when a bump is hit, the stroller collapses. As a recall notice explained, “strollers can fail to latch properly and unexpectedly collapse while in use.”
Goal: Redesign the traditional lock and latch mechanism to create a new, easily secured strolled latch or completely restructure a stroller to provide a safe and accessible infant carrier while keeping in mind the needs and desires of parents. Devise sensory feedback that consumers can check in order to confirm that the stroller is properly latched or a stroller that will not work correctly if improperly latched, thus alerting the parents.
Problem: At least 16 babies have been killed when the side rail of their portable crib collapsed, forming a v shape that strangles the child. Other designs are currently made that do not allow for this hazard, but the resulting product is bulky and hard to carry.
Goal: Design a portable crib that does not allow a failure that results in a v-shape and can encompass a child’s neck leading to suffocation and often death. Designs must be compact and easily accessible as the model should still be portable and relevantly lightweight. A safe sleeping and playing environment for children ages 0 to 2 is the most essential and pressing consideration.
Problem: In 2010 and 2011 respectively, 13,200 and 16,900 children were treated in the emergency rooms for injuries related to infant carriers and car seat carriers, this figure excludes injuries related to motor vehicle incidents according to CPSC. Hard-handled baby carriers are often recalled because the handle latching system fails. This can cause the seat to swing down and the occupant to fall or hit an object.
Goal: Devise a carrier that reduces the likelihood of this failure or the risk of injury.
Problem: Baby monitors have been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission due to strangulation, overheating and even fire. Current standards only add warning to address potential strangulation hazards. These monitors, while intended to give parents peace of mind, actually introduced new hazards into the nursery. Additionally, wires that connect baby cameras to electrical outlets can become an entanglement hazard for children resulting in harm or even death. While battery operated products are a potential solution, many parents are unsatisfied with the limited life of a battery and the expense of constantly replacing used batteries.
Goal: Design a device that reduces the possibility that a monitor will lead to a fire and with limited exposed wires and cords to prevent other injury. Additionally the product must decrease the risk of strangulation by limiting dangling cords and wires.
Problem: Bath seats are small seats on which babies can be placed and secured. Some adhere to the tub with suction cups, others attach to the side of a tub. Bath seats are popular items because they allow parents to bathe their babies in regular bathtubs before the babies are capable of completely balancing themselves on their own. Between 2005 and 2009, 431 children under 5 drowned at home; most were under 2 years old. Eighty-three percent of those deaths were in the bath. In some cases, the suction cups have come loose, freeing the bath seat from the bottom of the tub and tipping it over. Trapped in the seat, many babies have ended up stuck face down in enough water to drown them. Most of the deaths have occurred when parents, overconfident in a bath seat’s ability to keep their baby safe, had left the room even for a few minutes
Goal: Design a bath device that decreases the likelihood of infant drowning and still meets the new tough standard.
Note: It is vital that your solution not induce a false sense of security in parents. Because it is never a good idea to leave babies unattended in water, the product design should incorporate methods to keep parents within arm’s reach.
Problem: Each year children all over the country are injured by high chair structure failures caused by poor product design. According to CPSC Nursery Product reports, there have been at least 11,300 high chair related injuries among children under the age of 5 in 2012. Since 2007, more than 3.1 million high chairs have been recalled. Key problems include risk of falling due to restraint bar failure and loose hardware. plastic joints that can crack and cause the product to collapse in use, leg strap that could be pulled through enabling a child to fall, and inadequate fit between the seat and base, allowing the seat to slip or fall.
Goal: To design a high car that properly secures a growing child safety while moving around and eating to prevent fall and injury.
Problem: Infant swings provide an alternative to cribs that can lull a fussy baby to sleep. However they also pose dangerous risks to the infant. A central concern is a falling hazard if the child slips into leg openings or if child becomes entangled in the harness straps. Additionally there is a risk of injury from falling if infants push themselves up and over the back of the seat, straps become unfastened or separate from buckles, or if the latch on carrying handle unexpectedly releases and causes the seat to flip forward.
Goal: Design an infant swing that provides a safe and comfortable environment for the child while reducing the likelihood an infant slipping from the carrier or the swing flipping forward or backward harmfully. The rocking motion should not endanger the safety of the child or increase the likelihood of an infant falling.
Problem: Magnets products emerged as a serious issue in 2006. As of April 2013, CPSC has received 54 reports of children and teens ingesting this product, with 53 of these requiring medical interventions according to the recall press release for the adult marketed Buckyballs. Children’s magnetic toys including the Magnetix as seen above have also been recalled. Magnetic toys are extremely popular yet they create a dangerous ingestion hazard. When more than one is swallowed, they can attract, causing intestinal perforation, infection, and potentially fatal injuries.
Goal: Redesign magnet toys to decrease the likelihood of ingestion and the potentially life-threatening consequences of this product. This could include developing new casing for the magnets or other ideas are welcome. The goal is to use small powerful magnets that are encased in larger safe housing and still provide play value.
Problem: Between 2005 and 2010, the CPSC received 122 reports of incidents involving toddler beds in which four children died and 43 were injured. Problems with toddler beds include entrapment of the limbs in the guard rail and mattress and between the slats in guard rails or footboard that may create risk of asphyxiation, broken bones, sprains and other injuries to young children. Additionally, there is a head entrapment risk if a child becomes entrapped in the headboard or footboard or in the spacing between the mattress and the headboard or footboard.
Goal: Design a toddler bed that can be practically and easily used by a child ages 2 to 5 addressing the serious potential of entrapment dangers while providing a safe and comforting sleep environment to a toddler.
Problem: Between 2010 and 2011, over 155,000 children under the age of five are rushed to emergency rooms each year due to injuries from children’s products according to CSPC’s nursery report.
Goal: Use data from CPSC and other resources to identify hazards, and then determine if they can be designed out of current products. Prototype construction would require use of a shop.
Problem: When a product is recalled, the manufacturer issues a press release with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and notices are posted in stores. These methods rarely reach a majority of product owners, and in many cases, the CPSC will close the file on a certain product with 80% of it still in circulation. While increased technologic communication has dramatically improved the exchange of information between the manufactures and the public, the majority of people regularly are not aware when a product is recalled. Unless there is increased media coverage from a product recall due to a child’s death or other tragic circumstance, often the general public is left unaware of the recall and therefore continues to use the product.
Goal: Develop new ways to both improve the likelihood that the manufacturer can contact actual owners of the product in the event of the recall or can assure that those owners will hear of the recall through a variety of sources. For example, create a more effective way to track people who purchased any given product in order to inform them of recalls and other product dangers. It is important that your plan does not sacrifice personal privacy or impose a prohibitive cost on the manufacturer.
(Note: Project 12 is suitable for students enrolled in Computer Engineering)