Product safety

Product Safety is the condition of a ‘steady state’ of the product when it provides the services / usefulness / purpose for which it is designed and manufactured – without harm / loss / damage to life or property. What the product is designed / manufactured / supposed to perform, is defined in terms of;

  • Codes / standards / specifications
  • Associated architectural and engineering designs / drawings / documents
  • Vision, mission, policy, objectives, strategy statements
  • Operational plans, operational / work / task instructions
  • Personnel safety expectations
  • Consumer / other stakeholder expectations

Organizations are expected to address product safety related matters:

  • Assess the potential hazards and manage associated risks
  • Manage safety critical items / parts / components / sub-assembly
  • Analyse and report events that occurred that could affect product safety
  • Communicate these events to the applicable stakeholders
  • Train personnel in the required aspects of safety over the product life cycle

For the organization producing and delivering the product, product safety is a normative concept. It complies with situation-specific definitions of what is expected and acceptable, in terms of the above aspects.

  • Normative safety concept: Normative safety is achieved when a product or design meets applicable standards and practices for design and construction or manufacture, regardless of the product's actual safety history.
  • Substantive safety concept: Substantive or objective safety occurs when the real-world safety history is favourable, whether or not standards are met.
  • Perceived safety concept: Perceived or subjective safety refers to the users' level of comfort and perception of risk, without consideration of standards or safety history.

Low perceived safety can have high costs – an example is: road junctions with traffic signal lights are perceived to be safer than round turn abouts, though historical data clearly indicates that there are less accidents at round turn abouts.

Product safety is often seen as one of a group of related disciplines: quality, reliability, availability, maintainability and safety. These aspects tend to determine the value of any work / outcome, and deficits in any of these areas are considered to result in additional cost, over the originally intended safety costs.

Measures and steps for product safety in design / manufacturing are activities and precautions taken to improve safety, i.e. reduce risk related to human health / property / social well-being. Common safety measures include:

  • Chemical analysis, Destructive testing of samples
  • Examination of activities by specialists to minimize physical stress or increase productivity, better ergonomics by design
  • Geological surveys to determine whether land or water sources are polluted, how firm the ground is at a potential building site, etc.
  • Applicability of Government regulations, so suppliers know what standards their product is expected to meet.
  • Industry regulation so suppliers know what level of quality is expected. Industry regulation is often imposed to avoid potential government regulation.
  • Instruction manuals explaining how to use a product or perform an activity
  • Instructional videos demonstrating proper use of products
  • Root cause analysis to identify causes of a system failure and correct deficiencies.
  • Internet safety or Online Safety, is protection of the user's safety from cyber threats or computer crime in general.
  • Periodic evaluations of employees, departments, Health check of employees, etc.
  • Physical examinations to determine whether a person has a physical condition that would create a problem.
  • Process safety management is an analytical tool focused on preventing releases of highly hazardous chemicals.
  • Safety margins / factors. For instance, a product rated to never be required to handle more than 200 pounds might be designed to fail under at least 400 pounds, a safety factor of two. Higher numbers are used in more sensitive applications such as medical or transit safety.
  • Implementation of standard protocols and procedures so that activities are conducted in a known way.
  • Statements of ethics by industry organizations or an individual company so its employees know what is expected of them.
  • Stress testing subjects a person or product to stresses in excess of those the person or product is designed to handle, to determining the ‘breaking point’.
  • Training of employees, vendors, product users, Ergonomic / safety audits
  • Visual examination for dangerous situations such as emergency exits blocked because they are being used as storage areas.
  • Visual examination for flaws such as cracks, peeling, loose connections.
  • X-ray analysis to see inside a sealed object such as a weld, a cement wall or an airplane outer skin.

In actual practice, product safety can be limited in relation to some guarantee or a standard of insurance / assurance, to the quality and unharmful function of an object or organization. It is used in order to ensure that the object or organization will do only what it is meant to do, and/or to comply with legal / other obligations.

It is important to realize that product safety is relative. Eliminating all risk, if even possible, would be extremely difficult and very expensive. A safe situation is one where risks of injury or property damage owing to the product life cycle, are low and manageable. Risk management principles are often applied to manage product safety during the life cycle of the product. Product safety certifications can be obtained through self-certification or third parties, against international / national standards for the specific products.