Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘consumer product liability

Restructuring engineering curriculums to respond to end users demands, safety and health

In 1987, Alphonse Chapanis, a renowned Human Factors professional, urged that published Human Factors research papers target the practical design need of the various engineering disciplines so that the research data be readily used by engineers.

Dr. Chapanis was trying to send a clear message that Human Factors main discipline was to design interfaces between systems and end users and thus, research papers have to include sections directing the engineers as to the applicability of the results of the paper to design purposes.

In return, it is appropriate to send the message that all engineering disciplines should include sections in their research papers orienting the engineering practitioners to the applicability of the results of the papers to the end users and how Human Factors professionals can judiciously use the data in their interface designs.

As it was difficult for the Human Factors professional to send the right message to the engineering practitioners, and still has enormous difficulty disseminating the proper purpose and goals, it would be a steep road for the engineers to send the right message that what they design is actually targeting the needs and new trends of the end users.

As long as the engineering curriculums fail to include the Human Factors field as an integral part in their structures it would not be realistic to contemplate any shift in their designs toward the end users.

Systems would become even more complex and testing and evaluation more expensive in order to make end users accept any system and patronize it.

So why not design anything right from the first time by being initiated and exposed to human capabilities and limitations, their safety and health?

Instead of recognizing from the early phases in the design process that reducing human errors and risks to the safety and health of end users are the best marketing criteria for encouraging end users to adopt and apply a system, we see systems are still being designed by different engineers who cannot relate to the end users because their training is not explicitly directed toward them.

What is so incongruous with the engineering curriculums to include courses that target end users?

Why would not these curriculums include courses in occupational safety and health, consumer product liability, engineers as expert witnesses, the capabilities and limitations of human, marketing, psychophysics and experimental design?

Are the needs and desires of end users beneath the objectives of designing systems?

If that was true, why systems are constantly being redesigned, evaluated and tested in order to match the market demands?

Why do companies have to incur heavy expenses in order to rediscover the wheel that the basis of any successful design ultimately relies on the usefulness, acceptability and agreement with the end users desires and dreams?

Why not start from the foundation that any engineering design is meant for human and that designed objects or systems are meant to fit the human behavior and not vice versa?

What seem to be the main problems for implementing changes in the philosophy of engineering curriculums?

Is it the lack to find enough Human Factors, ergonomics and industrial psychologist professionals to teach these courses?

Is it the need to allow the thousands of psychologists, marketing and business graduates to find outlet “debouches” in the marketplace for estimating users’ needs, desires, demands and retesting and re-evaluating systems after the damages were done?

May be because the Human factors professionals failed so far to make any significant impact to pressure government to be part and parcel of the engineering practices?

Note: I am Not sure if this discipline Human Factors/Ergonomics is still a separate field in Engineering or has been integrated in all engineering disciplines.

From my experience in teaching a few courses at universities, I propose that courses in Experimental Design be an integral course in all engineering disciplines: students graduate without having a serious idea how to run “sophisticated” experiments or know how to discriminate among the independent variables, the dependent variables, the control variable…and how to interpret complex graphs.

Article 32,

“Consumer Product Liability Engineering”

Liability connotes a legal venue to redress a social harm or injustice suffered by an individual or a group of people. When product liability is studied as a legal issue then we brace ourselves for an evolving process that changes with time, development in constitutional law, and the adopted legal system whether based on “civil law” wrote by a legislative body or common law subject to court interpretation and based on precedents established by court decisions.

Knowing the basics of product liability is of paramount importance for design engineers since finger-pointing is naturally directed toward those who were responsible for designing, manufacturing and marketing deficient products that caused harms such as bodily injuries, death or financial loss and legally termed “tort” (a wrong done to someone). In any legal case there are two main parties: the plaintiffs or those who suffered harm and the defendants or those entitled to salvage foreseeable loss from the accusation or lawsuit.

A product liability plaintiff can be an individual consumer who purchased a product, material or intellectual, and through deficiencies in the product or misuse from its intentional function or abuse in deceptive advertising suffered adverse consequences or it can be any manufacturing equipment that harmed a worker or an operator or a program intended to facilitate a job and failed to deliver what it promised to offer. Recently, there have been groups of plaintiffs such as tobacco consumers, asbestos cases, auto recalls, environmental pollutions in water drinking, earth contamination, and dangerous manufacturing by-product refuses discharged in inhabited locations and so on.

The defendants could be a private designer, an industry, a company, a municipality or even a government branch or a State.

This article is focused on the liability for product design so that an engineer designer develop the proper behavior when assigned a job design and comprehend that the ultimate user of his product is a human being and there are consequences for a failed or a deficient product.  Product liability was initiated as a form of contractual relationship between the local manufacturer and the consumer called “privity“; another of its aspects involve warranty or promise that a product will or will not do.

Once middlemen appeared in the purchase process the contract was established all along the chain of commerce and this concept of privity began to erode for the alternative doctrine of negligence or lack of care normally expected.  The next development was bypassing the costly and difficult necessity of proving negligence by plaintiffs in order to be able to win a case by adopting the doctrine of “strict liability in tort”.  

When the unaware plaintiff of the unsafe usage of a product is injured and, as long as the product was being used the way it was intended to be used, then the plaintiff can sue for the fact that he was injured. In order to encourage companies for safer conditions in products, laws have been enacted so that if a defect has been repaired in subsequent production of the same product line then plaintiffs cannot use this previous deficiency fact in court to prove that the initial products were defectives.  A compendium of product liability cases were summarized in volumes called “Restatements of Torts Second”.

            The next important modifications were to extend intended use to “foreseeable misuse” of a product so that the expert engineer designer must foresee the alternative ways that a target user might use his product in manners not intended originally.  The designer has also to be aware that failure to provide warnings on a product or manuals, in pictorial and written forms, are cited as defects in a product; a warning must be visible in obvious locations and specify clearly the hazard though it cannot be used as disclaimers by the manufacturer.

            Other forms of product liabilities can be found in breach of warranty whether explicit or implied such as depicting Jeeps capable of flying with the greatest of ease and clearing the tops of steep hills. The defects in Jeeps were cited so often that their cases were given proper categorizations such as “handling”, “propensity to overturn”, “occupant protection”, or “failure to warn”.

            There are other legal doctrines that were developed for product liabilities such as “comparative negligence” where defendants’ parties are judged to fraction percentages at fault of the damage awarded to plaintiffs and “deep pockets” doctrine formally known as “joint and several liabilities” where defendants evaluated not being able to pay then the remaining rich parties would pick up the whole tab of the award.

            It is important to differentiate between product liability and “workers’ compensation” insurance law (where injured workers are covered for medical treatment and some monetary compensation for a disabling injury).  In the event that the defective equipment or product is not manufactured by the employer of the injured worker then the latter may sue the manufacturer to cover any inadequate workers’ compensation expenses.

            The best strategy for designers and manufacturers to avoid product liability suits or becoming “judgment proof” is first, to consciously design in safety in their products and which require les maintenance than competitive products and second, to acquire the proper attitude in conducting good-faith negotiations with the injured party.  It is important that the defendant during “interrogatory” never sign a list of answers that are wrong or misleading to questions that the plaintiff’s lawyer asked under oath, otherwise, if an answer is proven false then the defendant might expect from the jury to award huge punitive damages that far exceeds a normal settlement.

            From the plaintiff’s standpoint his best strategy is:

First, to be knowledgeable about protecting his rights in recovering damages,

Second, to retain a specialist lawyer with connections to the best engineering expert witnesses who nine out of ten cases can convince the defendant’s lawyer to settle out of court based on proper technical evidence,

Third, the plaintiff has to avoid destroying evidence or sign premature releases or make incorrect admissions against his own interest before hiring his expert lawyer.

Article #21, April 19, 2005

“Restructuring engineering curriculums to respond to end users demands”

In 1987, Alphonse Chapanis, a renowned Human Factors professional, urged that published Human Factors research papers target the practical design need of the various engineering disciplines so that the research data be readily used by engineers.

Dr. Chapanis was trying to send a clear message that Human Factors main discipline was to design interfaces between systems and end users and thus, research papers have to include sections directing the engineers as to the applicability of the results of the paper to design purposes.

In return, it is appropriate to send the message that all engineering disciplines should include sections in their research papers orienting the engineering practitioners to the applicability of the results of the papers to the end users and how Human Factors professionals can judiciously use the data in their interface designs.

As it was difficult for the Human Factors professional to send the right message to the engineering practitioners, and still has enormous difficulty disseminating the proper purpose and goals, it would be a steep road for the engineers to send the right message that what they design is actually targeting the needs and new trends of the end users.

As long as the engineering curriculums fail to include the Human Factors field as an integral part in their structures it would not be realistic to contemplate any shift in their designs toward the end users.

Systems would become even more complex and testing and evaluation more expensive in order to make end users accept any system and patronize it.  So why not design anything right from the first time by being initiated and exposed to human capabilities and limitations, their safety and health?

Instead of recognizing from the early phases in the design process that reducing human errors and risks to the safety and health of end users are the best marketing criteria for encouraging end users to adopt and apply a system, we see systems are still being designed by different engineers who cannot relate to the end users because their training is not explicitly directed toward them.

What is so incongruous with the engineering curriculums to include courses that target end users?

Why would not these curriculums include courses in occupational safety and health, consumer product liability, engineers as expert witnesses, the capabilities and limitations of human, marketing, psychophysics and experimental design?

Are the needs and desires of end users beneath the objectives of designing systems?

If that was true, why systems are constantly being redesigned, evaluated and tested in order to match the market demands?

Why do companies have to incur heavy expenses in order to rediscover the wheel that the basis of any successful design ultimately relies on the usefulness, acceptability and agreement with the end users desires and dreams?

Why not start from the foundation that any engineering design is meant for human and that designed objects or systems are meant to fit the human behavior and not vice versa?

What seem to be the main problems for implementing changes in the philosophy of engineering curriculums?

Is it the lack to find enough Human Factors, ergonomics and industrial psychologist professionals to teaching these courses?

Is it the need to allow the thousands of psychologists, marketing and business graduates to find outlet “debouches” in the market place for estimating users’ needs, desires, demands and retesting and re-evaluating systems after the damages were done?

May be because the Human factors professionals failed so far to make any significant impact to pressure government to be part and parcel of the engineering practices?

What’s that concept of Human factors in Design? (Started these articles in 2003

 What is this Human Factors profession?

 Article number                                                                                               

1.  “What is your job?”                                                                                                  

2.  “Sorry, you said Human Factors in Engineering?”                                                

3.  “So, you want systems to fit people?”                                                                   

4.  “The rights of the beast of burden; like a donkey?”                                              

5.  “Who could afford to hire Human Factors engineers?”                             

6.  “In peace time, why and how often are Human Factors hired?                    

7.  “What message should the Human Factors profession transmit?”                          

8.  “What do you design again?”                                                                                         

9.  “Besides displays and controls, what other interfaces do you design?”                 

10.  “How Human Factors gets involved in the Safety and Health of end users?”    

11.  “What kind of methods will I have to manipulate and start worrying about?” 

12.  “What are the error taxonomies in Human Factors?”                                 

13.  “What are the task taxonomies and how basic are they in HF?”                           

14.  “How useful are taxonomies of methods?”                                                               

15.  “Are occupational safety and health standards and regulations of any concern for the HF professionals?”                                                                                                       

16.  “Are there any major cross over between HF and safety engineering?”            

17.  “Tell us about a few of your teaching methods and anecdotes”                            

18.  “What this general course in Human Factors covers?”                                         

19.  “Could one general course in Human Factors make a dent in a career behavior?”                                                                                                                     

20.  “How would you like to fit Human Factors in the engineering curriculum?”  

21.  “How to restructure engineering curriculum to respond to end users demands?”

22.  “How can a class assimilate a course material of 1000 pages?”                             

23.  “What undergraduate students care about university courses?”                            

24.  “Students’ feedback on my teaching method”                                              

25.  “My pet project for undergraduate engineering curriculum”                      

26.  “Guess what my job is”                                                                                              

27.  “Do you know what your folk’s jobs are?”                                                              

28.  “How do you perceive the inspection job to mean?”                                               

29.  “How objective and scientific is a research?” 

30.  “How objective and scientific are experiments?”                                                   

31.   “A seminar on a multidisciplinary view of design”                                                  

32.  “Consumer Product Liability Engineering”                                                                 

33.  “How could you tell long and good stories from HF graphs?”                               

34.  “What message has the Human Factors profession been sending?”       

35. “Who should be in charge of workspace design?”                                                  

36.  “Efficiency of the human body structure and mind”                                                

37.  “Psycho-physical method”                                                                                       

38.  “Human factors performance criteria”                                                      

39.  “Fundamentals of controlled experimentation methods”                                      

40.  “Experimentation: natural sciences versus people’s behavior sciences”            

41.  “What do Human Factors measure?”                                                                   

42.  “New semester, new approach to teaching the course”                                       

43.  “Controlled experimentation versus Evaluation and Testing methods”               

44.  “Phases in the process of system/mission analyses”                                             

45.   “Main errors and mistakes in controlled experimentations”                   

46.  “Human Factors versus Industrial, Computer, and traditional engineering” 

47.  “How Human Factors are considered at the NASA jet propulsion laboratory”

48.  “Efficiency of the human cognitive power or mind”                                               

49.  “Human Factors versus Artificial Intelligence”                                                     

50.  Computational Rationality in Artificial Intelligence                                               

51.  “Basic Engineering and Physics Problems Transformed Mathematically”     

52.  Mathematics: a unifying abstraction for Engineering and Physics                        

53. How to optimize human potentials in businesses for profit                                      

 


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adonis49

adonis49

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