Machine Design

People do fall down perfectly safe stairways

I read your monthly column in MACHINE DESIGN on the warehouse power door.

 Edited by Lawrence Kren

It makes me think of readily accepted items that are potential hazards yet somehow have escaped being labeled as such. Some examples of these include:

Stairways are an obvious potential hazard for an unobservant person. I know of someone who died from falling down the steps on his wedding night.

Electric windows in cars cannot be opened when the power fails. A former coworker accidentally drove her car into a lake in the middle of winter and was only able to escape by unwinding her manually operated window and swimming to the surface.

Headlights on trucks, even on low beam, are situated high enough that they can blind car drivers. I am frequently distracted on the highway when a big truck comes behind me with its high beams on. I often move to another lane to prevent my rearview mirror from shining the bright light into my eyes.

Keith Miller

I will try to answer your questions in order.

  1. Stairway safety is well addressed in the different building codes and by OSHA for industrial applications. Stairways are also a human-factors issue. I recently had a case where a woman entered a darkened entryway from strong daylight. The person ahead of her stopped to let her eyes adjust to the reduced light. The second woman tried to pass her and stepped into a stairway one step to her left. Though the stairway met building codes, it should have had a gate because it was so close to the entry door. As for your friend, if the stairway met building codes, and if he was at all concerned about navigating the stairway safely, he must accept a certain level of personal responsibility. Just because he had an accident does not necessarily imply negligence on the part of the stairway designer.
  2. Because most equipment in cars is becoming dependent on electricity for operation, I share the same concerns. At least one company has recognized a niche market and makes a hammer to break the glass in an emergency. A built-in cutter in the device lets occupants cut their seat belts. The auto industry has devised a pull handle to open trunk lids from the inside, so I suppose it could apply similar technology for opening car doors in an emergency.
  3. I'm not sure I understand your concern about high beams. Rearview mirrors are designed to address this issue. Should the lights remain a problem after you move the mirror to the dimming position, just move the rearview mirror so it is not reflecting in your eyes. Some rearview mirrors dim the reflection automatically.

Over the years, manufacturers have modified their products in response to lawsuits, changes in standards and government regulations, or simply the recognition that addressing safety issues is a marketing advantage. Today, myriad products meet established safety standards, including childrens' toys, furniture, playground equipment, even the warning labels on the products themselves.

Lanny Berke is a registered professional engineer and Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a question about safety? You can reach Lanny at [email protected]

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