The Liability Part of Reliability Engineering
In many parts of the world ‘caveat emptor’ [let the buyer beware] no longer applies.
The producer and distributors of products are liable for their products.
This extends beyond product failures and a warranty claim. Today the company is liable for to make right any loss or damage incurred by the use of the product.
Courts and laws around the world reflect the protection of users of products from adverse consequences due to a negligent design and assembly practices.
The producer of a product must consider the user’s safety and provide reasonable safeguards.
This applies even when the user misuses or abuses a product.
A safe to use product is good for business. Injured customers may sue.
Plenty of cases have resulted in punitive damages well beyond the cost of initially creating a safe product.
Since no design team can anticipate all possible hazards that lead to injury or property damage, the law considers if the producer took reasonable steps to account for use expectations, safeguards, and potential user misuse.
The law also considers user responsibility.
Product safety relates to product reliability and quality, yet the liability consequences, while rare, can place a significant financial burden on an organization.
Hazard analysis, FMEA, environmental testing, and testing to failure are a few of the tools available to minimize potential safety liability.
Depending on the industry, there may be a range of regulatory obligations that focus on product safety.
Human factors analysis is a tool that includes the human and product interactions.
Consider not only the functionality and ease of use, also explore how individuals may make mistake or misuse a product.
When possible conduct controlled testing with actual users in their environment.
Learn how they expect to interact and use the product, plus explore any unexpected expectations or uses.
This type of testing is often late in the development cycle and may provide confirmation of the adequacy of prior safety-related work.
Approaches to avoid personal injury
Any product can cause personal injury.
When the company takes reasonable steps to avoid or mitigate injury, it minimizes liability claims, it also helps users remain safe when using the product.
The following list suggests a few strategies to address personal injury concern.
- Design and assembly a high quality and reliable product.
- Address all safety related concerns during design and verify with testing, when possible.
- Obtain liability insurance for your product.
- Negotiate purchase agreements with customers to shift responsibility to them for safe use.
- Review product safety, including development and assembly elements, with legal counsel.
Financial risk management
In some product liability legal cases the financial penalty is staggering.
The best way to avoid such penalties is through due diligence.
Basically, create a reasonably safe product. It’s the ‘reasonable’ element that is not always clear. And the definition of reasonable continues to change.
In summary, large product liability judgments remain rare, yet any legal action may constitute an unwanted business expense.
More common is the social media or word of mouth adverse sediment injured users create.
The loss of reputation or customer goodwill also creates a financial burden.
Thus, take sufficient steps to reasonably consider and address the safe operation of the product with the full range of potential product users and situation.
Reliability Role in Safety and Liability (article)
Safety Factor (article)
How Safe is Safe Enough for your System? (article)