Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Consumer Products

One Small Step…

Ladders…not a particularly exciting topic I’ll admit.  But hey, we need ladders to help us accomplish all kinds of tasks.  Most people have used at least one of the many types of ladders that are available today.  And the odds are probably pretty good that many of those users strayed outside the limits of safety a time or two while on a ladder.  It is amazing the risks some people will take to save some time or avoid the inconvenience of getting down to move the ladder into a safer position.  I wonder how many of those risks would be taken on a ladder if the users knew they were on camera.

Think about astronaut Neil Armstrong.  He travelled by rocket almost 239,000 miles through space and has just successfully landed the lunar module on the surface of the moon.  Quite an accomplishment!  Now, with the eyes of the world on him, he is going to come down a ladder and become the first person to set foot on the moon.  I wonder how many times Neil Armstrong practiced coming down that ladder.  Now imagine him saying during that historic moment: “That’s one small step for a man… one giant leeee….aaaaaahhhhhhh!” And then the world watches as he falls back off the ladder and comes to rest lying on his back….on the surface of the moon….with a broken leg, a sprained wrist, and a bruised back, and clutching a ladder rung in one of his hands!  And 239,000 miles from the nearest Urgent Care!

Image Credit: NASA Archives

That would have drastically changed everything about the overall mission of the astronauts!  The investigation into this ladder accident would be an interesting and important one for sure, and the fact that such strong evidence was caught on video would be a luxury not usually available to the investigator.  Well, fortunately that accident did not happen!  Neil Armstrong finished his famous quote, he successfully stepped off the lunar module ladder, and the overall mission of the Apollo 11 flight was incredibly successful.

Obviously, the everyday use of ladders at factories and homes across the U.S. lacks the drama and suspense of a moon mission ladder descent, but there are some similarities that we can look at.  Using a ladder always involves a level of risk.  That risk level is dependent on things such as the type of ladder, the height climbed, the attention of the user to follow all ladder safety rules, as well as the design and stability of the ladder used.  Ladders that are available these days are typically safe with respect to their design and the materials they are constructed of.  However, statistics show that in the US, on average, work-related ladder falls result in one death and more than 180 nonfatal injuries every two days.  In some of these cases, questions are raised about what actually caused or contributed to the accident.  When this happens, it is common for a forensic engineer to be hired to investigate the accident to determine if there was a defect in the ladder’s design or the materials it was manufactured from, or if the user of the ladder was possibly at fault.

The things a forensic engineer will consider in the investigation are dependent on the specific circumstances of each accident as well as the scope of the accident request.  Typically, the type of ladder and whether it adhered to the design standards that were in place when it was manufactured will be a part of the investigation.  A quick internet search will show whether there are or have been recalls for that particular ladder model.  A thorough study of the ladder, whether through quality photos or having the actual ladder involved in the accident, can reveal evidence that will show whether a defect was present in the ladder at the time of the accident.  The specific members that were damaged can sometimes show how the ladder was loaded when it failed, and whether that failure may have been due to either a defect or the user’s bad judgment.  The goal of the investigation will be to find the truth as to what happened and to give a concise explanation of the expert’s findings along with his /her opinions in the final report.

If you need an investigation of an accident involving any type of ladder, please call our experienced mechanical engineering experts at Warren.

Bob Hickman is a Licensed Professional Engineer and Certified Machinery Safety Expert.  He has over 30 years of manufacturing and machine design experience in production and quality-driven environments.  Bob holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University.  Over his 30-year engineering career, Bob has designed many custom manufacturing machines and processes that improved quality, productivity, reliability, and safety.  He designed several machines to automate manual processes, replacing inefficient/unreliable manual equipment and has assisted with plant layout/production line planning.  He has significant experience with pneumatic systems and components, as well as hydraulics.  Bob regularly investigates personal injury, wrongful death, and product liability claims, as well as property damage claims involving machinery and equipment in a variety of environments for both insurance adjusters and attorneys.  Bob has an in-depth knowledge of many standards with emphasis on ANSI B11 standards for machine tool safety.

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Don’t Get Burned With Your Gas Grill!

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If there is one thing Americans can agree upon, it is the enjoyment that comes from an outdoor barbeque.  Whether a summertime cookout or a fall BBQ to watch a football game, we all love the fun and fellowship that comes from sharing a meal that was prepared outdoors on a grill or smoker.  In fact, 64% of Americans own a grill or smoker.  The great majority of these are LP fueled gas grills with comparatively few natural gas fired grills.  These products can be enjoyed safely when designed, installed, and used in a proper manner.  However, given the grill’s use of flammable fuel gas and high temperatures, the potential exists for things to go wrong and result in burn injuries or uncontained fires that spread to the surroundings. Read More

The CE Mark and What Should It Mean to You? Part Two

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In the previous blog (Part One) we discussed the backstory behind the two stylized letters CE and what it means to the design of machinery bearing the mark.   We outlined some of the requirements of the “Machinery Directive” (MD) which include what are known as “Essential Health and Safety Requirements.” The Essential Health and Safety Requirements incorporate an iterative risk reduction process during design that takes into account Read More

Shedding Some Light on Fluorescent Light Fixture Fires

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Lighting systems in buildings and other structures have undergone changes over the years.  Many of these changes have occurred as manufacturers have developed more efficient lighting methods.  Lighting loads can represent the largest category of electrical load in many buildings, thus improved lighting efficiency may significantly lower your power bill and can lengthen time between lamp changes. Read More

Product Design is Critical to Consumer Safety

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As the holiday season nears, thoughts turn to wonderful home-cooked meals with family.  Few things in life are more pleasurable than a traditional holiday turkey feast. Yet for an unfortunate few, holiday meal time can turn tragic if a turkey frying accident occurs.   While fried turkeys may be tasty, many fire safety experts feel that the reward is not worth the risk.  Read More

Stop or I’ll Soot!!!

Fire. Something about fire touches our brainstems…both good and bad!  Uncontrolled fire is terrifying and deadly to be sure.  But the controlled burning of wood at a campfire or in a fireplace in your home almost can’t be beat, to my mind! For that very reason, a fairly common amenity to houses nowadays is the gas log fireplace insert.

When not installed properly, these logs will generate soot. These soot particles can leave the fireplace and meander.  All. Over. Your. House.  Read More

Unguarded Shear Point on Force Tester Amputates Worker’s Finger

A worker was injured while testing gas springs similar to the type that hold the hatchback of an SUV open. The hazard that injured the worker was an unguarded shear point. The tester contained a mounting plate that was raised and lowered by a pneumatic cylinder.

The pneumatic cylinder lowered the mounting plate while the worker’s fingers were in the hazardous, unguarded shear point. Read More

Hazards Can Lurk Anywhere … Watch Your Step …

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While on a lunch stop during a recent vacation trip through Tennessee, I happened across a safety hazard that required immediate attention.  The establishment had a raised concrete patio at the front with a steel railing around the perimeter.  At one edge of the patio was a set of stairs with a continuation of the steel railing used as a handrail.  The top edge of the patio had light strings wrapping the top metal bar as accent lighting for the perimeter.  The light string continued down the stair handrail wrapped in the same manner as the rest of the patio. Read More

Danger Lurking in the Hot Tub

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Several dangers involving the use of a hot tub (spa) may readily come to mind, such as the risk of shock or electrocution, or the risk of drowning for unsupervised young children.  Not so readily apparent is the effect of overheating the human body, or “hyperthermia”.

Some individuals are more susceptible to the effects of hyperthermia, including the elderly, young children, and those in poor health.  The effects of hyperthermia, or overheating of the human body, cause direct responses such as headache, nausea, heat exhaustion, increased cardiac output, lethargy, confusion, heat stroke and unconsciousness.  The onset of hyperthermia is defined as being at 99.5° F; if the body temperature reaches 104° F, a life-threatening medical emergency exists.  Read More

Another Dimension of Engineering, Part 2: Visual Demonstrations Can Clarify the Issue

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In our last post on 3D scanning, we introduced Warren’s new Faro Focus X 330 three dimensional scanner.  To recap, the Faro scanner combines three dimensional laser measurement with automated photography to capture 360-degree data from the real world. Potential applications include vehicle accident scenes and damaged vehicles, structural collapses, fire scenes, flood damage scenes, and machinery and equipment analysis, among others. In this post, we will highlight some of the outputs that can be created from the detailed data captured by the scanner. Read More

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