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Safety

Safety is a critically important issue to all teachers using design tasks with their students. A number of DITC movies show teachers giving instructions to their students about safety when doing demos, or using tools to build design prototypes. Many design-based curricula avoid having students handle any tool that can lead to serious injury, like a knife or saw. Let your familiarity with your students guide your decision for what tools they can use in and outside your classroom.

Product safety is a far-reaching and somewhat different topic for students of engineering design. Future designers learn that companies must be think how any possible user might use a product so that it results in injury and eventually leads to lawsuits that can bankrupt a company. A car has many devices made specifically to improve safety. "Safety glass" has a translucent layer sandwiched in between two sheets of glass to keep the glass from shattering when broken. Steering wheels are attached to a "telescoping shaft" that is designed to collapse during a head-on collision, instead of being forced into the chest of the driver, as they used to do. The design of "air bags" has gone through many iterations, with safety concerns about this safety device -- people who sit too closely to the bag when it deploys can be hurt, even killed.

Product makers must be aware of unintended uses as well -- those who make plastic shopping bags must warn users not to allow small children to play with them. What unexpected danger? Suffocation. Large buckets of spackle, a white, pasty material builders use when finishing interior walls, once emptied and filled with water, have caused numerous infant deaths by drowning. (A small child falls into the bucket head first, and the bucket is stable enough not to tip over and the child is unable to lift itself out.) An interesting design problem would be to change the design of the versatile 5-gallon spackle buckets to make them child-proof. A class of problems would be to examine a room for unsafe items for toddlers, and then design a room that is safe from smothering, electrocution, fire, and so on.

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