Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Shaking my head with disgust

For about half of my working career I worked in Product Engineering.  In the other half I worked in Manufacturing with an emphasis on quality.  Because my employer manufactured products that people sometimes misused and died while using, and because they were perceived as having deep pockets, they were a frequent target for litigation.

The company responded by sending many of us to a class titled "What every Engineer should know about Product Liability."  Some of the information stuck.

One of the restaurants in Eaton Rapids was recently remodeled.
I went in to check it out.

One of the additions was a bar that is about 42" above the floor.  Instead of chairs they had tall stools; stools with a narrow footprint and willowy structural members.

Looks can be deceiving so I up-ended one of the stools to see what was beneath the hood, so to speak.

The problem with warnings

Posting a sign "Vicious dog.  Jumps fence and bites people." does not protect you from litigation.  For one thing, the pedestrian is in peril if they are close enough to read the sign.  Another thing is that the sign is evidence that you know that you have a dangerous dog and that you are a weasel who tries to scrape the blame off on innocent pedestrians.

This sticker reads, "Do not sit in this chair without all four legs on the floor."  Hmmm!  How many customers will read this sticker?  Zero would be my guess.  How many customers will lean back in the chair?  More than zero, would be my guess.

Another line on this sticker reads "Inspect this a minimum of once every four months, for:
Instability due to bent legs (!!!) or unevenly worn glide(s)
Broken welds or similar signs of stress of abuse
  -The chair feels wobbly when sitting on it.
  -The legs can be easily flexed side to side."

One presumes that they have a history of bent legs and broken welds.

Just out of curiosity, let's look at those welds.  Out of a sample of three stools, multiple defective welds were found.  The most photogenic are shown in the next three images.

Porosity.  Porosity at the end of a long weld is less troubling than porosity at the end of a short weld.  In this case, the porosity compromises 25% of the length of the weld. 

Off-position.  It might be a nice weld but it is not joining the two piece of metal because it is in the wrong place.  The portion of the weld that appears to have fused to both pieces of metal has porosity.

Cold-lap.  The weld did not fuse or melt into one of the two pieces.  They might as well have used toothpaste to join the two parts.  The sticker attempts to claim that broken welds are "stress of abuse" but this weld was shipped this way from the factory.  Weasels.

But wait....the restaurant is not off the hook...
Presumably some executive at the restaurant's national headquarters OKed the purchase of these stools.

That means the restaurant, a national chain, bought into  "Inspect this a minimum of once every four months"

  • Can the restaurant prove, in a court of law, that the company trained people to perform the inspections?
  • Can the company produce test results that validates the effectiveness of their training and verify that their inspectors can properly identify defects?  
  • Can the national chain document that the only people who inspect stools received the training?  It is not enough to have a manager, who was trained, sign off on inspections done by untrained people. 
  • Can the restaurant chain produce records documenting when the inspections were done at each store?  Can they identify who did the inspections?  
  • Can they identify the number and types of defects found at each inspection?  
  • Can they document the disposition of the defective stools and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defective stools did not re-enter service until repaired and re-inspected?
It would be nice if this line of furniture was pulled before somebody gets hurt.

My guess is that some fat kid is going to topple over backwards out of one of these stools because the welds will break.  They will whack the back of their head against the tile floor and become a vegetable.  I also predict that a moderately competent lawyer will take the restaurant chain to court and procure a $6M settlement.

I also predict that the restaurant chain will assume it is a fluke and not pull the stools from service.  They will quickly find themselves fending off twenty or fifty similar suits in short order.  Stupid hurts.

If there are any lawyers or engineers out there in my readership I would love to have you comment.

1 comment:

  1. Can the restaurant provide...?

    Can the national chain demonstrate...?

    Let's reject the premise, and ask to whom should the service provider provide..._____...(fill in the blank).

    If a request from a real American was given to the management of a local restaurant, would the management refuse to provide it? The customer would then be free to vote with his feet, and go elsewhere. Or take a risk of falling on his butt.

    Would a real American verify this safety concern, before using the tall stools in question, and before potentially injuring themself?

    This is a local issue, and should stay local. We don't want the chuckleheads in washington dc to *help* us with this. It is not a federal issue.