The Dark Side of Lighters

William B. Clemmer, a machinist from Stephenville, Texas was only 56 years old when he died. His last words, en route to a Dallas hospital, were: “My lighter exploded.”

Clemmer died on May 6, 2008 of severe burns over more than half of his body, 26 days after his MK lighter failed to extinguish and burst into flames in his pocket. Clemmer was at work on a Thursday in April, when he lit a cigarette, and placed the MK lighter in his pocket. Seconds later, the MK lighter exploded, engulfing his torso in flames. Although he was severely burned, he managed to call his brother, Ricky, who hurried over and drove him to the nearest fire station.

A quick-thinking employee, who later reported to work that day, snapped photos of the incident scene. He found the bay door to the machine shop wide open, signs of something burned and a lighter on the floor. Instinctively understanding that something was amiss, he captured the state of the workplace: charred remains of Clemmer’s clothing, the MK lighter, a single cigarette and a pack of Carnival cigarettes.

Today, the Clemmer family, through their lawyer Craig Sico, called on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to seek a recall of MK lighters, manufactured by the Chinese firm Zhuoye Lighter Company Ltd. and sold by the millions in the U.S. The Clemmers also asked the CPSC to bring the U.S. in line with other industrialized nations and implement a mandatory lighter safety standard, similar to the voluntary industry standard, which is already required in Canada and the European Union.

In 2006, the CPSC considered, but failed to take action on a request by the U.S. lighter industry trade group to make mandatory the voluntary standard American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) F400, first adopted in 1975.

Young Riders Not Big or Heavy Enough to Ride ATVS

The disproportionate percentage of injuries and deaths suffered by young riders on adult All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) illustrates the risks of this mismatch, but a group of Illinois emergency medicine doctors and medical researchers have conducted a study pinpointing one of the causes: young riders don’t have the physique to control adult-sized ATVs.

Researchers from the University of Illinois, College of Medicine, Saint Francis Medical Center, Bradley University; and the Neurological Institute sought to measure how the physical characteristics of riders, including height, weight and fingertip-to-fingertip length (wingspan), influenced their ability to safely control the ATV and avoid ejection. The researchers instrumented two ATVs, a Polaris Trailblazer 250 (a sport model), and a Honda FourTrax 250 (a utility model), to measure a rider’s body position in three maneuvers associated with crashes: the J-hook, the brake test, and the bump. Researchers were studying the lateral, longitudinal, and vertical dynamics in five riders of varying heights, weights, and wingspans, who had average experiences driving passenger vehicles, but no experience riding ATVs.

The study, published in the November issue of Neurosurg Focus, concluded:

Tags: 

The Case of the Collapsing Seat: Weak Standards and No Oversight Led to a Fatal Defect

A renown seat safety expert has called on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Veterans Administration to institute random spot checks to ensure that mobility scooter and other powered wheelchair devices intended for the disabled meet minimum voluntary safety standards – and publicize any compliance failures to warn the public. Dr. Kenneth J. Saczalski, who has been at the forefront of seat strength issues for decades, made his call to action today at a meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.

Saczalski was retained by Miami attorney David Bianchi on behalf of the family of Carolyn Sorenson to determine what caused a scooter seat back to break in a products liability case against the U.S. distributors of the Daytona GT3 Electric Scooter. In January 2009, 64-year-old Sorenson died from positional asphyxiation in the trash room of her condominium building, when the plastic molded seat of her mobility scooter fractured and collapsed, causing her to fall backwards. Sorenson’s lower half remained belted in what was left of the seat, while her upper torso was wedged behind her against the door frame, according to police reports.

Product Safety Takes a Big Leap Forward

Just before Thanksgiving, a majority of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission gave consumers an early holiday present, approving a Final Rule that will establish a publicly accessible consumer product safety complaint database. For the first time since the commission was created, manufacturers will no longer control the flow of information about their products. By spring, consumers will be able to report their own complaints and research others via a web interface.

Tags: 

The Right Way and the Wrong Way

On the eve of a vote on a Final Rule to establish the new database, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioners Anne Northup and Nancy Nord, have proposed an alternative to newly mandated consumer product safety database from that recommended by the staff. In a recent blog post entitled, “A Wrong Way and a Right Way – Which Will We Choose?” Commissioner Nord details the specific aspects of the database rule that prompted this Hail Mary pass: who can submit complaints and inaccurate information.

“Congress provided us with a list of those whose complaints should go up on the public database.  We have contorted the plain language Congress used into definitions that have no meaning.  For example, Congress told us to accept complaints from “consumers.”  The majority has determined that since everyone consumes something, we need to accept complaints from everyone—no need for any relationship to the product, harm or incident.  Think plaintiff lawyers trolling for clients or unscrupulous competitors wishing to harm a product’s reputation,” Nord writes.

CPSC Puts Information in Hands of Consumers

After taking comments from the public, and by that we mean, the remarks of a handful of advocates and consumers and the complaints of 33 trade organization reps and business owners, the U.S. Product Safety Commission is now preparing to vote on a Final Rule to establish a consumer complaint database.

The database represents a sea-change in the accessibility of consumer product information, wresting control from manufacturers, who held sway over the flow of public information for nearly three decades.

SRS President Sean Kane, who testified before the CPSC at a public hearing on the database, urged the agency to build a public database by fusing sufficient detail on the product and problem and public availability of the data in a timely fashion.

Could Crib Tents Become a Regulated Product?

On December 27, 2008, the strangulation death of Noah Thompson by a Tots In Mind crib tent became the first to be investigated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission involving this unregulated product. Eighteen months later, in July, the commission and the manufacturer finally announced a recall featuring a repair remedy for the attachment clips.

The Thompson case underscores two continuing weaknesses in the regulatory framework meant to ensure the safety of juvenile products: long gaps between the time when a product is deemed hazardous and a recall, and the difficulty in dealing with baby products that fall outside of the CPSC regulations and are not manufactured to any voluntary or mandatory standard.

The CPSC says that the Tots In Mind recall may only be the first action it takes to protect toddlers from the design deficiencies of crib tents.

CPSC Workshop on Building a Public Database Less Adversarial

The tone was less adversarial and more collegial as the U.S. Product Safety Commission held its first public workshop (see The End of the World as We Know it!) on the establishment of a Public Consumer Product Safety Incident Database this week.

The End of the World as We Know it

The very best consumer products complaints database would be one which allows manufacturers to thoroughly vet each complaint – no matter how many years it takes; one that would be accessible to the public, unless that member of the public is a plaintiff’s attorney or a reporter; or one that prohibits complaints that might tarnish an industry’s reputation. In other words, a database that preserves the status quo.

Pet Doors: A Little Known Gateway to Childhood Injury and Deaths

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - Matthew Ranfone was only two years old when he slipped out of his Orlando home, into an enclosed patio area and through a pool fence into the backyard pool. His parents found him minutes later floating face down. Matthew died 13 days later from the injuries sustained in the near drowning.

It's a scenario well-known to a handful of child injury specialists - especially those who study the morbidity data in warm weather states. In fact, since 1996 there are nearly 100 documented cases of children endangered after exiting the home via a pet door. Nearly three-quarters resulted in injury or death. Mathew's mother, Carol Ranfone, had no idea at the time that her son could easily escape through the small opening, but she is determined to warn other parents.

Pages