Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Consumers and Safety

Philosophy 186
Phil. of Bus Ethics

Consumers and Safety

I’m sitting here, staring at a blank computer screen trying to figure out what to write. My screen saver for Windows kicks in. Bullet holes appear, shattering the screen. Wouldn’t it be nice if those bullet holes were for real? But they’re not and even if they were, I’d probably shoot myself in the foot or some other undesirable place. So I don’t have a gun to shoot my screen. Is that consumer safety?

For many years, the issue of product safety took a back seat in an economy. For almost 150 years, the United States remained primarily an agrarian society where the consumers produced much of what they needed. Businesses produced goods that consumers may have wanted, but not needed in society. This meant that the issue of safety was left for the consumer to judge on since the consumer could produce many goods by himself to satisfy his needs. However with the development of modern manufacturing techniques, the ability of consumers to produce things themselves eroded into an era of business specialization. Consumers rely on others to produce good to satisfy their needs. In addition, these products have become more sophisticated and complex for consumer with little technical expertise to grasp. Therefore, they must rely on businesses and others to provide safe products. It is here where the issue of product safety becomes relevant. Businesses may feel that it is the consumer’s responsibility to operate their products while the consumers demand completely safe products, which would raise the cost of products yet, which the consumers demand at the lowest cost. At the same time, the federal government steps in with another set of safety regulations. Who is right, who is wrong and where does this issue of product safety belong?

At present, businesses shoulder most of the responsibility for product safety. They currently base safety considerations on cost, the law, and how serious the injury a product cause. It is like comparing safety considerations of both a pencil and an automobile. There are very few safety considerations with a pencil, but an automobile can cause serious injury to a consumer so safety considerations are a high priority. Businesses should also abandon the misconception that accidents occur exclusively as a result of product misuse and thus are absolved of all responsibility. Products have become increasingly sophisticated and consumers are prone to accidents even when they are reading the instructions. Firms should continue to point out how their products can be used safely with much more easily understandable instructions. Businesses must also provide to consumers written information about a product’s safety, usually in the form of instruction manuals, warnings, and other safety precautions. They must also follow up on customer complaints on the safety of a product in a fair and reasonable way.

At the same time, consumers must also understand their responsibility towards safety. First, they must understand that not all products are completely safe and they must approach a potentially unsafe product with caution. They must read and comprehend all safety instructions. If there are questions about the safety of a product, they must address those questions to the businesses before they attempt to operate the product or return the product for a refund. Finally, if attempts to resolve safety problems of a product with a business fail, they must report these safety problems with the appropriate government agencies.

Product safety is actually the responsibility of both the business and the consumer. Businesses must try to anticipate all safety hazards and provide a product that will operate in a safe manner. Consumers must understand how to operate the product in a safe manner and report any safety problems to businesses so that improvements in safety can be made. This can be difficult for both the business and consumer since both sides do not wish to share the responsibility for safety concerns or try to place blame on each other. Yet if businesses and consumers were to work together on safety issues, perhaps products could become just a little more safe.

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