Following a consultation in 2018, the US and Canada have published a joint guidance document to help consumer product manufacturers integrate human factor principles into their product development process.
Published by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Health Canada, the document provides industry with comprehensive guidance on how to apply human factor principles with the aim of reducing the occurrence of negative product-related incidents. By lowering the level of injuries etc., it is anticipated the potential for enforcement actions and lawsuits will also be mitigated.
The guidance document defines ‘human factors’ as the study of how consumers use products. When developing products, manufacturers don’t always take into account the different experiences and abilities of the individual consumer. When this is combined with the varying uses to which the product can be put, it can create unnecessary risk.
The guidance document states the main benefit of considering human factors during a product’s development are:
1. Improved usability and acceptance
2. Increased safety
3. Reduced life cycle costs and risks
4. Reduced support costs
According to the guidance document, human factors should be considered during the following development stages:
1. Product planning
2. Idea and concept generation
3. Design and development
4. Testing and validation
6. Post-production evaluation
Stages three to six are principally concerned with risk reduction.
The authors of the document consider the product planning stage as particularly important as, by identifying the target market at this point and defining how the company plans to handle consumer complaints, alongside other aspects of the planning process, will make correcting problems easier when they are identified during the later stages.
The guidance document also suggests designers consider and evaluate potential misuses of the product during the earliest stages to try to implement mitigation strategies. Human factors should be included in the testing and validation stage, something that Health Canada and the US CPSC indicate should be repeated throughout the product design process. It also suggests these evaluations should not be confined to the laboratory.
Manufacturers are also advised to consider human factors during production in order to ensure safety is maintained and hazards are decreased, both in relation to product use and the safety of assembly line workers.
The joint CPSC and Health Canada document is not an official rule or regulation but both organizations believe conforming to its suggestions will help to create safer products that are less susceptible to recalls, thus minimizing the potential damage to brand reputation and any tangible negative monetary impact on the company such as penalties, protracted legal costs, etc..
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