Design & Risk.
You never really realize how much of a control freak you are until you have a kid. I am the mother of the silliest, smartest, prepossessing, curiousest, five-year-old in town. Her name is Priscilla, and she fell into a trend that colonized the nation overnight.
You went to the gas station, there they were. Online Ads? you bet ya. Car wash counter? most definitely. THEY WERE EVERYWHERE! I am talking about fidget spinners. In case you've been living on Kerguelen Island for the last year; let me briefly explain what a fidget spinner is. It is a small device that you can easily fit in your hand and is made up of three parts, a circular central metal bearing, a three-pronged rotational blade, and a casing. With a flick of a finger; it does what it was meant to do, spin.
The first prototype of fidget spinners was invented way before they took the world by storm. In 1977 while scientists were busy cloning sheeps at the Roslin Institute in Scottland, Catherine Hettinger, a chemical engineer from Oklahoma filed a patent for a plastic spinning device called the "spinning toy" unfortunately, due to financial difficulties she was unable to renew the patent, and they were history. It wasn't until two brothers, Mark and Matthew McClachlin raised millions to revamp the idea of a fidgeting toy in 2017.
Now let's get to the engineering risk assessment of these devices:
While the McClachin brothers came up with many prototypes, they had to choose a durable material, as these toys would be in the hands of sugar inebriated children.
Fidget spinners, fidget cubes, had to be both efficient and profitable.
When we speak about the vulnerability of fidget toys, we have the tendency of focusing on the object itself. However, fidgets being a kids toy; it seems like the risks intensify. Kids are by far the most curious creatures, and they'll disassemble everything and anything you place in front of them (or at least my child would). Risks such as detachable parts becoming choking hazards, the rapid mobility of the rotational blade potentially harming a child are all taken into consideration. I was staggered to find that fidgets are not labeled as toys, but as "general use products" by the CPSA so there are no safety standards manufacturers have to meet to produce fidgets, with the exception of light-up fidgets. (USA Consumer Product Safety Commission) Unfortunately, high levels of lead have been found in fidget spinners, that are selling like hotcakes in retail giants such as Target, but again since they're not considered "toys" Target argues that the fidgets are not subject to legal limits for lead. (US Public Reseach interest groups)
The popularity of this toy is lulling parents into a false sense of security, there have been several reports of chipped tooths, eye injuries implicated by fidgets; and there really is no way around it, but for the caregivers to keep a close eye if younger children are handling this device. The mitigation process is something almost nonexistent since they are not to be held to a "toys" standard, meanwhile the vast majority of its consumer fall between the age group of (5-14). Which as a mother, it is absurd.
- REFLECTION -
Overall the risk assessment engineers utilize to see if these products, structure, systems, etc would be worth the hassle, is something we can all learn from. We do not necessarily have to be designing or developing anything to use it. With every decision we make, it is good that we take some time and come up with a cost-benefit type analysis to see if our decisions can be justified. The most interesting thing I learned was the lack of standards for fidgets, and to be completely honest I am still appalled. It was also interesting to know that the woman who came up with the fidget concept, has not collected one penny from this fidget epidemic.