I was working on a blog post this morning that turns out to have been based on an entirely fictional story. Researching it a bit further, we discovered that it was what has become commonly called “fake news,” and therefore not worthy of further dissemination. It is a shame, because its ribald nature was a perfect fit with our reputation for taking on the odd and inane. It was related to the misuse of a household product for “personal gratification,” and the one liners were, if I say so myself, hysterical.

I’m sorry you missed it.

However, since the article mentioned new mandatory product safety labels, it got me to thinking about the ever-growing requirement to warn everybody about every potential pitfall in society. After all, the push for ubiquitous safety labels is in many cases really nothing more than our effort to protect stupid people who have a tendency to do thoughtless things.

We’ve all heard about the safety label on the baby stroller that warns you to “remove the baby” before collapsing the stroller. There was the Bluetooth speakerphone that warned users to “”Never operate your speakerphone while driving.” A label on sleeping pills warns that they may cause drowsiness, or the jet ski label that tells users to “Never check the fuel level with a lit match or open flame.” 

I would disagree with that last one. I think using a lit match to check the fuel level would be a spectacular way to find out just how much gas remained in that tank. And it would be efficient, too. The entire neighborhood would instantly know if any fuel was left in that tank.

There is a hair dryer that warns people “not to use while sleeping,” and an egg carton that warns consumers that “this product may contain eggs.” We have a small tractor with a front-end loader that warns users to “avoid death” using an image of a person crushed between the bucket and the vehicle.

Seems like sound advice to me. 

There was even, at one point, a Staples letter opener with a warning that said, “Safety Goggles recommended.”

And we are by no means done. A search reveals that just within the last month there have been attempts by private groups or public entities to add:

  • Breast cancer warning labels to all cheese products
  • Cannabis warning labels
  • Improved warning labels on cigarettes incorporating graphics
  • “Black box” warning labels for breast implants
  • Improved pregnancy warning labels for alcohol products
  • Warning labels for vaping products
  • Climate warnings on gasoline pumps

If successful these will join such brilliant labels like the one on a vanishing fabric marker that warns consumers it “should not be used as a writing instrument for signing checks or any legal documents, as signatures will fade or disappear completely.” 

Or the one on the commercial clothes washer that says, “Do not put a person in this washer.”

Personally, I am glad that the Dremel Multipro rotary tool in my garage told me that, “This product is not intended for use as a dental drill.” That could have proven really embarrassing when I tried to help my neighbor with his root canal.

(You can actually see pictures of all of these examples, and more, here.) 

The really sad fact is that our current legal climate requires warning labels such as these to be used. If a company does not conceive of and warn customers of the perils around virtually every potential misuse of their product, they will end up paying exorbitant costs in liability suits. And all that money being funneled to a moron who checked his gas level with a match can’t be good. 

After all, they will just go out and buy stuff with that money; stuff with which they will undoubtedly hurt themselves. Perhaps we should just develop a master warning, one that could perhaps be tattooed on our fannies on the day we are born. It could say, “Experts have determined that life is a leading cause of injury or death. Please proceed with caution.” That should cover everything. It is probably necessary in a world where we make extraordinary efforts to protect idiots from the obvious.

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