Does your product need warning labels?

Does your product need warning labels?

Products are often regulated and require specific information or warning labels depending on Federal, State, or local laws. Of course, always consult an attorney for definitive answers, but evaluation of existing products can often illuminate the requirements.

Depending on what type of product you’re creating, you may need to include specific ingredient information, flammability warnings, poison warnings, or simply need to include usage warnings. Obviously, if you’re creating food products, you’re going to need to include nutritional information, ingredients, allergy warnings, expiration dates, and depending on the food, possibly inspection seals. If your product includes cords or electricity you’ll need to incorporate electrocution warnings. If it has small parts and will be around children you’ll want to include choking hazard warnings. And the list goes on and on.

Consult the legal types for official guidance

I can’t stress enough, even if you’re creating a product that has lots of competitors, simply relying on empirical evaluation of what they put on their products isn’t the smartest tactic. It’s like cheating off of someone in school - you hope they have the right answers - but you really can’t be sure until it’s too late. So really, consult an attorney, specifically one that’s versed in the legal requirements of your industry.

But now to rant a bit… <rant>

What inspired me to write this post was a really old folding chair that sits in our office bathroom. It was originally used for allowing my young daughter to wash her hands when she came to visit. But since she’s grown now, it simply sits behind the door, folded away only to be seen when you’re doing…er… well… some thinking.

I’ve looked at it for months numerous times but never really absorbed anything about it. Until one day I actually read the Warning.

This chair is not a step ladder. Do not stand on this chair. To prevent against potential injuries and structural failures, this chair should not be used for other than its intended purpose. Please regularly inspect this chair for loose or missing screws or rivets, metal fatigue, cracks, broken welds, missing attachments and general instability. If this chair apprears [sic] to be unstable, immediately remove from service to be replaced or repaired. Failure to follow these warning could result in serious injury.

I suppose it was the typo that first caught my eye. But then as I read and re-read the warning I chuckled. This was definitely a cover-your-ass legalese warning. Sure, it’s valid safety advice, but it’s like the warning on ladder top rungs to “not stand here.” It’s because we’re a litigious society now and people don’t take personal responsibility for their own stupid actions. Sure there are legitimate safety failures in products - but if I climb up a ladder to balance myself on it precariously - isn’t that my choice and my responsibility if I fall and get hurt? I mean, having to put a warning on the top to “not stand here” is ridiculous but sadly, necessary.

I had violated the safe use of the chair

As you recall, the purpose of the chair being in the bathroom was so my young daughter could stand on it to wash her hands. A clear violation of the safety warning. Now, if my daughter had fallen, or if the chair slipped or collapsed, I’m confident I would have picked her up - comforted her to stop the crying - and then thought to myself “well, I shouldn’t have used the chair. I’ll go get a step stool tomorrow.” I certainly wouldn’t have thought about suing the chair maker. But I guess that’s not the case for everyone - and so the warning label needs to exist.

OK, I’m done ranting... </rant>

So even if you’re unsure or not concerned about adding warning labels or verbiage to your product - the smart thing to do is to consult with an attorney nonetheless. Even if your product isn’t covered by any regulations nor requires any warnings - you may want to include one to cover your ass. Because stupid people do stupid things and then want to sue someone.

Mar 31, 2015

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