There is a fine line between how much safety a corporation should provide to the consumer regarding its products vs. how much responsibility of safety should fall on the average consumer. Take, for instance, the all too familiar McDonald’s coffee episode. Does McDonald’s have a responsibility to its customers to ensure the coffee isn’t hot enough to scald if spilled upon one’s lap? Or should the customer be held responsible for their own safety in regards to common sense judgment? This is what California Space Heaters, Inc. CSH) must consider when deciding exactly which products to launch. Kerosene heaters are often times used in shops and garages as well as inside homes. They are quite a bit heavier than standard electric space heaters, which tip over easily. Because of their weight (and low center of gravity with fuel), kerosene heaters are typically very sturdy. Tipping over a kerosene heater takes some doing. Additionally, because there is fuel involved, people are probably more cautious than they might be with an electric heater.
Users have the responsibility to use extreme caution when operating any fuel-based component, especially any type of heating device. Due to the stability of these types of heaters, a corporation should not be held liable for recklessness that results in a kerosene heater tip-over. Using these arguments, I would recommend that CSH does not incorporate an automatic cut-off when tipped over on any of its units. Instead, one of the most important features that should be implemented is an electric spark ignition. The first danger of no electric start option is simply the repetitive lighting of a match.
While it is the users’ responsibility handling matches safely in their own home, a combustible fuel is also involved, which increases danger significantly. According to CSH engineers, adding an electric start option would decrease the probability of death by 50%. Even though the cost of the feature is relatively high at $19. 50, the risk of death is simply too high to ignore. A corporation that has been given such estimates from its engineering department has a responsibility to implement a safety device. Electric start is the single most important ption that should be incorporated on all models for safety reasons. The profile of users in a shop or garage setting differs greatly from users in a home. Users in a shop or garage are more likely to be mechanically inclined. Additionally, safety features are arguably more important in a home than in a shop or garage. In a home, the heater is typically closer to combustibles, including furniture, curtains, and carpet. Due to these variables, CSH should market an indoor/outdoor heater and an outdoor only heater.
The only necessary option on the outdoor heater is the electric start, as previously discussed. A shop or garage user will likely be more mechanically inclined and able to adjust the wick accurately. A thermostat shouldn’t be needed because the unit will less likely be near combustibles. Overheating due to flare-ups will not be as big of an issue either because of the surroundings, not to mention the user is more likely to notice flare-ups because the unit will only be operating when he or she is in the garage or shop, in most cases.
A removable tank would also not be necessary since fill-up is easier outdoors. On the other hand, the indoor/outdoor heater should have three options incorporated on the base model. The first is the electric start option, as mentioned previously. The second most important option is the wick stop. This option keeps users from lowering the wick too much, which causes inefficiency and increased emissions.
And because the unit is operating indoors, emission control is much more important than it is in a garage or shop where there is more ventilation. The third and last option absolutely necessary for the indoor heater is a removable tank. Refueling a tank indoors is dirty, aromatic, and more dangerous than refueling outdoors. A removable tank also eliminates the need for a siphoning system. A tank level gauge is just a “bell and whistle” not needed for a base model. An electric wick adjustment is an option that could be implemented on higher-end models, but is not a big safety concern, so does not justify the high cost.
For both indoor and outdoor heaters, it would be very important to apply warning labels in clear view on the kerosene heater in regards to asphyxiation, proper wick adjustment methods, re-fueling methods, and other pertinent safety information. The cost of the basic heater without any safety options is $44. To add the electric ignition for the outdoor model, the cost would be $63. 50. Adding the wick stop and removable tank to the indoor model, the cost would be $76. With an average of a 95% markup for retail, the outdoor unit would sell for about $124.
The indoor unit would sell for about $144. 50. The safety features implemented for these base models do three things. First of all, they address basic safety concerns that are considered (at least in part by the engineers) to be relatively dangerous to the average user. Secondly, by keeping the safety features to a minimum and including only the options deemed pertinent to safety, it keeps the price as low as possible, while maintaining corporate responsibility. And lastly, by implementing these features (though few), insurance premiums per unit should drop from the estimated $55 per unit.
In conclusion, corporations have a responsibility to provide reasonably safe products, but consumers must also use common sense judgment and take responsibility for their own actions. By introducing these base model products as suggested, sales shouldn’t lag far behind the estimated 2,000,000 units annually; and on top of that, the units can be something CSH can proudly produce knowing that safety precautions have been provided to customers. Oh, and my view on the McDonald’s coffee case? Whether the coffee was 100 or 200 degrees, the customer who spilled the coffee was solely to blame.