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Brightly colored laundry pods sicken thousands of kids each year

Many of the products we buy come with warning labels that can seem unnecessary. Common sense is usually more than adequate when it comes to using a given product safely and correctly. But these labels are nonetheless important.

In many cases, products that are safe for adults might be hazardous or even fatal when in the presence of children or pets. As one example, a surprising number of child injuries in recent years have been attributed to brightly colored laundry detergent pods. Young children often mistake them for candy and try to eat the poisonous products.

A study recently published in the journal “Pediatrics” found that during 2012 and 2013, laundry pods injured or sickened more than 17,000 children under the age of 6. Approximately 80 percent of kids tried to ingest the pods.

The concentrated chemicals in these pods make them much more dangerous than regular laundry detergents. One of the study’s co-authors noted that “sometimes the chemicals get into the eyes, sometimes they are swallowed. And if they are swallowed, they can cause severe burns to the esophagus and the stomach.” Some injuries are mild enough to be treated at home. In other cases, however, children may need to spend two or three days in a pediatric intensive care unit.

So what conclusions should we draw from such data? Obviously, parents have an important role to play in making sure that laundry pods and other dangerous-but-attractive products are not within reach of their young children. But product manufacturers also have a responsibility as well.

In a recent news article, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy explained that “when you are designing a new product you need to be thinking about the most vulnerable part of the population and how it will interact with the product. In this case, it is kids.” From a product design standpoint, this could mean making the products less colorful and eye-catching. It could also mean designing packaging in such a way that it cannot easily be opened by children – much like most pill bottles these days.

Product manufacturers cannot prevent all injury scenarios in which products are misused by consumers. But they can and should respond to the most common threats, especially those affecting young children.

Source: Today, “Thousands of children at risk from eating laundry pods, study finds,” Linda Carroll, Nov. 10, 2014

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