A kitchen safety fable

Once upon a time researchers found that many injuries in the home were due to kettles being left to boil dry.  Analysis of the accidents, that often lead to burns and fires, revealed that there were very small instances of malfunction of the kettles or the stoves and indeed the water usually behaved appropriately too.  Investigators have found that an unsafe act (leaving the kettle unsupervised) was the cause of the injuries in 88% of the cases.

The success story here was a campaign to make people aware that kettles shouldn’t be unsupervised.  Hard hitting television advertisements graphically brought home the agony and suffering caused by bloody idiots who let this happen.  Some advertisements struck at the heart of common unsafe acts by showing these idiots foolishly attempting to save time while the kettle boils by engaging in typical reckless behavior like going to the toilet, making a phone call, or getting milk from the refrigerator.

The campaign has been running for several years now and is a great success as surveys show that most people have seen, and remember, the advertisements.  Some pedantic scientists say that recall of the advertisements is not really proof that they’re effective.  These negative people are easily silenced by figures that show a consistent reduction in injuries to a point now where they’re virtually non-existent.

The agency that produces the campaign accepts that the risk in the use of kettles with automatic cut-off switches has contributed to the improvement.  But the campaign continues so as to guard against that well known killer, complacency.  As the Assistant Commissioner for Kitchen Policing, and Head of the Kettle Squad, regularly reminds viewers on the evening news, “there’s always the idiot factor out there in the kitchen”.

[For the inspiration please refer to Haight, F.A. 1973, ‘A Traffic Safety Fable’, Journal of Safety Research, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 226-228]


About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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