Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kicking the Bucket Warning Label

Red, white and black warning label showing a toddler falling into a bucket with some water at the bottom
I know it's old hat to gripe about stupid product labels that warn of completely obvious or unlikely dangers.

But this label, from the side of one of those enormous kitty litter buckets, completely confounds me. It doesn't warn you about the product itself -- there's no danger from kitty litter, apparently. (At first, I visualized the possibility of a quicksand-like death for an extremely tiny, unwary child.) No, it's the package, which you might put water in once the kitty litter is used up, and your child might fall into it.

What's more, this warning is about 3 x 6", meaning it takes up almost a quarter of the side of the already large package.

This made me wonder if every bucket made today, whether sold empty or with some type of product in it, is required to carry this warning. Googling "bucket drowning warning" leads me to conclude that this is the case: There was a bill in Congress in 1993, and it seems as though the industry voluntarily developed the label shown above, tested it on parents of young children, and began to place it on every 5 gallon bucket. (I just never noticed, I guess, despite the fact that I had a young child right around that time.)

According to a book I found in my Google wanderings (see page 533), the Consumer Product Safety Commission didn't expect the label to prevent deaths. "People may not look for warning information on 5-gallon buckets, as they are using the bucket and not its contents. Further, even if read, the label conveys an idea that contradicts current expectations and may even appear counterintuitive. In addition, other labels, including product description information, will compete with the warning for attention and space."

According to the CPSC, 94 children died from drowning in buckets between 1999 and 2006, an average of about one per month. I couldn't help wondering if that is lower than the number of drownings before the labels were in use?

Unfortunately, the only information I can find on numbers from before the labels were in use is this from the CPSC website, dated 1994: "The Commission is aware of more than 250 instances in the last 10 years in which young children have fallen head first into plastic buckets containing liquids and drowned or were injured." 250 in 10 years... that's just about one per month, basically the same rate experienced between 1999 and 2006 after the labels were in use.

Clearly, no one wants a single child to drown in a five-gallon bucket. But it's highly questionable whether placing big warning labels prevents it, or just makes everyone feel better.

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