Managing Risk to Managing Safety

Businesses and companies need to manage a wide range of risk throughout the organizations’ life-cycle. For any reputable product-producing company, there is usually a high-degree of focus on managing safety risk in its product design, in order to ensure the product does no harm to people, environment and equipment. Primarily because safety assessments are based on risk assessment methods, managing risk is often equated as managing safety.

This essay attempts to examine if ”Managing Risk’ is the same same as “Managing Safety”, when it comes to product design?

The author starts first by giving some definitions of risk and safety, and how they are inter-related in product safety in design.

Then, three case studies of product safety incidences are analysed. In all these cases, the products were produced by reputable companies which presumably have in place a robust risk, quality and safety management systems.  

  • McDonald’s hot coffee spill case, 1992: McDonalds is a popular fast-food company that has more than 30,000 restaurants worldwide. In 1992, it was sued by a customer in the United States in what is known as ‘the McDonalds’ coffee case and hot-coffee lawsuit’ [1].
  • IKEA Malm cabinet, 2016: IKEA is a Swedish-founded company that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and useful household products. The Malm is one of IKEA’s bedroom range of furniture. It is hugely popular and is estimated that up till 2016, 65 million Malm cabinets have been sold worldwide.  In 2016, after the third reported fatality of a child caused by the Malm dresser tipping over, IKEA issued a recall notice of up to 29 million units in USA and Canada, and later on also in China. However, fatalities continued to happen, and following the 8th reported case of child fatality, a second recall was issued in 2017 [2].
  • Takata airbags, 2013: Takata Corporation was a highly-reputable Japanese safety-systems manufacturer who started designing and manufacturing airbags since 1988. Reports of Takata airbags prematurely erupting first surfaced in 2013, but later reports indicated that the defective airbags erupts violently [3], shooting out metal shards thus putting lives of the passengers it meant to protect at risk instead of saving them .

For each study case, a simplistic risk assessment is simulated in order to help the understanding on how certain decisions on the safety hazard mitigation could have been arrived at. For this illustrative purposes, the Hazards Risk Assessment Matrix found in Appendix 1 from Nicolas Bahr [4]. Whenever possible, the perspective of compliance with respect to design safety is highlighted.

Finally, for each case, it is also explored if the usage of the Safety Cube tool [5] could be used to facilitate the shift from risk focus to safety focus.

Read the essay (and the author’s conclusion) and accompanying presentation slides here.


[1] M. Keneally, “MailOnline,” The Daily Mail, 13 October 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 12 2018].

[2] Y. Zhu, “IKEA Recalls 29 Million Dressers And Chests After 6 Toddler Deaths,”, 28 06 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 12 2018]

[3] Wharton University of Pennsylvania, “What Caused Takata’s Airbag Problems?,” 29 02 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 12 2018]

[4] N. J. Bahr, System Safety and Risk Assessment: A practical approach, CRC Press, 2015

[5] Rajabalinejad, “Incorporation of Safety into Design by Safety Cube,” 2018.

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