Generally when products aren't what we expect them to be, they're just sort of a cosmetic letdown over what they show in carefully-arranged advertising (the idea of "expectation vs. reality"), but sometimes they are faulty in more serious ways. When that happens people don't just groan and roll their eyes in disappointment--they can actually get hurt. That's when we need to have a much more serious look at the companies behind those products, and what can be done to help the victims who were injured by them.
This came to mind after checking recent releases from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and seeing a recall, issued May 2, for some simple handheld massagers that can develop exposed wires and cause burn injuries to unsuspecting consumers.
Which Products Are Affected?
This recall involves three models of HoMedics massagers: HHP-375H, HHP-250 and PA-MH-THP. All models of the massagers have a standard 120 VAC power cords and plug into house current.
All of these models regardless of their manufacturing dates are included in the recall. Their item date codes can be found on either cord prongs or on the rating label located on the underside of the products. Date codes are 4-digit WWYY numbers, where WW is the sequential week of the year and YY is the last two digits of the year the product was manufactured.
What's Wrong With Them?
HoMedics is cooperating with the CPSC to perform a "Fast Track" recall of these massagers. The company voluntarily issued the recall after receiving 140 reports of sparks, smoke, exposed wires, and in some instances, shooting flames coming from the products themselves. The specific malfunction that seems to be responsible for these hazards involves the unit's power cord, which allegedly can break near the base of the massager and expose its wires. Units that are plugged in when or after the break occurs are at risk of electric shock and burn hazards.
The company has received 15 incident reports of customers sustaining burns to their fingers, hands, and other parts of their bodies. These "other parts" were not specified by the recall, but we as adults might draw some cringe-worthy conclusions about how a fire-prone massager could cause bodily harm.
Who Makes This Product?
The product appears to have been manufactured by one or more companies in China. They were imported to the U.S. by HoMedics USA LLC, of Commerce Township, Michigan. They were then distributed to various consumer outlets nationwide, such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy's, Rite-Aid, Walmart and others. They were also sold on the Home Shopping Network from August 2013 through February 2017, for approximately $30-$50.
How Widespread is the Problem?
The recall apparently involves about 400,000 units, sold from several stores across the country over about three and a half years. Statistically that means the massagers can probably found anywhere in the country by now. If that sounds like I'm declaring the doom of mankind, it's worth noting that 400,000 units scattered amongst 325 million people isn't a major crisis, but getting burned by household current is definitely a concern and steps should be taken by consumers who own these products.
What Can Be Done About It?
The CPSC's suggested remedy requires immediately discontinuing use of the product and contacting HoMedics for instructions about how to remove the faulty cord. HoMedics is also offering a refund in the form of a credit toward the purchase of a replacement product from their catalog.
HoMedics' toll-free customer service line can be reached at 888-803-0509 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday. Customers can also visit the firm's website click on the Product Recall banner for more information. It's not immediately obvious as it's situated between some site graphics, so you can find the promised recall information here.
What This Means
I don't want to point fingers exactly, but overseas firms that promise to manufacture your products for costs drastically lower than the market rate should be regarded with serious caution. As appealing as it likely seems to pay less for manufacturing, those savings don't just materialize from nowhere--they have to be taken out of a different part of the process. That means cheaper materials, poor assembly, and compromised safety. The more complex a product is (massagers aren't exactly supercomputers, but they do have electric components that have to work in harmony), the easier it is for inferior materials or construction to take place. It's an observed phenomenon called "quality fade" that seems to be pretty common in some areas of overseas labor and materials-sourcing. Horror stories circulate all the time about Chinese factories using lead paint on children's toys, loading laminate flooring with cancer-causing formaldehyde, adding undeclared ingredients in exported supplements, and making exploding batteries for consumer electronics.
Western companies are somewhat complicit in this arrangement because saving on costs means turning a greater profit when they sell the end-products to consumers. As profit-driven companies, there's nothing wrong with trying to find ways to maximize returns--provided nobody is hurt by the shortcuts. If a blind eye is turned to the goings-on overseas, well...issuing a recall is costly, but not usually as expensive as maintaining rigorous manufacturing standards. Put it this way: is it easier to stay righteous and adhere to specific standards ALL THE TIME, or to just do whatever you want (knowing that things usually work out) and just apologize if it happens to hurt someone?
Fortunately, consumers are better protected than that. Companies are granted some flexibility in how they do business--but they're only allowed to cut *so many* corners before they're putting their end-users in danger. When a company sells products to trusting consumers, it has a legal duty to provide appropriate quality control. They are obligated to prevent foreseeable harms--both those that might arise from conventional use and those which could reasonably be predicted as a byproduct of unconventional use. The malfunction in question appears to be something that can go wrong from simple, normal use of the massager, and as such HoMedics has breached its duty. Those injured by its flawed products may have grounds to seek damages from the company for its negligence in quality control.