I don't own a house. It's apartment life for me. That has its ups and downs, of course, but squarely in the "up" column is the part where I don't have to do yard work anymore. Doing it in my youth admittedly could have been worse; my family had a gas-powered lawnmower and and electric weed whacker for our suburban yard. Still, traipsing back and forth in Texas summer cutting back the overgrowth is a special kind of torture.
It's not that simple for most people, though. Yard work is still mostly done with cumbersome machines--ones full of spinning blades and motors and connected systems that can go awry. Even the fairly innocuous leaf blower, an instrument of nothing more than focused air, can break and get dangerous. Case in point: A recall was issued on March 2 for a particular model of leaf blower that can launch dangerous projectiles at its wielder and anyone nearby.
Which Products Are Affected?
This recall involves just one model of leaf blower: The Ryobi 8amp Electric Jet Fan Blower. The affected units feature model number RY42102 and a serial number between EU15401D170001 and EU16239N999999. This information (model and serial number) is printed on a label on the bottom of the blower. Like most Ryobi products, the blower is black and green with "RYOBI" printed on it.
What's Wrong With Them?
According to the release from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC),
The plastic fan inside the electrical blowers can break, causing the fan blades to be discharged from either end of the blower tube. This poses a laceration hazard.
A plastic fan blade may not sound too hazardous on its own, but at high enough speeds anything denser than a marshmallow can be extremely dangerous. Couple that with the fact that the fan could break at any time, entirely without warning or time to react, and flying blades most certainly do pose a laceration hazard. Even worse, they can apparently shoot backward out of the blower tube, creating an unfortunate game of Russian Roulette. If Dave comes over from next door to enviously witness the leaf-blasting power of your new Ryobi, and you get the mischievous idea to turn the blower tube on him because the air is harmless, you might accidentally throw a high-speed knife at him or yourself.
To be fair, "laceration hazards" can describe a range of injuries. In my head I see a plastic blade whirling through the air like a ninja star, but I doubt the truth of the matter is anything that melodramatic. Even if the injury is minor, though, it never should have happened at all.
Who Makes This Product?
The blowers are made overseas by Techtronic Industries Co. Ltd., of China, and imported by One World Technologies Inc. of Anderson, South Carolina.
Techtronic owns and manufactures a variety of home appliance brands, including:
- Milwaukee Tool
- Dirt Devil
Those are just some of the better-recognized names in their repertoire.
How Widespread is the Problem?
The recall involves roughly 121,000 units in the U.S. Another 1,900 or so were sold in Canada and 1,100 more in Mexico, so overall the total comes to about 124,000 leaf blowers with the capacity to fling plastic blades to and fro.
Users of the blowers have submitted 10,681 incident reports related to discharged fan blade pieces to One World customer support. Those reports include 25 incidents of injuries, including lacerations to the face, hands and legs. No fatalities have been reported. Assuming that each report is for a separate unit, the number of reports constitutes almost 9 percent of the recalled blowers.
The brand is sold primarily through the Home Depot big-box hardware chain. The blowers were sold in Home Depot stores nationwide in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. They were also available online at Home Depot's website from 12/2015 through 12/2016. A year's worth of sales of a modestly-priced piece of yard work equipment suggests the faulty blower can be found all over North America by now. Only a small fraction of the 300+ million people in the U.S. are in danger from this malfunction, so it's not time to retreat to the bunkers just yet, but for laborers and homeowners gearing up for the War on Leaves in the fall, it'd be best to take appropriate measures in the meantime.
What Can Be Done About It?
According to the CPSC, consumers should immediately stop using the recalled electric blowers. That seems reasonable for anyone not looking to play William Tell.
One World Technologies, Inc. is evidently offering a free replacement if contacted. One World's Customer Service line can be reach at 800-860-4050 between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time (7-7 CST) Monday through Friday or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time (8-5 CST) Saturday and Sunday. Instructions are also available online at Ryobi's website and click on "Important Recall Notice" for more information. It's at the bottom of the main page in very small blue lettering.
What This Means
If you look again at the list of companies owned by Techtronic Industries, you're going to see quite a few big names from the appliance industry. I've written before about how big companies import critical components from no-name manufacturers that cut corners, which can have serious safety concerns--just look at some of the lithium-ion battery woes so often in the news these days. The same is true for companies making larger consumer goods like power tools: Sourcing manufacturing and parts from groups with minimal safety oversight often means lower cost to a manufacturer, but it also ups the danger factor of the finished products.
Power tools aren't highly-sophisticated machines, but their parts still have to work well together, and often under far more stressful conditions than other consumer goods. Moreover, they are likely to cause serious injuries if they malfunction; anyone who doubts that is free to learn the history of Sawstop table saw technology. The fan in a leaf-blower isn't nearly as hazardous as a saw blade, of course, but it does spin at very high RPM to create the wind integral to its function. That same wind is the propellant behind the flying fan blades causing this recall.
The blade is also one of the blower's most crucial parts, so injuries aside it just seems like very poor manufacturing to make it so breakable. That could be related to "quality fade," an issue often seen in overseas production. Horror stories circulate through the news about Asian factories using lead paint on children's toys, loading laminate flooring with formaldehyde, and adding "surprise" ingredients in dietary supplements, just to name a few high-profile issues. To create a product that works just long enough for a customer to buy it, a lot of corners can be--and are--cut.
To importers and stores, saving on costs means turning a greater profit when the end-products are sold to consumers. I'm not against the practice so long as it's done ethically; then it's just smart business. However, if a blind eye is turned to overseas shenanigans, "ethical" gets tossed to the wind faster than a high-speed fan blade. Fortunately, the law protects consumers in the event of such dirty dealings. Companies have some flexibility in how they do business, but they're certainly not allowed to put their end-users in danger.
When a company sells products to trusting people, it has a legal duty to safeguard them from foreseeable harm. That includes using parts that can withstand normal use, and putting them through 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.