21 September 2012

Weird product warnings

Just how stupid are we that manufacturers have to warn us not to clean our teeth with toilet brushes, asks Susan Erasmus.


Just how stupid are we that manufacturers have to warn us not to clean our teeth with toilet brushes, asks Susan Erasmus.

Many really ridiculous instructions and warnings are no doubt the result of product liability lawsuits and the litiginous nature of mostly US consumers. It's one thing being seriously injured by a defective or correctly used product, and quite another doing something extraordinarily stupid and then holding the manufacturer responsible.

A case in point: Wayne Watson has been awarded $7 million after being diagnosed with "microwave popcorn lung" a respiratory disease, which he contracted after eating two bags of microwave popcorn a day for years. There was no warning on the bags.

Huh? If I drink too much water, I will get ill. It doesn't take a genius to work out that two bags of popcorn a day might be a teeny bit excessive in the long run. It's one thing if there's arsenic or a dead rat in your dinner-for-one and quite another if consumer stupidity leads to disaster. I fail to see why manufacturers can be held responsible for idiotic excesses.

Serving suggestions

Do me a favour: next time you are in the tinned goods section of your local supermarket, take a moment to check out the 'Serving suggestions' on the various tinned goods. Nine out of ten of them are simply the contents of the tin (which are mostly hugely lacking in the taste department) turned upside down on a plate, with a sprig of parsley on top. I don't know about you, but I am unable to get excited about cold tinned fish upended on a plate. Parsley or no parsley.

But legend has it that manufacturers do that, because any additions or enhancements on the pictures may be deemed to be part of the contents of the tin. Some cans include the sentence "Plate not included" – clearly somewhere there was a consumer who laid charges when he found the 10cm tin of tuna did not in fact include the 20cm plate seen on the photo. A savvy consumer or an absolutely ludicrous legal loophole?

But there are some instructions that are so outrageous that they are almost an insult to the consumer's intelligence when seen on packaging.

And I am not referring to the standard translation disasters on Chinese products and signs which are endlessly amusing and bizarre such as the priceless sentence on a bicycle repair kit that simply stated: "Take care that a finger." Or the Hong Kong lingerie shop that was called The Phat Ho.

Weird instructions

I am speaking of products manufactured in mostly English-speaking countries for English-speaking people. I cannot help but wonder how on earth anyone who can read, and had the wherewithal to get enough money together,  get to the shop in one piece, make a selection,  pay for it, and get home without ending up under a bus, needs to be told such sadly basic things.

Special mention must be made here for this instruction on a bottle of drain cleaner:"

If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product";

But there will be a story behind each ridiculous instruction. Or just plain stupidity on the part of the manufacturers.

One can only wonder about the following ones:

On a bottle of paediatric cough syrup:
Do not operate heavy machinery after taking

On packaging for a Rowenta iron:
Do not iron clothes on body.

On over-the counter sleeping tablets:
Warning: may cause drowsiness

On a packet of peanuts:
Warning: Contains nuts.

On a box of aspirin:
Do not take if allergic to aspirin.


Now let's see if I can possibly get through the day without doing any of the following:

  • Ironing my clothes while I am wearing them;
  • Using a wire toilet brush for personal hygiene purposes
  • Using a hand drill to do my own dental work
  • Drying my hair with a hair dryer while I am sleeping
  • Taking my wheelbarrow out onto the highway
  • Spraying deodorant into my eyes

So far I have managed all the above, but if you have not, it may be God's way of telling you that you are not yet ready to take on the world unsupervised by an adult with an IQ above 75.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, September 2012)






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