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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Incompetent design

I am incandescent.  I took my grandchildren to Auckland Zoo today, and found these two appalling examples of dangerous design.

I used to work in museums, and I know how important it is to make sure that everything is safe and fool-proof.  I wasn't a designer, but I worked with designers, and I and my crew worked with the designers to make sure that stupidity like this was not allowed to happen.

If it had happened on my watch, heads would have rolled, mine among them--and rightly so. I had a staff member lose a fingertip in a steam engine, and it isn't a laughing matter.

I am posting this here, as well as on Facebook, because I am aware of a nasty bureaucratic tendency to demand of Facebook that posts be taken down.  Facebook are craven muppets who concur far too easily with shouting blimps.  I am also sharing it on Google+, and I have other blogs up my sleeve.

So, Auckland Zoo, you have just one valid choice.  Try to take this down, and I will put it up on another blog.

Before fingers are severed, I suggest you pull your fingers out, and get rid of these highly dangerous installations.

Analysis: The problem is shearing action. The discs in the first picture are more than 2 cm thick, made of plywood, and close-fitting.  The square hatches are about 40 cm square, just as thick, and if anything, even closer-fitting. Any downward pressure in either case would crush or sever digits.  In a jostling crowd, that is bound to happen, sooner or later--or a single child will drop the undamped square hatches on its or somebody else's hand.  These things are heavy!

Here is what I wrote on Facebook:

This is about gross stupidity.  I am NOT about to be nice. 

Dear Auckland Zoo, I know I could be polite and professional and send you an urgent polite message suggesting that you take your designers and counsel them.  I have elected to tell you publicly to take them outside and kick their arses until their noses bleed.

These installations that I saw today in a children's area at your zoo partake of the nature of guillotines.  One bit of misplaced weight and fingers will be severed or maimed beyond surgical redemption.  The edges are too close together, and the possibilities for high mechanical advantage should be apparent to a roadkill possum.

I used to work in museums, and I know how important safety is in interactives.  Now I suggest that you pull your fingers out--BEFORE you have to pull children's severed fingers out of these ill-conceived designs.

I do this in full awareness that now you have been made aware of the dangers inherent in these designs, you will have VERY limited legal defences hereafter.  So be it.  You have a VERY simple, quick solution.

Now here are some search terms to help make this show up in Google searches:

legal liability, dangerous design, poor design, safety, children, culpability, mismanagement, misguided bureaucracy, health, welfare 

Afterword: I had several strident-to-abusive messages from muppets who just didn't get it.  I was accused of being OTT (Over The Top) for speaking out on safety, and I was told that children have to learn to cope with dangerous situations, to which I asked if that particular idiot wanted to send children into a minefield.  The last one accused me of being PC.

Get it straight people: I understand danger when I see it, and I see the need to underline it. The zoo told me they had been monitoring it (no sign of that when I was there), and that they were planning "repairs".

I replied that they needed to get rid of the whole installation.  I will be happy to provide statements and advice when somebody is forced to sue these fools. The harm will probably come when teenage schoolkids are pushing and jostling, and some uninvolved child has its hand in the wrong place at the wrong time.


  1. I just went to the Auckland Zoo Facebook page, and found that they have deleted my comment (though they seemed to have missed my similar comments in a review: those are still there.

    I posted this:

    "Dear Auckland Zoo, you may sanitise your page by deleting my comments on the dangerous interactives in your Conservation Centre, but I have blogged about this, and posted comments on Facebook and Google+ so please rest assured: you are wasting the time you should have been spending getting those interactives away from young fingers. NOTE: any person whose children are maimed by these interactives will now be able to locate my public comments by Googling, and will know that you have NO defence in law for any injuries that occur."

  2. Report: this time, they realised I wasn't going to go away, that they had to respond, but they offered a milksoppish reply:

    'Thanks for your concern. There were some issues in the installation process for these particular items and we have been monitoring them very closely since the centre opened a couple of weeks ago. We have already scheduled repairs to be made early next week, now that school holidays have finished. If you'd like to discuss this further, please feel free to message your contact details to us and we'd be happy to contact you.'

    I replied:

    'I think I have made the salient issues abundantly clear in my blog. These are more than "issues", and there was no sign of any monitoring when I was there. You don't need "repairs", you need wholesale demolition and/or removal. As an old bureaucrat who knows how people like to hide their shame, I don't discuss matters of safety out of the limelight: I put them out there so others can see what action you take. I expect you to keep this on display--and to give wise counsel to the idiot who removed my first message. Sample counsel: "there's the door--go!" '

  3. Good luck, Peter. Any change since January?

  4. Not to my knowledge. Because I wanted them to understand that evasion would not work, I posted the URL of this entry, so they could, if they wished, post their stupid kill-the-messenger comments here--OR indicate with contrition that they had removed the dangerous items. I came back to Sydney, some 2200 km away, a few days later.