Health & Safety Issues to Watch in 2018

We recently announced the top consumer safety issues from last year – now, it’s time to take a look at what’s ahead and talk about some of the things we think could be problems in 2018!

So without further ado, here are the topics and issues we think could be Big Deals in the coming 12 months from a consumer safety perspective.

Kobe Steel: The Next Takata?

Back in October, the news broke that employees at Kobe Steel – a major player in Japanese industrial manufacturing for more than 100 years – had been faking safety data. The long and short of it is that they lied about the structural integrity of copper and aluminum parts made for various clients.

But who are Kobe’s clients? Some of them are major vehicle manufacturers, including companies that make automobiles, airplanes and high-speed trains. Add to that a number of nuclear power companies, and the situation gets real scary real quick.

Selected Kobe Steel Customers

  • Honda
  • Toyota
  • Nissan
  • Boeing
  • Mitsubishi
  • Mazda
  • Daihatsu
  • HondaJet
  • IHI Corp.
  • Chugoku Electric Power Co.
  • Hokuriku Electric Power Co.
  • Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd
  • Kansai Electric Power Co.
  • Kyushu Electric Power Co.
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries
  • Panasonic
  • Toshiba
  • Komatsu
  • Shimadzu
  • Suzuki
  • Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding
  • Bosch
  • Hyundai
  • Kia
  • Ford
  • Rolls-Royce

The thing is, we haven’t heard much since the story first broke three months ago. But then, Takata knew as early as 2000 that its airbags might be unsafe, and it took until 2009 (after the first known death) for car companies to start issuing airbag recalls. Hopefully, Kobe can learn a lesson from Takata and be proactive with its parts replacements.

Self-Driving Cars

Last summer, a story made the rounds that the biggest problem with self-driving cars could be people. Not the people behind the wheel, but rather the people in front of the bumper (i.e., pedestrians).

Basically, people are unpredictable, and engineers developing self-driving car technology don’t know what to make of that fact. As a general rule, unpredictability is hard to plan for, and if (or, more likely, when) self-driving cars arrive in large numbers on the road, it’s hard to know how people will begin to change behavior patterns in response.

Another big safety problem with self-driving automobiles is relatively easy to describe, but very difficult to resolve. The issue is that nobody really knows how to define “self-driving car.” We use words like “self-driving,” “autonomous,” “driverless,” etc., but there is no accepted industry or regulatory standard as to how much human involvement – or lack of involvement – is required to apply one of these monikers.

Does that mean “self-driving” will go the way of “organic” as an effectively useless label? That remains to be seen, but as more tests and developments continue on this new breed of vehicles, it bears keeping in mind that there is still a lot of work to be done.

FDA Drug Approval Process

Last May, Scott Gottlieb was sworn in as the new FDA Commissioner. As leader of the agency that (among other things) provides approvals for new drugs, a lot of people are expressing concern over some of the policy changes that are coming down the pike.

For example, President Trump has frequently discussed the possibility of bringing forth an era of faster drug approvals. One of the ways this could happen is by making the FDA more like the European Medicines Agency (EMA), in which a politically appointed group of bureaucrats provides drug approvals separate from the medical experts who actually evaluate the drug.

The theory goes that an appointed drug approval board will be easier to hold accountable through the political process. Because if there’s one adjective that springs to mind when thinking about politicians, it’s “accountable.”

Another criticism of Gottlieb’s plan is that the EMA’s process takes longer to approve drugs than the current FDA process. By mirroring the European agency’s process, we could actually see the FDA taking longer to approve drugs than it currently does, which is counter to the stated goal of making such a change.

At any rate, there may already be too little evaluation time when it comes to drug approvals. When blood thinners like Pradaxa and Xarelto can get approval without having antidotes, people become vulnerable to serious (and even deadly) side effects. While some people could be helped by having faster access to certain drugs, it is important to weigh the potential costs and benefits carefully to make sure people are not put in any unnecessary danger.

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