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Injuries and deaths caused by appliances for daily home use have made headlines in recent weeks. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry may have had lapses in its efforts to prevent such accidents. Successive disclosures of such incidents must have made both the ministry and manufacturers conscious of the need to step up efforts to protect not only intended users but also their family members, especially children, from accidents.

Reports of 21 deaths due to malfunctioning of Paloma gas water heaters were followed a METI report on Aug. 23 that two toddlers lost fingers in paper shredders this year. Later, it was found that since 1985 more than 10 shredder accidents have occurred, among them seven cases of children being injured by products of Ricoh Co., a major office machine manufacturer, between 1985 and 1997. Apparently makers and the ministry have failed to sufficiently alert the public about the potential dangers home-use shredders pose to children.

Since 1990, the ministry has repeatedly asked associations of electric appliance makers to report accidents involving their products within a week of their occurrence. But the requests did not cover associations that include the makers of the shredders that caused this year’s accidents since they belong to associations of stationary makers and plastic-product makers.

The ministry plans to submit a bill to a coming extraordinary Diet session to make it compulsory for companies to report accidents involving their products. The bill needs to cover not only a wide range of companies but also such institutions as schools, kindergartens, nurseries and hospitals so that a database of accidents accessible to various organizations can be constructed. The names of the companies involved should also be made public.

The lesson should be that makers must seriously take child behavior into account to reduce the chance of their products causing injuries to children. But parents should not forget that they are the last bulwark against such accidents.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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