It seems impossible that such an over-engineered device could be missing safety features. A touch screen, fine-tuned speed controls, internet access… but no emergency brakes. And a totally exposed belt.
Safety Precautions (Skip to Treadmill Injuries if you’re not interested in Liability)
There are a couple of different ways to get to a final, safe product, and limit liability. (This is not legal advice.)
The first way, and the way that provides the most safety for the customer, is to design the product in a way that prevents the customer from injuring themselves accidentally. For example, many toasters get very hot on the outside if they’re used too many times in a row. If the toaster company wanted to prevent that from hurting the customer, they’d want to re-design their toaster casing so it doesn’t get so hot. That’s engineering around the problem.
The second way, which is often cheaper, is to include warnings. This passes the responsibility of not using the toaster too many times in a row to the customer. This has obvious problems – namely that customers don’t like to read, especially if they think they already know how toasters work – but sometimes warnings are the best the company can do. For example, you can’t really engineer a fork-proof or waterproof toaster. Many companies have tried. The best the toaster manufacturer can do is warn customers that using a fork in the toaster is dangerous.
The third way is recommending personal protective equipment. A fireworks manufacturer can suggest that their users should always use goggles when using fireworks, to prevent eye injury. Sometimes consumer products are dangerous just by their function, and the customer has to take extra steps to keep themselves safe. A toaster manufacturer would not be able to say “goggles recommended” and get away with it. If the toaster spontaneously shot a spring into the end user’s eye, the toaster maker can’t say “well, we told you to wear goggles” – that’s out of the range of normal behavior around toasters.
Now, with all of that said, lets get to Peloton’s new product.
Believe it or not, treadmill accidents are pretty common, but rarely fatal. You may have seen videos of teens shooting themselves off the back at high speed on purpose, but that happens accidentally all the time too. Head injuries are a pretty common result. This is where warnings come in – the manufacturer wants to include high speeds, but they can’t control what the end user uses that speed setting for. Warnings are an answer to this problem – PPE and engineering can’t be.
Manufacturers also discovered they got sued a whole lot less if they included certain safety features, like an emergency stop key/button and back guards. Both of these are essential for keeping kids and pets safe around moving equipment, as well as the user themselves – getting sweatpants or fur caught up in the tread can cause serious injury, from road rash to broken bones. It’s very important that the machine is easily stopped. You can’t warn someone out of tripping! Engineering takes over from warnings and PPE.
As a result, these safety features became industry standard. The treadmill company can genuinely say in a civil court that they did their best, and any accidents were a fluke and/or the customer’s fault. Even Peloton had safety keys on this latest model, even though it was missing everything else. Peloton’s decision to remove the other things and not put in anything to replace it speaks to poor management, or poor safety testing – warnings are not suitable for every danger on the device.
Preventing It, In Writing
I mentioned those manufacturer liability ideals at the top for this reason. Many treadmills choose the engineering route, meaning they try their best to child-proof the device so that people and their loved ones can’t be hurt by a simple mistake. Something as easy as leaving the keys in the same room, or letting their cat get too close. These are things that Peloton has compensated for in the past – why now, with the Tread +, did they choose to leave these factors as warnings, instead of testing for them and correcting them in the design room?
Peloton did not include the classic back tread guard on their 4,000$ machine. That alone could have saved the child that got sucked into the treadmill. Their warning manual says not to use the machine around kids, and not to leave the safety keys in the device, and not to let pets or kids get to close to the back of the machine… but the safety engineering that could stop that (and the same engineering that other brands use, which includes a back guard on the tread and a shielded underside) was, for some reason, dropped in favor of just warning about these newly made dangers in the manual. This thing is overengineered as it is, the least they could have done is left the safeties in place! Why would you remove something that worked?! Was it an issue with the weight? Cost? Who knows!
And now regulators want it recalled! It’s obvious that the warnings aren’t good enough to prevent accidents – the Peloton Tread + has killed a child and injured 39 people, far more than it’s fair share of the statistics, as this is written in 2020.
Potential Solutions: From Computers
Assume that Peloton removed the back guards for a functional reason, or left the entire belt exposed for a functional reason, whatever that reason may be. (Keep in mind that this has a 32 inch touch screen with internet access, and costs over 4,000$.)
The belts along the bottom are exposed, meaning that once something gets sucked under, it’s going to get torn apart by the friction between the belt and the ground as it attempts to keep rolling. Most treadmills use something like a safety key – Peloton does too. However, that’s not much help from the back of the machine, where most of the injuries are happening. Once something is behind or under the Peloton, they would have to be strong enough to lift it to free themselves or reach the stop keys, but nobody but an adult is going to be tall enough to reach those keys while also caught by the machine. A shielded underside would have fixed that, but let’s say that’s not an option even though it definitely was. (Again, 4,000$ device).
What would help? What would keep the end user safe even though most of the safety items are gone?
Easy – a resistance detector. Garages use it. Vacuums use it. All sorts of devices use it – resistance detectors keep people from being crushed to death, and they also keep the motor from burning out, something that the Peloton Tread + could do to itself if it sucks up something like a rag and doesn’t stop. This machine’s ticket price is definitely high enough to tack on some extra R&D for a resistance brake. There are issues with it, yeah, but if Peloton wants to be cutting-edge enough to take out all of those safety features, maybe it could be the cutting-edge of new safeties that make this smaller treadmill feasible and safe. Attach a warning to the touch screen that’s already there, maybe. Maybe it could take voice commands. That’s still not great, but the other answer is nothing. Nothing is between long-haired pets and kids who can’t read yet, and getting dragged under forcibly if they step just a little too close and get caught. We have technology, other treadmill brands have already been through this!
In an already overcomputered device, there’s no reason not to add a couple more, or even just keep the old safety guards. Sure, the Peloton + needs to tilt, but it can do that with a shielded bottom. Sure, it wanted to be thinner, but it didn’t need to be. Warnings are obviously not sufficing, but they refuse to do a recall anyway – more warnings aren’t going to solve a fundamental lack of protection around the back of the device.
This is a simple matter of too many computers for the user’s enjoyment and not enough for safety.