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Are you to blame? Answered

OK, I know it's a deliberately attention-grabbing topic name. Sorry about that.

There was a post on the Bamboo bike frame, essentially saying "a disclaimer that this could be dangerous isn't enough; people aren't qualified to judge the strength of their homebuilt bike frames so might still get hurt even if they are careful", which attracted a lot of ire, but also a response from whiteoakart reframing the question, thus:

As a maker and writer of an Instructable, what is your responsibility to keep your readers safe? How far does your culpability extend?

This is obviously a knotty issue, and one that seems to have a range of attitudes across the board- some people say "pointy things are pointy, hot things are burny, don't hurt yourself" and leave it at that, some people list all the grievous injuries possible from their Instructable.

In my opinion, there are two major things to consider:

Is a person likely to do themselves harm even taking reasonable precautions?
  • An Instructable on how to weld, with clear advice on breathing protection, eye protection and not electrocuting yourself should be "safe"
  • An Instructable on free rock climbing, even with all the advice in the world about how to climb well, could easily get someone killed because free climbing is inherently dangerous

Is the intended audience capable of accurately assessing the risks? The risks of a table saw are obvious- put your hands in the wrong bit and it will cut them off- but the risks of high-voltage electrics are harder to judge with simple "common sense" because a seemingly minor fault could be lethal.

Both of these have an element of "reasonable" to them- if you make your instructions foolproof nature will give you a bigger fool, but there is a point at which it is reasonable to assume that a sensible person following your instructions with care and attention will not injure themselves.

More thoughts?

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Goodhart (author)2009-09-25

It would be very close to impossible to name and warn against every and all possible things that could go wrong with any build. I have to agree with some others here, there must be a line drawn in the sand saying, HEY, we warned you to go slow and take it carefully. If you hurt yourself, it is your responsibility, since you hurt yourself. All this blaming others for my own actions is so immature and so very much without any thought involved.
If a person can't take responsibility for their own actions, they shouldn't

DO

anything.
Period.

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trailgrind (author)Goodhart2010-09-26

I totally agree with you. For me I personally think that line should, for the majority of 'ibles, be at "this is dangerous." other than that we begin to cater to the lowest common denominator and remove personal responsibility.

In addition, all these issues of what if a 10 year old reads it and tries it...WHERE ARE HIS PARENTS and why aren't they being responsible parents. with many of these 'ibles if i had tried them when i was 10 my parents would have killed me, there wouldn't have been any concern about me injuring myself and suing. I think we need to stop pandering and hold people to higher standards both as individuals and parents(if they are parents).

I am tired of being expected to live in fear with everything i do because someone might take offense or decide they need to sue me. I want my liberty and freedom back and with that the right to hurt myself if i am stupid.  if i did decide to sue and it was my stupidity, I want a justice system that will say just that and throw the case out right away and even better would be if my lawyer then got in trouble for bringing such stupidity into the court. this issue falls right in line with all the "political correctness" garbage out there and the issue of nanny states. I lived in a 3rd world country for 2 years and people there called things as they are, if you're stupid, they'd tell you; if you were white, they'd say white not caucasian; if you were begging, they'd tell you to get a job; if you hurt yourself, you were to blame. it was so refreshing. it is sad that things aren't like that here anymore.

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ll.13 (author)2009-10-01

Most regulars have seen it all before, but with all the non-regulars making one off instructables they'll never go away. I say be responsible for what your own grubby paws do.

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silkstarlight (author)2009-09-24

I was drawn to see this Instructable when I got my email showing the featured projects as I knew my brother in law would be the kind of dude to attempt to make a bike from bamboo. When I read the disclaimer I did not feel like it was something that was too flip or not taking more responsibility for what people decide to do with the information he provides in this tutorial. Also, the author is not the first person to create this kind of project, there are other ways to build a bamboo bike. Which brings me to the reason I stayed and read the discussion for this Instructable. Even though for myself, I would not be into doing this kind of project, I really got into the discussion among the members about the science of the design, how to calculate the amount of stress the bike could handle on certain pressure points, the use of adhesives and alternate materials to improve his project so it would not break in certain places, I got a little education there. That interested me a lot. There are tutorials about making wine and beer. Does that mean the authors of those tutorials would be responsible for someone who creates their own brew, drinks it all in one sitting and gets alcohol poisoning? No matter what kind of disclaimer you put, you always have someone who for whatever reason, doesn't want to be careful, doesn't take safety precautions, doesn't use common sense, and they end up on the 11 o clock news with a pole up their rectum or something ridiculous...I make wire jewelry, and I poke myself all the time with the ends of wires needles, tools, and I have a lot of little red pindots on my thumbs and forefingers from working on my projects. Am not going to sue the wire company for not telling me on the label that manipulating craft wire could cause punctures on human skin. I just had a look at my iron. It says on the bottom, "CAUTION: Do Not Immerse In Any Liquid." It doesn't say why. So if I do that, then I can sue the manufacturer because they should have put "..in Any Liquid because it can ELECTROCUTE YOU." I think for the most part the folks on Instructables have common sense to not do the most blatantly stupid things with found objects and end up hurting themselves. If I am going to build a bike out of paper cups, I should have the common sense to know there is a possibility it may not hold me up.

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Kryptonite (author)silkstarlight2009-09-26

Bags making the paper cup bike!

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Kiteman (author)Kryptonite2009-09-29

Come on, you've had three days now - is it finished yet?

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Kryptonite (author)Kiteman2009-10-01

I'm filling every one with coffee and drinking it before setting it aside for the bike. So far I'm half way there, I don't feel quite the same for some reason...

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crapflinger (author)2009-09-25

""For rock climbing, you shouldn't need to warn that falling off is dangerous"" actually...falling isn't dangerous at all...it's that quick stop at the bottom that does the damage a sense of self responsibility is something that's being bred out of our children these days....everyone has a cop out for anything they do... didn't do well in school? oh well i must have ADD, it's not my fault got in an accident in your car? oh well it must have been the manufacturer of the road surface, it's not my fault murdered your whole family? my dad beat me as a kid...it's not my fault lather rinse repeat from a legal standpoint i wonder how the nature of what's done here is actually handled...i mean no one is purchasing the instructions or being forced to follow them. does that remove culpability from the person posting the instructions? in any case shouldn't a simple "i'm not responsible for anything that goes wrong (or goes right) and causes harm" be enough here?...as far as strict CYA

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PKM (author)crapflinger2009-09-25

Well, legally I suspect posting information on how to make pipe bombs or cook meth freely available online is frowned upon and might get you into some trouble.

Presumably the law has its own criteria for what information is considered dangerous of itself, I'd guess the ethical equivalent of that distinction is part of what I'm looking for.

I think there are also some things you can't disclaim responsibility for- a zoo with no fences and a sign saying "beware of the leopard", or a public building full of rusty nails sticking out of the floor with a sign saying "please mind your step" isn't going to cut it. If you posted the pipe bomb instructions online, some kid found your instructions, built one and blew himself up, you are responsible even if you disclaimed responsibility. In that case the responsible thing to do would be not post at all.

Many Instructable writers take the sensible standpoint of saying "I disclaim responsibility for what happens to you; if you disagree, don't build it", which is effective, but only so far as you consider those disclaimers to be binding. When's the last time you read every word of a EULA you then clicked "I Agree" on? IIRC there is a legal precedent that EULAs aren't legally binding because it's an established fact that no-one reads them, even if you do have to scroll all the way to the bottom to unlock the Agree button.

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crapflinger (author)PKM2009-09-25

EULA's are actually legally binding...as are any other license agreements that require you to accept them...whether you read them or not is irrelevant. when you press "ok" or "i accept" you have accepted the license and stated that you've read it...so you can't come back later in court and say you didn't read it...because when you click ok you said you read it...so you can't very well go back and say you didn't read it at that point and be taken seriously

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PKM (author)crapflinger2009-09-30

EULA's are actually legally binding...

A discussion about the actual legal standing of EULAs (though it may be just armchair lawyers).

I think that comment thread touches on some of the points I am thinking of, but the legal details (contract law, IP law etc.) are way over my head. The part I was specifically thinking of was that I seem to remember someone winning a judgement against an EULA based on the fact that it's a well-established fact that almost no-one ever reads an EULA in its entirety.

I'm envisaging a similar scenario where someone points out all the sets of dangerous instructions on the internet, complete with "If you do this I disclaim all responsibility, this is for informational purposes only pls don't actually make any explosives kthx" and a similar establishment that the detailed step-by-step instructions in question are designed to be followed, not just consulted for information.

While it would be nice if you could write "by accepting this brick through your window, Sony Corporation accept all liability for potential property damage and expenses occurring as a result" and have it be legally binding, I don't think it's quite that easy.

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crapflinger (author)PKM2009-09-30

well...the brick example is a bit extreme....and would fall outside of the realm of legality because the person receiving the brick wasn't given the opportunity to accept or deny the brick if you've got a good enough lawyer you can get around ANY legal document (EULA, contract, etc..)....but the basics of contract law state that once you enter into a legally binding contract (which can be anything honestly....even oral contracts can be legally binding as long as it can be proved within reasonable doubt that there was one) then you're bound to that... a disclaimer falls into the same concept...if you give someone a reasonable representation of the danger involved then as soon as they decide to follow your instructions, use your product, etc... they've entered into a contract with you stating that you will not hold them responsible for what happens if things go south.. of course reasonable is always in debate...if you give a blanket disclaimer for something that has massive danger involved (i.e. saying "you could get hurt so don't do it" when you're telling someone how to make c4 from bleach)...you're probably not covered...but if you give a reasonably detailed warning (i.e. "you're making C4, it's an explosive so it could maim or kill you") then you should be covered in court

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crapflinger (author)crapflinger2009-09-25

to add to the above: the only time you're GENERALLY (there's always some really good lawyer that can find a loophole somewhere) able to successfully claim that you didn't know what you were signing with regards to a contract or agreement is when there is a 3rd party involved that's guiding you through the document.... like a mortgage lender....if they tell you not to read the whole document because they're going to explain it to you....then you can probably come back later and tell a judge this and the contract will get thrown out because you were convinced not to read the whole document. now, if that same guy hands you the document and tells you to read the whole thing, but you don't read it and then you're unhappy...then you've got no legal standing because you were given the chance to read it but you didn't of course none of that addresses possible issues of poorly constructed or misleading contracts/agreements

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whiteoakart (author)crapflinger2009-09-29

I sympathize with your post. However, we should draw a line between copping out and finding an explanation.

Copping out is a failure in personal responsibility.
Finding an explanation is a gift which will help avoid the problem in the future.

There is nothing wrong with stating that some kid did poorly in school because of ADD. The next step is more important. What do you do about it? If you use it as an excuse to continue poor performance, then, yeah, that's BS. But if a diagnosis changes the way you approach life, your life can be made the better for it.

In our household, I practically forbid the use of the word "fault" as in "who's fault is it?" It does not matter whose fault it is. What matters is that there is a problem looking for a solution. If you find a solution, you're a hero.

Instead of "fault", we substitute "responsibility". If it's my responsibility, I need to make it right.

Fault implies failure and blame. That's why everyone is so quick to claim, "it's not my fault!"

If the tire falls off my car while I'm driving, is it my fault? Who the he** knows? Maybe I should have checked the lugnuts. Maybe someone did it maliciously.

But it is my responsibility. I am thankful no one got hurt and I fix it.

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crapflinger (author)whiteoakart2009-09-29

well in the context of the question posted here (which actually uses the word blame)...fault is accurate.... if you post instructions here...and say "don't do this at home"...and someone DOES do it at home and gets hurt...then the assessment of fault must be done....is the person who posted the instructible at fault? or is the person who didn't follow the rules at fault? fault and responsibility aren't really that easy to separate either...if you're at fault...there is responsibility involved "There is nothing wrong with stating that some kid did poorly in school because of ADD." never said there was...however....there is something wrong with not doing well in school...and blaming it on ADD when you don't HAVE ADD....or treating a child for ADD when they don't have it just because they "act up" in class i've got ADHD and a bit of dyslexia....was that the reason i did poorly in school? no....not really....unfortunately i'm also lazy (and at the time...a bit too smart for the school i was in)...i learned to cope with the ADHD and dyslexia

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whiteoakart (author)crapflinger2009-09-30

"..however....there is something wrong with not doing well in school...and blaming it on ADD when you don't HAVE ADD....or treating a child for ADD when they don't have it just because they "act up" in class" Agreed. I believe we have created a culture that looks for answers. That is the nature of our history of innovation. However, as we find answers, we unintentionally provide excuses for those who are not interested in answers, only cop-outs.

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DJ Radio (author)crapflinger2009-09-26

I think that "I am not responsible..." part should apply as long as there are disclaimers and the context of it is that "I am not responsible for you ignoring my boldface disclaimers"

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whiteoakart (author)2009-09-29

This question is more of a moral question than a legal question. With that in mind, it should be noted that every person has a slightly different perspective on the moral imperative of posting DIY instructions. The DIY community, in general, is a pretty effective self-policed community. We know there are risks, seen and unseen. Most of us possess a fair judgment of our limitations. We ask questions when we have them. Of course, there are those here who would try anything that they see here, whether they have the skills to pull it off or not. There are also those who feel that if someone published it, it must be relatively safe to do. Clearly foolish propositions. Comments that question the safety of a given Instructable should be taken seriously. I believe it is not in the best interest of the community to ridicule a poster who raises a safety issue, whether you think it is appropriate or not.

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kelseymh (author)whiteoakart2009-09-29

You write, "Comments that question the safety of a given Instructable should be taken seriously. I believe it is not in the best interest of the community to ridicule a poster who raises a safety issue, whether you think it is appropriate or not."

I both agree and disagree (as can be seen from some of my own comments and replies). If someone raises a legitimate safety issue, which the author didn't mention, then it deserves to be acknowledged. Maybe it's a misunderstanding to be corrected, or the author should add a note, or the comment itself can act as such.

On the other hand, consider the recent "pop-tab chain maille" imbroglio. Someone decided that the whole Instructable ought to be taken down, because the author didn't state in big bold capital letters that the project wasn't actual protective equipment. To me, that kind of over-reaction is just blind stupidity and lack of common sense, not a reasonable safety warning, and deserves all the ridicule it gets.

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whiteoakart (author)kelseymh2009-09-29

Kelseymh wrote: "Someone decided that the whole Instructable ought to be taken down, because the author didn't state in big bold capital letters that the project wasn't actual protective equipment." I agree that this is pretty lame. But does it require ridicule to set the record straight? Maybe. But I think there are better ways to handle it. I would rather see a culture of mutual respect. When people get shouted down, it makes them less likely to contribute in the future. Just my opinion.

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Kiteman (author)whiteoakart2009-09-29

In that particular instance, the opening post was already over the top - "calm and sensible" would just not have worked as a response.

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whiteoakart (author)Kiteman2009-09-30

OK, the pop tab comment was a bit over the top. I noticed Mr Smith never returned to discuss the issue. He just had his tantrum, grabbed his ball, and went home. I think you all were right. He just doesn't get it.

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kelseymh (author)whiteoakart2009-09-29

See Kiteman's response. You are surely correct in general; I chose a particularly absurd example where the initial post basically had no "mutual respect" involved, and started off by shouting down.

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Kiteman (author)2009-09-24

In my opinion, all that is needed is a warning about dangers that are not obvious.

For rock climbing, you shouldn't need to warn that falling off is dangerous, but it would be sensible to warn about a particular kind of rock being brittle, or extra slippery when wet.

You shouldn't need to warn about soldering irons being hot, but if you are using it on a material not normally subjected to heat, and it creates particularly noxious fumes, that is a useful warning.

Basically, if it is unexpected, or counter-intuitive, warn about it.

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Goodhart (author)Kiteman2009-09-25

Indeed

A Native American has been kidnapped. You may have seen the signs: Watch for Falling Rock.

One Native American was so upset at the lack of police assistance in looking into the kidnapping that he staged a protest. He sat outside of his wigwam and stayed up all night drinking 400 cups of tee.

The next day, they found him dead in his teepee.

How do you warn against things like that? ;-)

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whiteoakart (author)Goodhart2009-09-29

Do you mean warn against terrible puns?

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PKM (author)Goodhart2009-09-25

Enough teepee to drown in? :P

How do you warn against things like that?
"Excessive consumption may produce diuretic effects"

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Goodhart (author)PKM2009-09-25

Yeah, but who'd expect it to actually happen ahead of time? :-)

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whiteoakart (author)2009-09-29

It is my opinion, as a professional industrial designer with 25 years of experience, that the DIY community benefits from the greatest amount of input from the greatest amount and diversity of people as possible. That includes not only hazardous Instructables, but also posters who raise the red flag over them. I agree with Kiteman that it is appropriate and wise to post warnings about things that are not obviously hazardous to a layperson on your published Instructables. I believe that, unless you are manufacturing a product for sale, your liability and culpability ends at your disclaimer. But I also believe that the writer has a responsibility to use his/her own intuition and experience as a guide. For example, I am an intermediate level mushroom forager. I could certainly write an Instructable on foraging for wild edible mushrooms. However, the possibility of an error through misunderstanding, typo, or some small piece of incorrect information could be fatal. I would not want that on my conscience. There may be members who feel perfectly comfortable posting a Mushroom Hunting Guide. That's what makes the community work.

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lemonie (author)2009-09-29

Worth noting that the site covers it's self pretty well in legal terms, which gives you a lot of cover. For example TOS 7g:
By using Instructables or any Service, you may be exposed to Content that is offensive, indecent, objectionable or unsafe. Each user must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of any Content, including any reliance on the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of such Content.

L

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kelseymh (author)2009-09-29

I'm on Kiteman's side (and on PKM's in the original post) -- an author should reasonably expect (and be reasonably expected!) to provide warnings about non-obvious, non-common-sense, or hidden dangers. I try to implement this philosophy in my own work.

For example, look at my baby-crib mod. I have a whole Step discussing the fact that this modification is technical "unsafe," as it violates the CPSC's rules for rail heights on cribs. However, I don't bother to warn people that a power drill might put a hole through their hand if they're too stupid to use it properly.

The proliferation of lawsuit-driven, liability-fearing warning labels, or the enumeration of "possible" drug side effects with no indication of probabilities, leads to both irresponsible victimology ("it's not my fault, you didn't warn me!") and to a desensitization for real dangers.

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whiteoakart (author)2009-09-29

From a legal perspective, you can never truly protect yourself with a disclaimer. We rely on users to use a little common sense. We hope they will not sue us if they stick their tongue to the electrode of a fully charged Leyden jar. But they could sue us, even if we publish a disclaimer not to do this. Whether they win a settlement or not would depend upon the temperament of the judge. This often happens in the automotive industry. For a publisher or manufacturer, the disclaimer acts as some bit of legal protection, but more like a tool to dissuade people from suing. If you knew there was a disclaimer, you are less likely to jump into the expensive process of litigation.

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DJ Radio (author)2009-09-26

One of these days, I swear I will make an instructable involving dangerous things, and leave out all obvious disclaimers and safety precautions on purpose just to make a point about common sense.

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lemonie (author)2009-09-26

What about the soda-can-tab chain-maille?

I'm quite happy with what I do myself, but in publishing this I thought about electricity and added some notes of caution. If you give people instruction that can be followed it's worth considering who might follow and what you aren't sharing.

You need to address hazards reasonably, if someone has a table-saw it's reasonable to assume that they know how to use it, or can otherwise lose fingers without following your instruction (unless it involves an unconventional use of the machine).

If you're hacking or otherwise perverting something that was safe (like electricals, home made pyrotechnics) it's advisable to point out where safety is compromised. If what you show is obviously hazardous (hot molten-metal) there's less to be said, but the two do cross over.

In conclusion, be sure that a 10 year old has enough information to be aware that there are hazards and roughly what they are (whether these are obvious or explicitly stated)

L

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