This Human Factors Problem Should Be History By Now

An old problem has hit the news again: chemicals that look too much like drinks. This story just came out in New Jersey, where six people drank tiki-torch fuel the color of apple juice.

It is an interesting problem… what SHOULD you make fuel look like? The tiki-torch fuel bottle did not fall into the Fabuloso problem of looking like a sports drink bottle*. It wasn’t being kept under the bar, like the caustic dish liquid that scarred a father and daughter in “Set Phasers on Stun.” It doesn’t taste sweet like anti-freeze.

Yet when six people all make the same mistake, in a short time span, in a wide geographic spread, are of different ages, etc., it’s safe to assume something triggered them to think it was drinkable. As the executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System said in the article from the Star-Ledger:

“During my 40 years in medicine, you get an occasional kid who ingests kerosene, but I have never seen this kind of cluster,” he said.”

But what was it? From looking at the bottle, I don’t have a good answer.

*Fabuloso refused to change their bottle shape but made the concession of adding a child-proof cap. As the other stories show, it’s not just kids making these errors, but the cap should at least make the user think as they try to open the “sports drink.”**

**Of course that reminds me of the time I bought a new contact lens solution and opened it to see a bright red bottle tip. “What a neat retro-looking design,” I thought before filling the contact and putting it in my eye. An hour of rinsing later, I still thought maybe I’d blinded myself.