Blinding hooks

Dr. Brad McRae
This article first appeared at SmartRisk.

On Nov. 9, 1991, my family was shopping for shoes at The Bay in
Halifax. Our daughter Katie, age 18 months, was attracted to a display
of character slippers, which to her looked like stuffed animals.
The character slippers were suspended on pegboard display hooks,
one-quarter inch in diameter and eight inches long. She ran over
to play with the slippers and unfortunately she tripped and fell
face first into the display. One of the hooks caught Katie in the
eye. We rushed Katie to emergency at the Children's Hospital.

The examination showed that Katie had a laceration of both the upper
eyelid and of the conjuctiva (white of the eye). The laceration
was less than 1/16th of an inch from her cornea. We appeared to
have been very lucky. When the swelling went down and the eye patch
came off, we found out that we were not so lucky. Katie frequently
fell down, had started holding her head to the right, and could
not pick objects off the floor. We went back to the children's hospital,
and after further examination, we were told that there had been
some neurological and/or muscular damage caused by the hook pushing
the eye back into the orbit. Fortunately, within a year Katie's
eye corrected itself to the point where she could see just as well
after the incident as before.

To determine the number of times such incidents had occurred, we contacted
the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program.
As of July 30, 1993, there had been 10 incidents associated with
display hooks, seven of which needed minor treatment, three of which
required "significant treatment". Seven of these incidents
were to the eye, two to the ocular adnexum and one to the face or
scalp.

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour investigated the dangers of single
pronged display hooks as a potential danger to store employees.
Their report, released on July 29, 1992, stated, "the possibility
of injury to workers who accidentally come into contact with this
particular metal hook does exist," and recommended the use
of safer double pronged hooks for clients and store workers alike.

Our concerns were given national exposure on Marketplace on Nov. 24,
1992. I also contacted members of the Board of Directors of The
Bay. As a result of these efforts, 10 million display hooks at The
Bay, Zellers and Field Stores were bent back to make them safer
until they could be replaced. George Kosich, President and CEO of
The Bay, agreed to make the device that The Bay had developed to
bend back the hooks available to all other stores in Canada at cost
through the Retail Association of Canada.

Between November 1992 and November 1998, the Retail Association of Canada
published several articles warning retail stores in Canada about
the dangers of single pronged display hooks.

In March 1999, I pointed out the use of dangerous single pronged hooks
to the manager at Chapterís Bookstore in Halifax. Chapters
completed an immediate investigation and decided to replace all
of its single pronged hooks with safer double-pronged hooks.

On November 16, 1999, I contacted J&J Display Sales, which is the
largest Canadian supplier of display hooks. The cost of single pronged
hooks is 26 cents each and the cost of the double pronged display
hooks is 29 cents each. However the safest hook is called a scanning
hook. This is a shorter hook on which the merchandise is hung and
a longer hook on which a sign with the name of the item, its price
and the bar code can be displayed. The sign also helps to protect
customers from potential injury. The cost of scanning hooks is 40
to 50 cents each. Most of the larger stores are now using scanning
hooks in their attempt to promote customer safety.

On Nov. 22, 1999, I requested an update on the accident report regarding
display hooks from CHIRPP. The data indicated that there had been
36 recorded injuries associated with hooks on retail displays. The
most common age group among those injured was 2 to 4 year olds.

Single pronged display hooks pose a potential danger to consumers of all
ages. For example, an 18-year-old man lost one third of his eyesight
while bending over to look at some merchandise at a sporting goods
store in British Columbia.

After bringing the dangers of single pronged display hooks to the attention
of Sony Canada, I received a letter form Sony stating that they
not only removed all of their single pronged display hooks and replaced
them with safer double pronged hooks, but that they would also destroy
the single pronged hooks so they could not be used by anyone else
in the future. The letter also stated that they would make a donation
of $500 to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in my name
to thank me for bringing this matter to their attention. This letter
from Sony sets a new standard in corporate responsibility and I
am pleased to report that I have successfully used the letter to
convince other organizations to improve their safety standards.

To date the Hudson's Bay stores have changed over 10 million display
hooks, Chapters has changed all of its display hooks, as have the
Sony stores, the Disney Stores and the Gap worldwide. Injuries due
to single pronged display hooks still remain a major problem and
there is no legislation in Canada or the United States governing
display safety. Please help us make Canada's stores safer for children
and adults alike.

Dr. Brad McRae is a psychologist and management consultant, operating
out of Halifax, N.S. He can be reached at brad@bradmcrae.com

This page last updated: August 2001