Fighting for safe store displays

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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

This page last updated: August 2001

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