Another risk highlighted by safety inspectors who ultimately judged the Tread and Tread+ as unsafe without a product recall was its running belt. While most treadmills, including the Tread device sold in the UK, have a single, whole rubber band that rotates around the wheels of the treadmill to keep users in one place while they run, the Peloton Tread+ that was until recently on sale in the US breaks that band into thick rubberised slats. “That gives people the opportunity to have a little more give when they run – as opposed to non-Peloton treadmill belts,” says Miele.
The slatted band on the US Tread+ is a safety risk, reckon regulatory bodies, because people can fall between them. Of more concern – and the cause of the death of a child with a Peloton Tread+ – is the height of the machine, and the risk of users being flung off the back of the equipment or sucked underneath.
“Peloton, should have specific warnings about this, as opposed to just having information of how much space should be around [the treadmill],” says Miele. Treadmill manufacturers must state what risks users face, and what they have to do to mitigate those hazards. “Peloton is going to have to do something to fix this, but will also have to provide warnings to not have animals or young children around the treadmill,” she says.
As to why the issue wasn’t identified until someone died as a result, McCall thinks it could be a quirk of the testing and safety process. McCall reckons the device includes a lot of bespoke components because of its unique design, which would be crafted through computer aided design, then undergo rigorous product safety testing. Every aspect of a machine is tested, says McCall: want to run some equipment off mains electricity? It requires an electrical safety test before it can be sold in the UK.
“I can’t imagine they’ve not been through a product safety testing process,” he says. “The one thing I wondered was maybe in a product safety testing place, they don’t have pets or kids wandering around. It’s a sterile working environment. Maybe that’s the reason it wasn’t picked up.”
“It feels like a bit of an oversight on their part,” says Barnard. “One of the main things we do when we work on equipment is the context of use. You have to imagine, and spend time in that home environment, where products are going to be used, and think about what’s going to be around. None of us in the team have kids, but we have pets – they notoriously rub up against things, and you can’t control them. It feels like there’s a lack of consideration for that context.”
It’s easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to say that the issue should have been picked up before now. But if it had been, a fix would not be that costly, reckons McCall. A small plastic guard, skirting the back of the treadmill, designed to stop animals or children – or adult limbs – being sucked underneath the back of the equipment may cost $30,000 to produce the tooling for in China, he says. “There is an investment up front, but for a product like that treadmill, as a percentage of the total tooling cost, it’s small. Then each part might cost $3 or $4 to mould it.”
“The component price would be relatively small once you’ve paid for that initial tooling,” says Eilbeck. The sums don’t add up, McCall believes – and form may have come before function. “The price in terms of doing it is low, compared to the cost they have to pay now for the recall and the reputational damage,” he says.