Not a deadly failure, but more a minor nuisance. A co-worker had a flat tire at work. It was a large vehicle with big tires, a Durango SUV. I had an air compressor that I carried in my car and I let him use it. We hadn't quite fully inflated the tire when the compressor suddenly died. Closer inspection of the compressor revealed a label on the bottom surface of the compressor which stated that the compressor should not be used for more than 10 minutes at a time. Okay, so perhaps we had used it beyond 10 minutes. Now I felt silly, because I had never really read the compressor's instruction manual. After all It's just an air compressor and all I wanted to do was inflate a tire--do you really need to read the manual? ;) So I went back and read the manual, plus all the verbage on the packaging. The 10 minute warning was nowhere to be found! Now I felt somewhat vindicated. Why hide a warning lable like that on the underside of the compressor where no one will ever see it unless they are scratching their noggins and inspecting the air compressor in detail because it has failed?
Caveat emptor! Don't buy an air compressor with a 10 minute warning label on it.
The early VW Beetles had that little tap you could turn to open the gallon-or-so reserve tank. No gauge at all, but turn the tap and you've got another 20 miles to find a gas station. Simplicity works too.
Oh, don't wimp out! Live life on the edge. Hook it up live! When I lived in England some electrician showed up to repair flakey electricals (I was just renting) and he worked on the 240v they have without cutting the breakers. He said they trained them to take the buzz.
I still like a little safety. And stay off the aluminum ladder while you're hooking up the lights, too. I have fallen out of a few trees, though. I make sure my wife is within earshot when I do certain work. That way I can hear about it the rest of my life. But at least I have a continuing life.
I was recently working on a medical infusion pump project. One of the bigger infusion pump companies (Baxter), the pump was ordered recalled and approx 215,000 pump destroyed. There were deaths and injuries associated with this and other pumps. (google/bing/yahoo search for: "baxter colleague recall")
Midway through the project the FDA came up with new sets of rules on electrical/mechanical/software/human factors engineering and documentation. I entered a low priority bug in the bug tracking systems regarding the GUI/human factors aspects. This bug was entered before the FDA directives but never acted upon until after the directive. Some of my engineering co-workers saw the FDA directives as "big government/Big Brother", I saw this as an opportunity to learn from others mistakes.
This is about having a good engineering process and the dangers of trying to get to market to quickly and people with a good attitude about what is good engineering.
Years ago I was building cryogenic systems that involved high current circuitry. I had a customer's rep on-site observing a test and he asked me what was the worst thing that might happen. Nonchalantly I told him 'it might blow up.' 'What should I do?' re replied. 'Run' I said.
Of course the __mmed thing DID blow up, so after I got done dumping x liters of LHe and shutting down all power I looked around the (then) cloudy and smelly lab and nobody was there.
He came back into the building about 10 minutes later and said 'Well, you told me to run.'
Moral: don't answer the question 'What's the worst thing that can happen.' Because it will.