I'm thinking about things like the switches in a rice cooker that won't let you turn them on without actually adding rice and water to the pot, or a handle bar on a lawn mower that turns the engine off if you let go. Is there a specific term for those kinds of safety features?

They are the safety features that prevent bad things from happening, in contrast to a safety feature like a plastic guard that saves you if something goes wrong.

  • Very often they are simply called a "safety". – Hot Licks Nov 10 '18 at 2:44

One word to describe this is fail safe (adjective and noun):

incorporating some feature for automatically counteracting the effect of an anticipated possible source of failure.

The one example you mentioned is on the Wikipedia page for fail safe:

Lawnmowers and snow blowers have a hand-closed lever that must be held down at all times. If it is released, it stops the blade's or rotor's rotation. This is also a dead man's switch.

  • 1
    A lever that switches off a machine when the operator lets go of it is sometimes called a dead man's handle. – Kate Bunting Nov 9 '18 at 16:54
  • @Laurel: Yes, that's what I'm looking for, thanks. I'll accept the answer when I'm allowed to – Michael Stachowsky Nov 9 '18 at 16:55

What is the term for a safety feature that prevents operation in unsafe conditions?

A foolproof device/maching could imply 'incorporating' such safety features'

foolproof TFD

  1. Designed so as to be impervious to human incompetence, error, or misuse: a foolproof detonator; a foolproof safety lock.

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