Figure 1. Safety alert symbol example
For manufacturers, safety labels on their products have never been more important. Inadequate warnings could have a wide variety of consequences for the manufacturer, its employees, and its customers—consequences that range from noncompliance to lawsuits to minor injuries or even death. Equally important are the warnings that are part of the in-the-box collateral pieces that manufacturers must include as yet another component of the finished manufactured product.
Because of the significance of these printed production parts in the manufacturing process, industry standards have been developed. But these standards change every day, with more and more required of manufacturers to meet the standards and to make certain the printed materials they design and use are in compliance. With this ever-growing list of standards, the printed production parts design issue has become complicated and confusing.
Adding another element of confusion to the process, a new standard for product safety information was issued in late 2006 to govern printed production parts, including product manuals, instructions, and other collateral materials. Unfortunately, many manufacturers are still struggling to grasp and adopt the new standard.
This article will take a closer look at these new printed-collateral standards and how they affect the manufacturing engineering process. The text will also provide background on the organization setting the standards, the basic elements manufacturers need to know when creating and providing printed collateral, and where companies can seek assistance with their compliance needs.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
For guidance in the development of printed production parts, manufacturers often turn to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In 1979, ANSI established what is generally regarded as the premier source of safety signs and parts guidance—ANSI Z535. This set of standards outlines the formats, colors, and symbols for safety signs and parts used in environmental and facility applications, product applications, and accident-prevention tags and barricade tapes for temporary hazards.
To date, the ANSI Z535 Accredited Standards Committee has published five American National Standards:
- ANSI Z535.1: Safety color code
- ANSI Z535.2: Environmental and facility safety signs
- ANSI Z535.3: Criteria for safety signs
- ANSI Z535.4: Product safety signs and labels
- ANSI Z535.5: Safety tags and barricade tapes (for temporary hazards)
Despite ANSI Z535’s in-depth and comprehensive guidance, it does not include standards for the creation of printed documents. As a result, many manufacturers tried to adapt ANSI Z535.4 guidelines, which govern product safety signs and labels, to meet their collateral needs. Not surprisingly, these standards were not suitable for collateral.
Since ANSI Z535.4 was not designed for the presentation of safety information in collateral materials, it should not be applied beyond the domain of product signs and labels. Its limited applicability stems from differences between product signs and labels and various collateral materials. As ANSI points out:
- Collateral materials can vary significantly in terms of their purpose, content, format, and/or length. For example, they may come in the form of a bound manual, a single sheet of paper (folded or otherwise), a pamphlet, a booklet, or an electronic document.
- Collateral materials are typically formatted like a book or other published literature. Thus, different formats for safety messages may be required and/or expected compared to on-product
In addition, there are differences that may exist between safety information in collateral materials and safety messages on product safety signs and labels. ANSI points to the examples that collateral materials typically:
- Contain more information than product safety signs.
- Address multiple hazards and contain multiple safety messages.
- Provide longer and more-detailed safety messages.
- Contain multiple pages of information that cannot be viewed simultaneously.
- Provide information that would be impractical to provide on product safety signs, such as definitions of the safety alert symbol, signal words, and safety symbols.
- Integrate safety information with non-safety information.
Also, because collateral materials are not typically attached to the product, issues related
to reading conditions, distinctiveness, placement, expected life, and maintenance are different. In addition, the concept of a safe viewing distance is not generally applicable.
To address these differences, ANSI introduced its latest set of standards in 2006, which addresses product manuals, instructions, and other collateral materials—ANSI Z535.6. Developed specifically for product safety information in collateral materials, this new standard incorporates elements of the graphical approaches used by other ANSI Z535–series standards into a common design direction selected to provide product safety information in an orderly and
visually consistent manner.
The new ANSI Z535.6 standard provides a hazard communication system that creates “a national uniform system for the recognition of potential personal injury hazards for those persons using products.” It was developed to cover a wide variety of printed materials,
Figure 2. Safety alert symbols with ISO-like formatting
- Owner manuals.
- User guides.
- Maintenance and service manuals.
- Assembly instructions.
- Safety manuals.
However, the standard does not include safety information that is placed in any type of advertising or promotional materials, nor does it cover information stated in audio-visual materials, such as safety or training videos and Web sites.
The standard does cover all types of formats, including single- and multiple-page documents and package and container instructions, as well as printable electronic documents. Guidelines for presenting certain graphic elements, such as signal words, the safety alert symbol, and safety colors, in collateral materials are also included.
Preview the New Standard
Now that the background and elements of the new standard have been established, let’s take a look at what manufacturing engineers will see in the new ANSI Z535 standard.
Signal Words. Signal word definitions in all of the Z535 standards have been updated. Designed to describe the level of hazard, the new definitions for DANGER, WARNING, CAUTION, and NOTICE are meant to clarify, not change, their meanings. However, the signal word NOTICE has been added to Z535.4 and the new Z535.6 standard. This signal word replaces CAUTION without the safety alert symbol for use with messages not related to personal injury, such as messages related to property damage only.
ANSI uses these signal word definitions to indicate the severity of hazards:
- CAUTION: minor or moderate injury may occur.
- WARNING: death or serious injury could occur.
- DANGER: death or serious injury will occur.
In addition to the updated definitions, all Z535 standards include an annex that
discusses risk assessment and signal word selection.
Safety Alert Symbol. The standard includes recommended formats for the safety alert symbol, which may be used alone or in conjunction with a signal word in a signal word panel to indicate potential personal injury hazard (see Figure 1). It is not, however, used for messages related to property damage only.
In addition to the existing format for the safety alert symbol, the new standard includes an optional format that provides greater harmony with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) guidelines. Though there is no ISO standard directly comparable to ANSI Z535.6, this optional symbol allows safety messages in collateral to be visually similar to signs, labels, and tags formatted according to other ANSI Z535 and ISO standards.
For example, when a safety alert symbol is presented as a black triangle with yellow fill, a black exclamation mark, and, optionally, a yellow border, it is identical to the general warning sign defined in ISO 7010-2003, Graphical symbols—Safety colors and safety signs—Safety signs used in workplaces and public areas (see Figure 2).
Safety Colors. The use of color in printed materials is not mandatory. However, when color is used with signal words, it should be consistent with safety colors specified in other Z535 standards (see Figure 3). These colors can be referenced in ANSI Z535.1, which provides specifications for safety colors.
Classification of Safety Messages. The ANSI Z535.6 standard provides a completely new classification system for safety messages and includes guidelines for the purpose,
content, format, and location of four different kinds of safety
- Supplemental directives.
- Grouped safety messages.
- Section safety messages.
- Embedded safety messages.
For a more detailed look into these guidelines, see the following information provided by Ken Ross, counsel to Bowman and Brooke LLP in Minneapolis, who practices law in the areas of product safety, product liability prevention, and regulatory compliance. In a recent article on the duty to warn and instruct, he outlined the four types of messages noted above and provided examples for each.
Figure 3. Color signal word panels
Supplemental Directives: These direct readers to review the entire user manual and the safety information within the manual. ANSI indicates that these supplemental directives can be located on the cover of the manual or on the first page of a section in the manual. For example, while the standard does not specify any language, a boxed message on the cover should say something to the effect of, “Read this manual before using this product. Failure to follow the instructions and safety precautions in this manual can result in serious injury or death.” It should also indicate that the user needs to keep the manual in a safe location for future reference.
Grouped Safety Messages: Commonly referred to as the safety section of the manual, grouped safety messages typically appear at the beginning of the manual, before or after the table of contents. They generally describe the risks involved in the use of the product and how to minimize or avoid them. These sections should include definitions of ANSI’s key signal words—DANGER, WARNING, CAUTION, and NOTICE—that are used on product labels and within the manual. It should also include reproductions of the labels and illustrations showing where they are located on the product. Ross notes that if the product has symbol-only labels, the manual should describe the meaning of all symbols.
Section Safety Messages: Included at the beginning of individual chapters (i.e., Maintenance, Installation, Operation) or within a chapter, they don’t specifically apply to a procedure and include general messages such as, “Do not perform maintenance without first reading this chapter and the safety precautions at the beginning of this manual.” Another example of a section safety message would be, “Failure to follow safety precautions in this chapter could result in serious injury or death.”
Embedded Safety Messages: These are contained within a specific procedure. For example, “To prevent burns, wear protective gloves when performing this procedure.”
While these types of safety messages are nothing new to the manufacturing industry, the introduction of ANSI Z535.6 is the first time that guidance has been provided. This guidance includes important information on formatting the safety information, so it is easy to see but does not overwhelm the instructional text, as is common in many manuals.
Publication of the new ANSI Z535.6 standard provides much-needed guidance in developing product manuals, instructions, and other collateral materials. And brand-conscious companies will be glad to learn that the standard provides a level of flexibility that should allow them to develop their own customized style.
It is recommended that every manufacturer of consumer or industrial products use ANSI Z535.6 to reevaluate its warnings and instructions as well as other safety communications. While incorporation of ANSI standards into printed collateral may seem straightforward, it is actually a complex area of practice. Additional elements of safety materials that need to be addressed by manufacturers include the use of multilingual warnings, use of pictorials in place of words, how to prove that the labels and instructions are understandable, whether to offer new labels and manuals to prior purchasers, and when to exceed the standards.
About the Author
Jim Heckman is a technical consultant for the Document and Label Services Group at Standard Register, bringing more than 10 years of experience in the design of safety decals to the company. He was previously the composition supervisor for the Manufacturing and Labeling Services division. If you wish to contact Heckman, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.