Machinery Safety Labels: 3 Top Tools for Effective Warnings

This entry is part of 4 in the series Hierarchy of Controls

If your com­pany man­u­fac­tures machinery that has poten­tial haz­ards asso­ci­ated with its trans­port­a­tion, install­a­tion, use, main­ten­ance, decom­mis­sion­ing and/​or dis­pos­al, you likely have a very strong need to cre­ate effect­ive product safety labels. This task must be done right: product safety labels play an integ­ral role in your company’s product safety and liab­il­ity pre­ven­tion efforts. And that means that people’s lives and your company’s fin­an­cial well-​being are on the line. On that note, it’s import­ant to keep in mind these two factors when it comes to effect­ive safety labels:

  1. If prop­erly designed, they can dra­mat­ic­ally reduce acci­dents. This not only improves a product’s over­all safety record but adds to a company’s bot­tom line by redu­cing product liab­il­ity lit­ig­a­tion and insur­ance costs.
  2. If poorly designed, needed safety com­mu­nic­a­tion does not take place and this can lead to acci­dents that cause injur­ies. With these acci­dents, com­pan­ies face high costs set­tling or fight­ing law­suits because their products lacked “adequate warnings.”

With the rise in product liab­il­ity lit­ig­a­tion based on “fail­ure to warn” over the past sev­er­al dec­ades, product safety labels have become a lead­ing focal point in law­suits faced by cap­it­al equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers. Let’s look at three best?practice tools for product safety label design. These tools can provide insight to help you cre­ate or improve your safety label strategy in order to bet­ter pro­tect your product users from harm and your com­pany from litigation-​related losses.

TOOL #1: THE STANDARDS

As a man­u­fac­turer, you know that your leg­al oblig­a­tion is to meet or exceed the most recent ver­sions of stand­ards related to your product at the time it’s sold into the mar­ket­place. Warning label stand­ards are the first place to turn to when it comes to defin­ing your product safety labels. Up until 1991, there was no over­arch­ing, multi-​industry stand­ard in the U.S., or in the rest of the world, which gave defin­it­ive guid­ance on the prop­er format­ting and con­tent for on-​product warn­ings. In the U.S., that changed nation­ally with the pub­lic­a­tion of the ANSI Z535.4 Standard for Product Safety Signs and Labels in 1991, and inter­na­tion­ally with the pub­lic­a­tion of ISO 3864 – 2 Design Principles for Product Safety Labels in 2004.

As of 2017, Canada does not have a warn­ing label stand­ard. Since Canada imports machinery from the U.S. and the EU, it is quite com­mon to see either ANSI Z535 style labels or ISO 3864 style labels on products. Under Canadian law, neither is more cor­rect. However, Québec has spe­cif­ic require­ments for French lan­guage trans­la­tions, and many CSA stand­ards pre­scribe spe­cif­ic haz­ard warn­ing labels that do not con­form to either ANSI or ISO styles.

Following the design prin­ciples in ANSI Z535.4 or ISO 3864 – 2 will give you a start­ing place for both the con­tent and format choices you have to make for your products’ safety labels, bear­ing in mind the lan­guage require­ments of your jur­is­dic­tion. Note that both of these stand­ards are revised reg­u­larly, every five years or so, and it’s import­ant to be aware of the nuances that would make one format more appro­pri­ate for your product than another.

Image of the cover of ANSI Z535.4 standard
The ANSI Z535.4 product safety label standard
Image of the cover of ISO 3864-2 standard
The ISO 3864 – 2 product safety label standard

TOOL #2: RISK ASSESSMENT

From an engin­eer­ing per­spect­ive, your job is to identi­fy poten­tial haz­ards and then determ­ine if they need to be designed out, guarded, or warned about. From a leg­al per­spect­ive, your job is to define what haz­ards are “reas­on­ably fore­see­able” and “reas­on­able” ways to mit­ig­ate risks asso­ci­ated with haz­ards that can­not be designed out. This is where risk assess­ment comes into play.

In today’s world, a product is expec­ted to be designed with safety in mind. The risk assess­ment pro­cess helps you to accom­plish this task. At its most basic level, risk assess­ment involves con­sid­er­ing the prob­ab­il­ity and sever­ity of out­comes that can res­ult from poten­tially haz­ard­ous situ­ations. After identi­fy­ing the poten­tial haz­ards related to your product at every point in its life­cycle, you then con­sider vari­ous strategies to either elim­in­ate or reduce the risk of people inter­act­ing with these haz­ards. The best prac­tice risk assess­ment stand­ards that exist today (i.e. ANSI Z10, ANSI B11, CSA Z432, CSA Z1002, ISO 12100, ISO 31000, ISO 31010) give you a pro­cess to use to quanti­fy and reduce risks. Using these stand­ards as the basis for a form­al­ized risk assess­ment pro­cess will not only help you to devel­op bet­ter safety labels and a safer product, but it will also provide you with doc­u­ment­a­tion that will help you to show the world that you are a safety-​conscious com­pany who uses the latest standards-​based tech­no­logy to reduce risks. This will be highly import­ant should you be involved in product liab­il­ity lit­ig­a­tion down the road.

From an engin­eer­ing per­spect­ive, your job is to identi­fy poten­tial haz­ards and then determ­ine if they need to be designed out, guarded, or warned about. From a leg­al per­spect­ive, your job is to define what haz­ards are “reas­on­ably fore­see­able” and “reas­on­able” ways to mit­ig­ate risks asso­ci­ated with haz­ards that can­not be designed out. This is where risk assess­ment comes into play. In today’s world, a product is expec­ted to be designed with safety in mind. The risk assess­ment pro­cess helps you to accom­plish this task. At its most basic level, risk assess­ment involves con­sid­er­ing the prob­ab­il­ity and sever­ity of out­comes that can res­ult from poten­tially haz­ard­ous situ­ations. After identi­fy­ing the poten­tial haz­ards related to your product at every point in its life­cycle, you then con­sider vari­ous strategies to either elim­in­ate or reduce the risk of people inter­act­ing with these haz­ards. The best prac­tice risk assess­ment stand­ards that exist today (i.e. ANSI Z10, ANSI B11, CSA Z432, CSA Z1002, ISO 12100, ISO 31000, ISO 31010) give you a pro­cess to use to quanti­fy and reduce risks. Using these stand­ards as the basis for a form­al­ized risk assess­ment pro­cess will not only help you to devel­op bet­ter safety labels and a safer product, but it will also provide you with doc­u­ment­a­tion that will help you to show the world that you are a safety-​conscious com­pany who uses the latest standards-​based tech­no­logy to reduce risks. This will be highly import­ant should you be involved in product liab­il­ity lit­ig­a­tion down the road.

Image of a risk assessment form
A typ­ic­al risk assess­ment scor­ing mat­rix (based on MIL STD 882 as defined in ANSI B11/​ISO 12100 Safety of Machinery – Risk Assessment Annex D)

TOOL #3: GLOBAL WARNINGS THAT USE SYMBOLS

A large num­ber of machinery man­u­fac­tur­ers sell their products around the globe and when this is the case, com­pli­ance with glob­al stand­ards is a require­ment. The ANSI Z535.4 and ISO 3864 – 2 product safety label stand­ards, and the EU machinery dir­ect­ive place an emphas­is on using well-​designed sym­bols on machinery safety labels so inform­a­tion can be con­veyed across lan­guage bar­ri­ers. The EU Machinery Directive 2006/​42/​EC requires that all inform­a­tion for use be provided in the offi­cial lan­guages of the coun­try of use. Information for use includes haz­ard warn­ing signs and labels that bear mes­sages in text. Adding sym­bols also increases your labels’ notice­ab­il­ity. The use of sym­bols to con­vey safety is becom­ing com­mon­place world­wide and not tak­ing advant­age of this new visu­al lan­guage risks mak­ing your product’s safety labels obsol­ete and non-​compliant with loc­al, region­al and inter­na­tion­al codes. In ISO 3864 – 2’s latest, 2016 update, a major change in ISO label formats was made: a new “word­less” format that con­veys risk sever­ity was added to the stand­ard. This new label format uses what ISO calls a “haz­ard sever­ity pan­el” but no sig­nal word. It com­mu­nic­ates the level of risk through colour-​coding of the haz­ard sever­ity pan­el. This format option elim­in­ates words – mak­ing trans­la­tions unnecessary.

It should be noted that some­times sym­bols alone can­not con­vey com­plex safety mes­sages. In these cases, text is often still used. When ship­ping to non-​English speak­ing coun­tries, the trend today is to trans­late the text into the lan­guage of the coun­try in which the machine is sold. Digital print tech­no­logy makes this solu­tion much more cost effect­ive and effi­cient than in the past.

Image of a Clarion label on a machine
A typ­ic­al Clarion machine safety label that uses an inter­na­tion­ally format­ted graph­ic­al sym­bol and a format that meets both ANSI Z535.4 and ISO 3864 – 2 design prin­ciples (Design ©Clarion Safety Systems. All rights reserved.)

Concluding Thoughts

The safety labels that appear on your products are one of its most vis­ible com­pon­ents. If they don’t meet cur­rent stand­ards, if they aren’t designed as the res­ult of a risk assess­ment, and if they don’t incor­por­ate well-​designed graph­ic­al sym­bols, your com­pany risks lit­ig­a­tion and non-​conformance with mar­ket require­ments. Most import­antly, you may be put­ting those who inter­act with your machinery at risk of harm. Making sure your product safety labels are up-​to-​date is an import­ant task for every engin­eer respons­ible for a machine’s design.

For more inform­a­tion on effect­ive product safety labelling and resources that you can put to use today, vis­it www​.clari​on​safety​.com. Clarion also offers com­pli­ment­ary safety label assess­ments, where we use our exper­i­ence with the latest stand­ards and best prac­tices to assess your labels and ensure that they’re up-​to-​date in meet­ing today’s requirements.

Ed. note: Additional Canadian mater­i­al con­trib­uted by Doug Nix.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017
Acknowledgements: Derek Eversdyke, Clarion Safety Systems, LLC
Some Rights Reserved
Series NavigationHockey Teams and Risk Reduction or What Makes Roberto Luongo = PPE

Author: Derek Eversdyke

Derek Eversdyke, Director of Facility Safety Products and Intermediary Relationships at Clarion Safety Systems, is experienced in collaborating with safety professionals on label and sign systems that can help to reduce risk and protect people. He has worked with Clarion’s product manufacturing and facility safety customers small and large – as well as industry advocates – for over six years. Clarion designs and produces best practice safety label and sign systems for products and environments. Over the past 25 years, they’ve helped to write the standards that manufacturers in the U.S. and across the globe need to meet. Clarion is an active member of the ANSI and ISO standards committees. The company’s founder, Geoffrey Peckham, is chairman of the ANSI Z535 Committee for Safety Signs and Colors and of ANSI’s U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to the ISO standards committee responsible for safety signs, labels, colors and symbols (ISO/TC 145). With over 60 million safety signs and labels in use in over 180 industries worldwide, their goal of making the world a safer place is taking shape.