Machinery Safety Labels: 3 Top Tools for Effective Warnings

Safety label by Clarion Safety Systems
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Safe­ty Labels

Machinery Safety Labels

The third lev­el of the Hier­ar­chy of Con­trols is Infor­ma­tion for Use. Safe­ty Labels are a key part of the Infor­ma­tion for Use pro­vid­ed by machine builders to users and are often the only infor­ma­tion that many users get to see. This makes the design and place­ment of the safe­ty labels crit­i­cal to their effec­tive­ness. There is as much risk in the under-use of safe­ty labels as there is in the over-use of safe­ty labels. Often, machine builders and users sim­ply select gener­ic labels that are eas­i­ly avail­able from cat­a­logues, miss­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to design labels that are spe­cif­ic to the machine and the haz­ards present.

Product Safety and Liability Limitation

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.


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.

Safety label standard ANSI Z535.4 Product Safety Signs and Labels
The ANSI Z535.4 prod­uct safe­ty label stan­dard
Safety label standard ISO 3864-2 Graphical symbols - Safety colours and safety signs - Part 2: Design principles for product safety labels.
The ISO 3864–2 prod­uct safe­ty label stan­dard


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.

MIL-STD 882 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)


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.

Safety label by Clarion Safety Systems 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 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 Nav­i­ga­tionISO 3864–2″>Recent Changes to the Prod­uct Safe­ty Label Stan­dard ISO 3864–2

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.