Recent Changes to the Product Safety Label Standard ISO 3864–2

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Safe­ty Labels

The Importance of Best Practice Product Safety Label Standards

Prod­uct safe­ty labels serve an impor­tant role. They pro­tect both users and man­u­fac­tur­ers. Man­u­fac­tur­ers are con­cerned with build­ing prod­ucts and pro­tect­ing them­selves from lia­bil­i­ty law­suits. Users are con­cerned abut buy­ing safe prod­ucts. Man­u­fac­tur­ers are also con­cerned with meet­ing the legal require­ments for prod­uct labelling in the mar­kets they serve.

As a prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­er, your legal oblig­a­tion is to meet or exceed the cur­rent ver­sions of stan­dards relat­ed to your prod­ucts. Reg­u­la­to­ry com­pli­ance often hinges on meet­ing cur­rent stan­dards. Many juris­dic­tions use com­pli­ance with the lat­est stan­dards to gauge manufacturer’s efforts to meet best prac­tices and legal require­ments.

While keep­ing your prod­uct safe­ty label designs up-to-date is not always a sim­ple task, using the prin­ci­pal prod­uct safe­ty label stan­dards for the design and lay­out of your labels is key to ful­fill­ing this require­ment. If you are unsure about your prod­uct safe­ty label designs, Clarion’s Safe­ty Label Assess­ment Ser­vice can help get you on track.

Principal Product Safety Label Standards

In the U.S., the stan­dard to look to is the ANSI Z535.4 Stan­dard for Prod­uct Safe­ty Signs and Labels [1]. Inter­na­tion­al­ly, the pri­ma­ry stan­dard for ref­er­ence is ISO 3864–2 Graph­i­cal sym­bols – Safe­ty colours and safe­ty signs – Part 2: Design prin­ci­ples for prod­uct safe­ty labels [2]. As Cana­da does not have a prod­uct safe­ty label stan­dard, fol­low­ing the design prin­ci­ples in ANSI Z535.4 or ISO 3864–2 will give you a start­ing point for both con­tent and for­mat choic­es for your prod­uct safe­ty labels (bear­ing in mind any lan­guage require­ments for your juris­dic­tion.)

Recent ANSI and ISO Standards Changes

The ANSI Z535.4 and ISO 3864–2 prod­uct safe­ty label stan­dards are revised accord­ing to ANSI and ISO pro­ce­dures, typ­i­cal­ly every five years. ANSI Z535.4 is in the process of being bal­lot­ed for reaf­fir­ma­tion with­out changes. If that occurs, the new ver­sion will be iden­ti­cal to the 2011 stan­dard.

ISO 3864–2 was updat­ed in Decem­ber 2016. The revi­sion includ­ed sig­nif­i­cant mod­i­fi­ca­tions to its con­tent, includ­ing sev­er­al changes to the label for­mats it allows. It is impor­tant to be aware of these changes and to under­stand why one label for­mat may be more appro­pri­ate for your prod­uct than anoth­er.

Focusing in on ISO 3864–2:2016

In the lat­est ver­sion of the ISO 3864–2 prod­uct safe­ty label stan­dard, there are two major changes to ISO label for­mats:

  • The prod­uct safe­ty label for­mat that used a sin­gle safe­ty sym­bol with­out an ISO-col­ored sur­round shape was removed from the stan­dard. From the ISO 3864–2 standard’s per­spec­tive, and as defined in the standard’s first edi­tion, prod­uct safe­ty labels must use at least one ISO-for­mat­ted safe­ty sym­bol (mean­ing, the sym­bol is placed in an ISO 3864-col­ored sur­round shape) in addi­tion to the “gen­er­al warn­ing sign” that serves as the safe­ty alert sym­bol on the label’s sever­i­ty lev­el pan­el. Non-ISO-for­mat­ted sym­bols can still be used on prod­uct safe­ty labels, but only in addi­tion to one or more ISO-for­mat­ted sym­bols. ISO 3864–2 defines these safe­ty sym­bols as “sup­ple­men­tary.”
Example of a complete wordless ISO product safety label.
Safe­ty label for­mat­ting options that are no longer accept­ed (top label) and accept­ed (mid­dle and bot­tom label) by ISO 3864–2:2016. (Label designs ©Clar­i­on Safe­ty Sys­tems. All rights reserved.)
  • A new “word­less” for­mat that con­veys risk sever­i­ty was added to the stan­dard. This new prod­uct safe­ty label for­mat uses what ISO 3864–2 defines as a “haz­ard sever­i­ty pan­el” with­out a sig­nal word. The pan­el appear­ing at the top of the label com­mu­ni­cates the lev­el of risk through col­or-cod­ing and the use of the ISO-for­mat­ted gen­er­al warn­ing sym­bol. This for­mat option, already in use by a wide vari­ety of prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ers, elim­i­nates words – mak­ing trans­la­tions unnec­es­sary.
Example of a wordless ISO product safety label.
Exam­ple of the new “word­less” safe­ty label for­mat option allowed by ISO 3864–2:2016. (Label designs ©Clar­i­on Safe­ty Sys­tems. All rights reserved.)

Next Steps for Your Labels

It is impor­tant to be aware that the changes made in ISO 3864–2 are sig­nif­i­cant. The changes open up new for­mat pos­si­bil­i­ties that can help com­pa­nies to bet­ter warn their users about haz­ards asso­ci­at­ed with their prod­ucts. These changes make it a good time to reeval­u­ate your labels.

Check to see if

  1. they con­tin­ue to meet your market’s require­ments, and
  2. whether the “word­less” for­mat makes sense for your labelling.

The ISO prod­uct safe­ty label stan­dard gives you new options for con­vey­ing your safe­ty mes­sage. The standard’s revi­sion is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to ful­ly refresh your labels, review­ing both their con­tent and for­mat in line with your product’s risk assess­ment and mar­ket require­ments.

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.


[1]            Stan­dard for Prod­uct Safe­ty Signs and Labels. ANSI Stan­dard Z535.4. 2011 (R2017).

[2]            Graph­i­cal sym­bols – Safe­ty colours and safe­ty signs – Part 2: Design prin­ci­ples for prod­uct safe­ty labels. ISO Stan­dard 3864–2. 2016.

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Acknowl­edge­ments: Derek Evers­dyke, Clar­i­on Safe­ty Syste more…
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