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Maintain Compliance And Ensure Safety Through Efficient Label Design

By Jim Heckman, Technical Consultant, Standard RegisterLabel design and compliance is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers today. While this can be a tricky road to travel, things can be made easier by sticking with a few tried and true tactics. Read on to learn more.

Safety labels on manufactured goods have never been more important. Inadequate warnings could have a variety of consequences for manufacturers, their employees and customers. Just as important is the design and presentation of the safety labels themselves.
Because of the significance of these labels, industry standards have been developed. These standards change constantly however, with the oneris on manufacturers to meet these standards and be certain the labels they design and use are in compliance. Needless to say, label design has become complicated and confusing.
For guidance in the development of safety labels, manufacturers often turn to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ANSI and ISO standards are similar in many ways, and manufacturers in all industries, foreign and domestic, typically use one or both requirements. Manufacturers must note, however, that if a particular industry has its own set of standards, they supersede the standards set by ANSI and ISO.
ANSI labels are comprised of four key elements (left):
• Signal word panel (CAUTION, WARNING, DANGER)
• Identification of the hazard
• How to avoid the hazard
• Consequences of not avoiding the hazard
Standards set by ISO for safety labels include (right):
• Optional signal word panel
• Hazard pictogram inside a triangle
• Yellow background
• Optional text outlining the hazard and hazard avoidance
At the core of both sets of standards is the actual hazard. In order to identify any potential hazards associated with a product, the manufacturer should use some type of hazard analysis or physical review of the product. This will not only help determine the actual hazard but will also give guidance on how to avoid the hazard and potential consequences. The severity of the hazard can then be determined using the following definitions:
• CAUTION: minor or moderate injury may occur (ANSI)
• CAUTION: minor or moderate injury could occur (ISO)
• WARNING: death or serious injury could occur (both)
• DANGER: death or serious injury will occur (both)
Safety Label Design and Development
There are several elements that must go into ANSI- and ISO-compliant safety labels, including the pictorials to be used as well as the verbiage outlining the hazard, hazard avoidance and consequences.
Wherever possible, manufacturers should try to use pictorials to accompany their messages so that product operators – no matter their native tongue or literacy level – have the opportunity to visualize the hazard and see how to avoid it without needing to read.
There is a wide variety of standardized pictorials available for use on safety labels. One resource is the pictorial database available on the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ Web site at This free resource is keyword searchable and offers pictorials that are downloadable in multiple formats.
In addition to the AEM database, there are several other databases available to review pictorial standards, including the subscription-based ISO database which also provides pictorial downloading. Within ISO, manufacturers can reference a variety of existing applicable standards, including:
• ISO 11684 – Agricultural Tractors
• ISO 13200 – Cranes
• ISO 15870 – Powered Industrial Trucks
• ISO 9244 – Earthmoving Machinery
Use standards unique to an industry to identify the pictorials best depicting the hazard to be addressed by the safety label as well as pictorials illustrating hazard avoidance – accurately depicting how to avoid the hazard is a key component that is missing in many inappropriately designed safety labels.
The verbiage included on the safety label provides more finite detail around the hazard, hazard avoidance and consequences. The next step in the label development process is to put the identified hazard into words and describe how do avoid it.
For example purposes, let’s say that a particular piece of equipment could present a hazard of individuals being crushed. The label would begin with the signal word “WARNING” with the identification of the hazard reading, “CRUSH HAZARD!” Following would be the avoidance text: “Install cylinder locks before performing maintenance under raised loader arms.” This text informs the end-user of the steps necessary to avoid the hazard.
The remaining verbiage is a description of the consequences of not avoiding the hazard: “Failure to comply could result in death or serious injury.” All of this verbiage would be coupled with pictorials illustrating the crush hazard and the avoidance action.
There are several keys to developing effective verbiage for safety labels. First, wording must be succinct while using a headline-style format. Label designers must avoid using excessive, unnecessary words while presenting the text in easy-to-read upper and lower case letters. Note that it is acceptable to use all upper case letters in short phrases requiring impact.
Second, be mindful of the font size of the text and the space available on the label. Manufacturers need to determine the proper distance to view the safety label and avoid the hazard. ANSI has a set of font size guidelines that can be referenced for this very purpose.
Layout and Consistency
When designing a safety label, ANSI standards indicate it can be laid out in either a vertical or horizontal format. Both orientations are acceptable design layouts. This is something that can be determined by a manufacturer’s corporate standards, the area where the label will go or personal preference.
No matter the orientation, overall design consistency must be maintained. This will help manufacturers ensure the recognition of hazard and avoidance pictorials by using the same pictorials outlined in ANSI and ISO stylebooks. It also ensures that a consistent message is delivered across entire product lines and between different products.
When looking at a label program from both an international and domestic standpoint, consistency of design is very important. Generally, manufacturers want to keep the signal word panel, the pictorials and the verbiage in the same location within various labels when possible. This will allow the end user to recognize a safety message quickly.
Final Label Design and Production
Once all of the elements are in place, take a final look at the safety label to make sure the artwork is clean and that the label accurately describes the hazard and avoidance steps. It is encouraged to test the label. An easy and effective way to do this is to gather a group of individuals to critique the label on symbol recognition and messaging.
During this testing, it is important for manufacturers to remember that safety labels are not the “end-all be-all” for identified hazards. The labels are there to remind the users of what they should have reviewed in the Operators Manual. It is always the responsibility of the user to read the manual before operating any piece of equipment.
After the label passes the test, work with a proven label supplier to produce the finished product, making certain to provide size requirements and any special instructions. Good suppliers should be willing to work with manufacturers throughout the entire label development process, offering full design capabilities, translation services and a thorough knowledge of industry standards and compliance requirements.