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Warnings are inevitable elements of operating instructions. At best, inconsistency, incorrect placement, or too much or too little information just lead to confusion. However, there can also be an inherent risk of infringement or material damage. The proper use and display of warnings is therefore part and parcel of many standards. Some of the key standards for warnings and their practical use are presented here.
Product users require certain information to be able to use equipment safely. Therefore, for the single European market, the Guideline 2006/42/EU governs the compilation of a risk assessment to establish the requirements that need to be fulfilled to ensure health and safety.
A risk analysis like this identifies the risks when dealing with the product. If the manufacturer has done all it can to ensure safe construction of equipment as far as possible, there are nevertheless usually a few unavoidable sources of risk that remain. Warnings inform users about these residual risks. The risk analysis is thus used by technical writers to identify the residual risks when dealing with equipment and to group these in warnings.
You can follow the provisions of the ISO standards and the ANSI Z535.6 for the US market. The American standard for product safety includes various types of information relevant to safety and security.
“Grouped safety messages” is another way in which safety information may be described. This concerns information that is listed collectively in an individual section – the safety section – at the beginning of the operating manual. This information needs to establish basic awareness for handling equipment safely. Safety information is grouped into various categories such as “Danger”, “Warning”, or “Note” and provides general information about risks that exist, e.g., a warning about the risk of crushing.
We make a distinction between safety information and more specific warnings. In ANSI Z535.6, the American counterparts to warnings are referred to as “section safety messages” and “embedded safety messages”. The former are included at the beginning of a particular section and before certain sequences of tasks in the operating manual. These are risks that must be mentioned in the context of a specific situation or task sequence. Embedded warnings appear immediately before an action step. They are incorporated directly in the text and do not interrupt its flow.
Warnings must be structured according to the SAFE principle specified in ANSI Z535.6, this being as follows: the Signal word indicates the severity of the risk (e.g., “Warning” or “Note”). The Archetype and source of the risk describe its cause. Then, you must provide details of the Final consequences in case of the events and then explain under Evade how these can be successfully avoided. By using this acronym, you will structure your warnings systematically and reliably.
Other standards relevant for warnings also follow ANSI Z535.6. The distinction between safety information and warnings is detailed in DIN-EN 82079-1. This includes principles and general requirements for compiling instruction manuals.
DIN-EN 82079-1 stipulates provisions for structuring and implementing warnings: being concise, formatting, position, and even the use of signal words are aimed at ensuring safe use of equipment. For material damage, the standard thus recommends choosing between “Note”, “Caution”, and “Attention”; whereas for personal injury, warnings should include the signal word “Risk”, “Warning”, or “Caution”. ANSI Z535.6 also stipulates use of the signal word “Note”. The choice of word not only depends on the severity of risk, but also on the likelihood of its occurrence.
Incidentally, the latter results from the risk analysis, whose content is covered in ISO 12100. This makes it easy for you to assess the severity of the risk and to decide the type of notice required for each risk.
Nowadays, warnings do not just consist of text, but also graphic elements. When it comes to color, in addition to ANSI, you can adhere to EN ISO 3864. As well as color codes, this standard also provides graphic symbols as safety symbols. If colors are not so relevant for you, ANSI Z535.6 also contains an option for black-and-white presentation. Ultimately, warnings printed in black-and-white must be able to be understood by everyone, as must warnings in color for people who may be colorblind.
EN ISO 20607 on the safety of machinery and EN ISO 7010 provide design options for warning symbols, enabling you to unify and standardize your warnings for graphics, as well as text. You are free to ultimately decide which alternatives you will adopt. However, if you abide by the key standards for warnings, you are sure to find the right solution.