30 Years in Safety
This month, Clarion Safety is celebrating our 30 year anniversary. We’re proud to say that February 28 marks three decades since our company’s incorporation. The state of safety – and on-product warnings – have made significant advancements since 1990. And, there have also been challenges brought about by new technologies and changes in our modern world.
With this landmark milestone, let’s take a look at product safety and liability, and how it’s changed since our founding. Here are the top shifts we’ve seen in the warnings landscape – and what it means for today’s manufacturers and workplaces.
Top Three Changes in the Warnings Landscape
Back in 1990, there was a real lack of standardization in the field of on-product warnings and visual safety communication. Changes first started in 1991, when ANSI published the ANSI Z535.4 Standard for Product Safety Signs and Labels. This offered, for the first time ever, a practical framework from which product manufacturers could develop the content and format of their safety labels . The ANSI Z535.4 standard defines a set of components for on-product warnings that provided people with the information necessary to avoid hazards. It also provided manufacturers and U.S. courts with a legal definition for what constituted an “adequate warning.” When developed according to the standard, safety labels help to reduce accidents associated with products and, in the event of an accident, they help to reduce the manufacturer’s exposure to liability should the adequacy of the warning be challenged in court.
Another shift occurred in 2004, with the publication of an international standard in safety labeling. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published 3864-2 Graphical symbols — Safety colours and safety signs, giving guidelines to manufacturers across industries for their product safety labels and allowing warnings to be accepted globally.
A change we’ve seen in more recent years is the development of industry-specific standards. National and international standards are written on many levels: A-level, such as ANSI and ISO, pertain to a broad range of industries while B-level standards are written for certain industries. There are more B-level standards now than ever before, creating a positive shift for safety as it means that the standards are becoming more specific and practical for today’s manufacturers, while still falling under the guiding principles of the A-level standards.
Globalization across all industries has moved at an unprecedented pace since the 1990’s, with credit being given to public policy changes and innovations in communications technology. In the period before the ‘90’s and today, the world was a noticeably different place. The effect on products and visual safety communications as a result can be thought of in stages or evolutions. The first stage was related to translations. Bilingual and multilingual safety warnings have become increasingly important over the years as a means to communicate effectively to diverse workforces.
A more recent evolution is related to the complexity of where end products are being shipped and how that effects the formatting of product safety labels . In today’s global economy, it’s not unlikely for a product manufacturer to have little to no visibility into where their product ultimately ends up. From a warnings perspective, that can present challenges as it’s critical to understand the audience to warn most effectively, and in some cases, the country being shipped to, in order to meet any applicable regulations. This rapid change in globalization has manifested itself into an openness to using symbol-only formats — wordless designs capable of communicating across any language barriers — for on-product labels.
In 2016 an update to the ISO 3864-2 standard introduced a new “wordless” format that conveys risk severity. This new label format uses a “hazard severity panel” but no signal word. The level of risk is communicated through color-coding of the hazard severity panel, eliminating words and rendering translations unnecessary.
Since the mid-1990’s, the Internet has had a revolutionary effect on culture, business and technology, and its impact on product manufacturing and product liability is clearly evident.
Artificial intelligence, technological automation and the Internet of Things or IoT have all effected product safety labeling in numerous ways — some beneficial and others presenting new, interesting challenges. Shifting dangerous tasks to robots and away from workers or being able to create a link between on-product labels and safety manuals through QR codes are just some innovative changes impacting safety for the better.
As it results to product liability, digitalization and new technologies are essentially forcing product manufacturers to take a closer look at their products. A strong emphasis needs to be placed on the “foreseeable use” of their product and its potential use (or misuse) over its entire lifecycle.
We know for a fact that manufacturers and workplace safety professionals will need to continue to adapt to changes in our evolving world. Our team at Clarion Safety is here every step of the way to help. We’ll continue to keep you up-to-date on today’s best practices and standards updates, and we’re always listening to how we can help solve your challenges. We look forward to working together in years to come to make the world a safer place to live, work and play.
Angela Lambert, head of standards compliance at Clarion Safety, has fifteen years of experience in the field of warnings and liability. Angela is actively involved at the leadership level in the ANSI and ISO standards for product safety, including as a delegate representative to ANSI for the ISO/TC 145 SC2 WG 1 committee, responsible for the library of ISO 7010 registered symbols and the ISO 3864 set of standards. She’s also an expert speaker on product safety and visual safety communication at universities and associations across the country.