5 Common Product Safety Label Issues to Avoid

By Clarion Safety Systems | 19th Jun 2018

Consistency is key for your product safety labels – but we frequently uncover issues related to lack of consistency during the label assessment services that we provide.

Why is consistency so important? The reason we standardize visual safety communication, including the design principles and symbols that make up product safety labels, is to have consistency. The best practice ANSI and ISO standards provide a common ground, an industry baseline for expected function, performance and safety. That includes the content and format of safety labels as well as their materials. The end goal is that these efforts to drive consistency will result in greater recognition and understanding of safety messages.

Label Best Practices

Multiple labels on a machine using a systems approach and consistent best practices

In a typical safety label assessment, we communicate about the importance of following best practices consistently across product lines, company divisions and even markets. But the client may be focused solely on an immediate need at hand and not ready to look at updating other labels, even on that specific product, let alone their full label program. Unfortunately, this could put both the users of their product and their company at risk; with inconsistent warnings comes a greater potential for miscommunication and accidents. To avoid safety incidents, you want to give your users the best possible chance to see, understand and heed your warnings.

There can also be liability implications of inconsistency. Keep in mind, it only takes one deficient label to have a lawsuit. If an accident occurs and your warnings are challenged in a product liability suit, if you have one out-of-date label in your program, an argument could be made that your warnings are inadequate. Labels aren’t just single entities, and looking at them that way could jeopardize your product’s safety. Labels are an element of your overarching product safety and compliance program. It all comes down to consistently using the best practices.

So, what are some of the most common types of inconsistency issues we see? Take a look at our ‘top 5 offenders’ list, below!

5 Safety Label Issues to Steer Clear Of

  1. A “wallpaper” of labels on a product: A hodgepodge of varying types of warnings is a common outcome when labels are treated on a one-off basis, not as a complete program. Complex messaging equates to complex comprehension. When these situations are assessed to look at best practice alternatives, the final outcome is often a single, multi-message safety label. In other instances where more than one label is required, such as when there are multiple points of potential interaction with a hazard, each label has clear, uniform design principles and the messages work together to reinforce each other.

Wallpaper of Labels

A ‘wallpaper’ of product safety labels, using different formats, colors and design principles

  1. Non-standardized or inconsistent use of symbols: This is especially a concern when different manufacturers produce labels. The annex in ANSI Z535.3 tells us that, “Individual safety symbols should be designed, whenever possible, as elements of a consistent visual system.” Right now, as an example, we’re seeing a lot of varying arc flash symbols when there’s a new standardized ISO symbol that can be used.
  2. Issues with conveying complex messages : There are many different types of label designs that can be used in situations where there’s a complex safety message at hand. It’s important to lean on the ANSI and ISO standards for guidance on the best method for your situation, and to use that approach consistently.
  3. Varying colors: ANSI Z535.1 safety colors are tightly defined and should be adhered to across all of your safety labels for proper color-coding. Again, this can be a concern when different manufacturers are used to produce labels. Uniform color can help to speed visual recognition.
  4. Substandard materials: According to ANSI Z535.4, “Product safety signs or labels shall have a reasonable expected life with good color stability, symbol legibility, and word message legibility when viewed at a safe viewing distance…Reasonable expected life shall take into consideration whether the safety sign is permanent or temporary, the expected life of the product and the foreseeable environment of use.” It's important to understand your label’s environment and surface conditions, as well as the latest high-quality material options available, to achieve your durability objectives.

Are you unsure about an aspect of your safety label program or whether or not you’re consistently using today’s best practices? We’re here to help! Contact us today.