the Gap Between Manual and Machine
When it comes to producing a quality product or piece of machinery, the way you lay out your instructions and methodology behind using them is one of the most important steps in the development and sales process. A quality user manual is hard to develop, as creating content that is both useful and engaging is a careful balancing act that manufacturers need to implement. The key to all of this, and the starting point for all effective manual creation is knowing your role as the information authority, and knowing a growing younger audience’s needs and capabilities in the advancing digital age. To delve into the complex realm of manual creation and liability, we turned to Dr. Patricia Robinson, one of our Clarion Safety Assessment experts, and the author of Writing and Designing Manuals and Warnings (5th edition).
As a manufacturer, it’s your responsibility to provide reasonable instructions for the safe use of your products. Creating an effective link between your on product labels and manuals ensures that they’re working together well and machinery users feel comfortable with the information available to them. This can be achieved by including messages like “See manual for more information” for on product labels, as well as crucial information like what’s detailed below.
While on product labels including QR codes to lead to the manual are a great way to inform users about the machinery, the label’s physical message should only be reserved for the most severe and immediate hazards. “Overwarning” is a danger that can result from placing too many (or too long of) messages on a piece of machinery, which then results in a majority, if not all of them, being ignored or confused with one another. For example, a tactic may be for an on product label to have a very short and direct message such as “Lockout/tagout machine before servicing.” This can then lead to a manual link with more information about other lockout points, as well as the procedures for doing so, which avoids the need to display this all on the machinery itself.
Your Manuals Online
Operator manuals should provide safety and hazard information for workers, to be used both in the initial training process, and throughout the lifespan of the products’ use. OSHA requires employers to provide their workers with safety training for equipment. Obviously, as a manufacturer, you can’t guarantee that employers will relay the manuals you provided within training, which is why many development organizations are switching to providing labels with scan-able QR codes on equipment. These QR codes take employees to an online version of training manuals, which can help to lessen liability exposure.
Bringing your equipment manuals into an online space allows for a lot more flexibility in the type of content you can provide as a manufacturer, as well as making sure that you are adopting the new generation’s preferred and most effective methods of learning. This opens the door for video, audio, and interactive content, rather than just a printed handbook. As operator audiences are getting younger and more familiar with the digital age, visual content is gaining popularity as being the primary learning medium. When creating videos to go along with your learning content, it’s important to remember that they need to be paced slowly enough for people to comprehend and remember the instructions, as people are often looking back and forth between the video and machine they’re working on.
Dr. Robinson states that there are a few key elements required for video learning to be an option in a workplace, including;
to fast internet for on the spot access.
2. Good lighting conditions for viewing a screen.
3. A convenient means to have the video available while interacting with the machine (e.g. tablet or phone).
4. A maintained link if included in a written manual or presented in a QR code.
These requirements may seem simple at first, but are important for manufacturers and employers to be aware of when promoting video learning “in the moment”, as the location of the workers and machinery may affect their access to these conditions.
While there are many ways to achieve successful video content, the core of a manual itself is always written. As time goes on, people tend to read less and less, even skimming past wordy sections, which is why the most effective content is often the shortest content. Include need-to-know information and omit additional or “nice-to-know” topics within your manual. Dr. Robinson gives some quick tips for keeping written manual content understood and to the point:
straightforward, everyday language, avoiding any jargon or technical terms if
2. Place your instructions or procedures in numbered lists, making them easy to follow along.
3. Avoid a passive voice in sentences, especially within instructions. For example: “Remove the cover” instead of “The cover must be removed” or “The next step is to remove the cover”.
4. Focus on writing about how to use the product rather than how the product works. Meaning, instead of telling a user that a particular valve “controls the water pressure”, tell them “to increase the water pressure, open the valve”.
Concision is always key when constructing manuals. It allows the reader to access the information faster, stay engaged in the content, and reduces any chances of confusion if reading quickly or if they are overthinking something.
Professionals in Safety and Liability
At Clarion Safety, we’re committed to helping our customers reduce liability within their machines, and keeping workers safe. We understand that creating and maintaining quality user manuals can be a difficult and time consuming task, which is why our machinery safety services include manual audits and design services, as well as custom training options for both manufacturers and employers. Our team of liability professionals is able to pick up the legwork and create a compressive safety plan that bridges the gap between on-product safety labels and online learning manuals. Contact us today to learn more!