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Finding A Better Way to Warn: From Severe Weather to Your Safety Signs and Labels

Posted by Erin Earley on 16th Apr 2012

Tornado2011 proved to be one of the deadliest tornado years in U.S. history, with over 550 fatalities across the country. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), one event alone, the May 2011 Joplin tornado, claimed 158 of those lives, making it the deadliest single tornado since modern recording keeping began in 1950. As a result, the NWS conducted a service assessment to evaluate its weather warnings and responses from the public. One of the key findings of the assessment showed that credible, extraordinary risk signals prompt people to take protective actions.

To address this, the NWS is now introducing a new type of tornado warning system to test a different way to warn the public about life-threatening weather events so they can, in turn, make better decisions. Kicking off the first week in April, a handful of NWS offices in Kansas and Missouri have begun testing new warnings that feature "impact-based" descriptions, intended to better convey the impact that the storm may have on the community. Under the new system, warnings will use stark wording like: "Mass devastation is highly likely, making the area unrecognizable to survivors". The hope is that these new warnings will better communicate the urgency of the situation and the risk involved to motivate the proper response needed to stay safe.

What do these weather warnings have to do with the safety labels you use on your products and the safety signs and markings you use in your facilities? Quite a bit, actually. In both cases, the ultimate goal is effectively communicating risk in a way that will impact peoples behavior, cueing them to take action to avoid harm. And, in both cases, the challenge is the same: how to motivate people to comply when these warnings need to be given. Why do we face such a challenge? We live in an information-overloaded age where, it could be argued, people are anesthetized to all of the signs, advertisements, and other visual messages around us – and to the very warnings intended to keep them safe. Whether its a tornado warning or a sign inside your facility, it's critical to create safety messages that stand out among all of the signs we see on a daily basis. But, they also must take a step beyond just being noticed. To be effective, warnings must have an impact. They must be forceful enough to motivate people to take the steps needed to keep themselves safe.

When it comes to the signs and labels that are protecting your employees, this is no small task. And that's why we're here to help. At Clarion, we specialize in creating these "high impact" warnings, where the motivational aspect of the messaging is key. We know that, in order to influence behavior, warnings need to be explicit about the hazard at hand, and clearly explain how to stay safe.

Clarion label - full body crush

Using graphical symbols and clear language on signs and labels are critical to ensure that warnings stand out, are impactful, and are effective. The warning above is an example of a best practice, ANSI and ISO-formatted safety label.

To guide communication systems in the right direction in your facility, you need a trusted partner with a true understanding of the landscape of safety and a commitment to finding impactful ways to warn in today's world. When you team with Clarion, you can rest assured in knowing that you are applying the latest standards, best practices, and semiotics (the science of signs and symbols) in order to be clear, concise and compliant. Together, we can implement warnings and warning systems that are effective in creating the impact needed to reduce your risk and protect your people.

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