Product Safety Labels: Understanding Risk Severity Levels

Posted by Bethany Stadelmann on 30th Sep 2014

If you're making a product that has one or more risks associated with it at any point in its lifecycle, you need to either eliminate those risks, guard them or communicate them so people can avoid them. Are you effectively communicating degrees of risk on your product safety labels? This can be a complex task. But Clarion and the latest standards are here to help!

When it comes to hazard alerting labels (labels that communicate potential personal injury hazards and how to avoid them) the color-coded signal words "DANGER," "WARNING" and "CAUTION" are used identically by the ANSI Z535.4 and ISO 3864-2 product safety label standards to indicate varying degrees or levels of risk severity.

In order to choose the right signal word, your first step – your foundation – is to perform a risk assessment. At its most basic level, risk assessment involves considering the probability and severity of outcomes that can result from a hazardous situation, and then considering various strategies to either eliminate or reduce the risk.


Once the risk presented by your product's potentially hazardous situation has been determined and you have chosen to use a safety label as a means to lessen the risk, then the task becomes one of choosing the right signal word to convey the severity of risk involved. Annex E in the ANSI Z535.4 Standard for Product Safety Signs and Labels lays out the decision tree (shown here) for choosing the right signal word based on your risk assessments decisions concerning a particular hazards likelihood and degree of potential injury.

Keep in mind: content levels (the amount of information conveyed on the label, including the decision to use signal words) vary depending on many factors. There's no single right way to do things. Factors to consider include the characteristics of your intended audience and the markets where your products are sold, as well as the specific details related to the complexity of your industry, the complexity of your product and the hazards associated with its entire lifecycle. Combine all of these factors and you have the ingredients needed to design effective product safety labels. The use of signal words to communicate risk is one safety label component that can be used to accomplish the job of better protecting people from harm.

Interested in learning more about risk severity levels and safety communications? Read the "On Your Mark" article featured in the latest issue of In Compliance Magazine, which provides an in-depth discussion from Clarion CEO, Geoffrey Peckham, on risk severity levels and effective product safety labels.

"On Your Mark" is a regular column that explores labeling and graphical symbols, and how they're used to convey safety messages. Stay tuned here on the Clarion Safety Systems' blog for the next article in this series – and for more insight on best practice safety signs, labels and markings.