Why the Materials Used to Print Your Safety Labels Matter
For engineers and other safety professionals creating on-product warnings and instructional messages, there are a variety of intricate details that must be addressed: everything from symbols to language to color to comprehension.
But, there’s a basic, physical element to consider that can have a large effect on both user safety and product liability exposure: the materials used to print your label . Even the best designed label is inadequate if it isn’t durable. A safety label must be seen – and seen clearly – in order to be understood.
Guidelines from the ANSI Z535 Standards
The ANSI Z535.4 Standard for Product Safety Signs and Labels, part of the consensus standards that define today’s best practices for visual safety communication in the U.S., includes a section on “Expected life and maintenance” to help guide product manufacturers. It states the following:
- On “Expected life”: “…shall have a reasonable expected life with good color stability, symbol legibility, and word message legibility”. Reasonable expected life should take into consideration whether the label “…is permanent or temporary, the expected life of the product, and the foreseeable environment of use.”
- On “Maintenance”: “…should be periodically inspected and cleaned by the product user as necessary to maintain good legibility for safe viewing distance…”
- On “Replacement”: “…should be replaced by the product user when they no longer meet the legibility requirements for safe viewing distance...In cases where products have an extensive expected life or where exposed to extreme conditions, the product user should contact either the product manufacturer or another source to determine a means for obtaining replacement signs or labels.”
- On “Product user instructions”: “The manufacturer should include information on maintenance or replacement of safety signs or labels…” as detailed in the sections of the standard noted above.
Your Product’s Lifecycle – And How Risk Assessment Factors
A key area to focus on from ANSI Z535.4 is that the expected life of the label should take into consideration the product’s expected environment of use and lifecycle. If a label is faded or missing altogether, its warning, safety message or instructions are compromised. Degradation can occur at any point over the product’s lifespan. This is where a risk assessment process comes into play, as it will identify potential hazards and control actions related to them to protect those who interact with your product during its anticipated lifecycle: from delivery, installation, use and service to decommissioning and disposal. The durability and visibility of a label is directly related to the life of your product.
3 Key Tactics for Maintaining Label Integrity
It’s important to be aware of three key areas to help ensure safety labels are visible throughout the lifecycle of your equipment and products.
- Conduct a thorough risk assessment. Accounting for the products’ entire lifecycle, as noted above, will help to identify and determine specific label material needs. The key to choosing the right materials for your labels revolves around knowing the expected environment of use, the anticipated lifespan of the product, and the space restrictions and characteristics of the surface it’s mounted on. Once these variables have been defined, a selection of materials can be tested for use.
- Give thoughtful consideration to quality materials for the application at hand. A typical label has numerous layers, all of which must be compatible with one another – and mindful of the application environment and exposure to foreseeable damage, which can occur from abrasion or wash-down procedures – to ensure a long life. Common problems associated with labels include fading inks, degrading overlaminates, and use of the wrong adhesives. With electrical hazard labels , heat is often a concern as is corrosive chemicals – two of the main culprits behind destruction of a label’s materials and adhesive. To achieve your durability objectives, an understanding of environmental and surface conditions, as well as the latest high-quality material options available, is needed.
- Plan for maintenance and replacement. Once your label or system of labels has been created, plan for continued durability maintenance. For product manufacturers, that means including information on maintenance, replacement, and installation of labels in collateral material provided with the product. That way, the end user can follow your recommended procedures for regular label reviews, and replacement as needed. It’s not unusual for an end user to have personnel or third parties tasked with reviewing labels ‘in the field’ to identify and replace those with issues; your documentation can help account for key considerations and streamline the review and replacement process.
Keep in mind, visibility is the first and last component of a legally “adequate” warning. Ultimately, your product user’s safety, and your company’s liability, depend on the durability and maintenance of your safety labels. For more information and best practices on label durability, read Clarion’s ‘On Your Mark’ column in InCompliance magazine .