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The Latest in Preventing Accidents with Effective Warnings

Written by: Guest   |   March 16, 2023

Worker safety, Guest perspective

By Angela Lambert, head of standards compliance, Clarion Safety Systems

Safety has advanced in recent years. Yet, further action must be taken for people to enjoy a workplace as free as possible from hazards. According to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses, and 5,190 fatal work injuries, occurred in the United States in 2021 – an 8% increase from the prior year.

Warnings – product safety labels and facility safety signs – can play a vital role in ensuring safer machinery and, ultimately, safer workplaces. When potential hazards simply can’t be eliminated from a product, warnings and instructions are one way to communicate risk. Equipment manufacturers and employers who implement effective safety programs, including visual safety communication, may likely experience fewer accidents and injuries, increased efficiency and decreased liability exposure.

How do you go about creating effective warnings? The three core concepts that we shared in our last Feed Bites guest post still apply:

  1. Use a quality risk assessment process (the foundation of a strong safety program and of a company’s warnings) – performed routinely.
  2. Continuously reevaluate your company’s product safety program (including warnings) in line with equipment and standards updates.
  3. Follow the latest versions of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards for warnings and instructions.

Speaking of ANSI/ISO standards – there have been recent developments that industry should be aware of. ANSI Z535.4, used domestically in the United States, and ISO 3864-2, used internationally, are the two main standards for safety labels that are key to creating effective warnings. Both of these standards are revised periodically. The ANSI Z535 family of six standards is undergoing revisions and republications in 2022 and 2023. This latest revision cycle marked the first time many of the ANSI Z535 standards – including ANSI Z535.4 – have been reviewed and updated in more than 10 years. Three of the six ANSI standards (Z535.1, Z535.3, and Z535.5) were republished in August 2022, and the remaining three (Z535.2, Z535.4, and Z535.6) are expected to be published shortly. ISO 3864-2 was republished in 2022 without any changes, however, the previous republication in 2016 contained significant updates related to format options and symbol use.

By striving to follow industry consensus standards that define today’s best practices in visual safety communication, equipment manufacturers can improve product safety and reduce their liability exposure. I chair the ANSI Z535.1 and am a delegate representative of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to the ISO/TC 145 (responsible for the library of ISO 7010 registered symbols and the ISO 3864 set of standards).

One area that can often be a  point of confusion when following the standards: what is the best label format option and way to use symbols? The standards can’t answer this completely, as they allow manufacturers to use a number of different options, but they can provide important guidelines.

I recommend first understanding the standards-based options available to you, weighing the benefits and limitations, and then deciding which best conveys your safety message to your intended audience.

Depending on whether you follow the U.S.-based ANSI standards, the international ISO standards or a combination of the two, you have the option to use a word-message-only format, a symbol only/wordless format, or a combination of symbols and text.

Here are a few details on some of the options available:

  • Symbol-only Label Formats: This style of safety label uses only ISO-formatted symbols without a word message or an ANSI/ISO signal word panel. It meets both the ANSI Z535.4 and ISO 3864-2 standards.
  • Symbol and Text Labels: This type of safety label uses ISO-formatted symbols with an ANSI/ISO signal word panel and word message. This format meets ANSI Z535.4, and meets ISO 3864-2 as well, as long as at least one ‘ISO-formatted’ symbol (meaning the symbol uses a colored, surround shape consistent with the ISO standards) is used.
  • Text-only ANSI Labels: These text-based safety labels use an ANSI/ISO signal word panel and a word message. This meets the ANSI Z535.4 standard. It does not meet ISO 3864-2.
  • Wordless Labels: This format of safety label uses an ISO wordless format with a hazard severity panel. It meets both ANSI Z535.4 and ISO 3864-2.
  • Multilingual Labels: This style of safety label uses ISO-formatted symbols with an ANSI/ISO signal word panel and word message, accompanied by translated text. Multilingual label formats meet both ANSI Z535.4 and ISO 3864-2.

Deciding the best type of warnings for your application and intended audience isn’t always easy. However, understanding the product liability landscape and ANSI/ISO standards can help you to have a better understanding of how to move ahead.

At Clarion Safety, we have many resources available to help, located in our online Safety Resources hub, including:

-  Resources to stay up-to-date and learn more on ANSI Z535.

-  Resources to stay up-to-date and learn more on ISO 3864-2.

-  A comprehensive guide book on ANSI/ISO label format options, with the pros and cons of each.


Angela Lambert has over fifteen years of experience in product safety, warnings, and liability. As head of standards compliance at Clarion Safety Systems, she collaborates with manufacturers – as well as industry partners and advocates – on labels, signs and markings that can help reduce risk and protect people. 

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