About Warning and Caution Advisories

Clear and precise technical writing ensures proper product handling and the safety of the consumer. Danger advisories, warnings, cautions, and notes are tools that technical writers use to guarantee that products are used safely and to prevent injury and property damage. Warnings are an essential piece of manual and instruction writing. Warnings serve three essential purposes:
  • To ensure the safety of consumers and their property
  • To protect organizations from legal liability
    • It is important to note that, “Any lack of clarity can result in a preventable accident, almost certainly followed by a costly lawsuit against your employer or client” (Houp, Pearsall, Tebeaux 516)
  • To guarantee the proper use of the product
For information on how to design these advisories, read the Designing Advisories entry.

 ANSI Z535.4-1998 Product Safety Signs and Labels

ANSI format is not required by law, but is considered trustworthy and is widely used (Robinson, Etter 132). This formatting requires a:
  • Warning label that uses a pre-defined signal word like:
    • Caution
    • Warning
    • Danger
  • Graphic
    • Portrays nature and consequence of the hazard (Robinson, Etter 132)
    • Should be understood inherently without words (134)
 Figure 1- Graphic Warnings “Pictograms.” strancoinc.com. Photo. 9 April 2012.
Pictorial Representations of various warning types.
  •  Body of text
    • Describes hazard
    • Explains how to avoid it
    • Is specific and through
      • Vague statements like “may result in bodily harm” do not tell the user what may occur (134)
      • Say exactly what could happen (for example, "may amputate fingers")
      • Provide specific amounts (for example, if warning about inhalation, give the audience a time frame and an amount of inhalation) (134)
Signal words convey specific messages to the reader. Use the information below to determine which type of advisory to use.

Caution

    • May endanger the user or the equipment (Houp, Pearsall, Tebeaux 518)
    • May lead to inappropriate, undesired, or unexpected result (518)
    • Used to describe unsafe practices (Robinson, Etter 132)
    • May sometimes choose to use a note for this level instead (Houp, Pearsall, Tebeaux 518)
    • ANSI design includes black letters on yellow background. Refer to figure 2 below (Robinson, Etter 132)
 Figure 2- ANSI Caution graphic “Caution.” safetylabelsolutions.com. Photo. 9 April 2012.
Ansi Caution Label

 Warning

    • May cause minor to moderate injury to user or equipment (Houp, Pearsall, Tebeaux 518)
    • Hazard is imminent (Robinson, Etter 132)
    • Commonly denoted by an exclamation point inside of a triangle. Refer to figure 3 below. (Houp, Pearsall, Tebeaux 519)
 Figure 3- Warning Graphic “Warning Triangle” 123rf.com. 9 April 2012
Yellow Warning Triangle
    • ANSI design includes black letters on an orange background. Refer to figure 4 below. (Robinson, Etter 132)
 Figure 4- ANSI Warning Graphic “Warning.” safetylabelsolutions.com. 9 April 2012.
Ansi Warning Label

 Danger

    • Used for the highest level of warning (Houp, Pearsall, Tebeaux 519)
    • Denotes risk of major injury or death (519)
    • Only use for the most serious situations (Robinson, Etter 132)
    • If the danger label is overused, it will lose its power (134)
    • ANSI design includes white letters on a red background. Refer to figure 5. (132)
Figure 5- ANSI Danger Graphic “Danger.” safetylabelsolutions.com. Photo. 9 April 2012.
Ansi Danger Label

Warning Labels on Products

Sometimes there will be a corresponding warning label on the physical product. In this case consider the following elements:
  • Warning on product should match warning in manual. (Robinson, Etter 134)
  • Think about placement, size, and durability of the label(131)
  • Choose materials, colors, labels to reflect the environment it is most likely to be used in (131)
  • Ensure that the warning can be read from a safe distance. (131)
  • You may want to offer an option for ordering replacement labels (132)

References

Adams, Matthew, and Kenneth Ross. "Legally Adequate Warning Labels: A Conundrum for Every Manufacturer." Product Liability Prevention. 1998. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.productliabilityprevention.com/images/6-LegallyAdequateWarningLabelsAConundrumforEveryManufacturer.pdf> This article describes how to write warning labels that meet legal guidelines. It also explains how to evaluate the adequacy of a warning. "ANSI Safety Labels." MySafetyLabels.com. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. One can view and buy ANSI safety labels on this site. Houp, Kenneth W., Thomas E. Pearsall, Elizabeth Tebeaux, and Sam Dragga. "Warnings." Reporting Technical Information. New York.: Oxford UP, 2002. 252,516-20. Print. This book explains the importance of warnings and the types of warnings one can use. It also lists examples of pictorial and written warnings that one can model their own after. Robinson, Patricia A., and Ryn Etter. "Chapter 6: Safety Warnings." Writing and Designing Manuals. 3rd ed. Boca Raton: CRC, 2000. 121-40. Print. This book includes a comprehensive guide to specific types of warnings, how they should be formatted, and legal guidelines. It also includes examples and pictures of advisories. Ross, Kenneth. "Location of Warnings: On Product or in the Manual?" Product Liability Prevention. Defense Research Institute, Inc. 2008. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.productliabilityprevention.com/images/1-LocationofWarningsOnProductorintheManual.pdf> This article discusses the difference between warnings in the manual and warnings physically on products. Tinsley, David. "Warnings, Cautions, Notes, and Disclaimers." The Quill: Volume 15 Number 8 (May 2004). The Southwestern Ontario Chapter of the Society for Technical Writing. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.stc-soc.org/quill/2004-05/warnings.html> This site from the Southwestern Ontario Chapter of the Society for Technical Writing explains the functions of advisories, information on where to locate them, and specific guidelines for each type of advisory.