Can you imagine receiving a new electronic product from Amazon, plugging it in, and inadvertently touching a surface panel and feeling the sting of that surface being hot to the touch? Couldn't the manufacturer have warned you with a mark or label that the surface panel gets hot?

While many of us take messaging, signage, symbols, and various color-coded caution and warning markings on products for granted, the codification of those criteria for comprehension and consistency is what ANSI Z535 standards are all about.

The Accredited Standards Committee on Safety Signs and Colors (ASC Z535) develops and revises the suite of ANSI Z535 standards. Having been the secretary of the ANSI Z535 Committee for several years, let me walk you through some of what this standards committee is all about and touch a little on safety messaging in the broader context.

First, let's take a close look at the Standard for Criteria for Safety Symbols (ANSI Z535.3), then discuss other Z535 applications in general. ANSI Z535.3 was first published in 1991 and initially revised in 1998. The scope of this standard is to provide the general criteria for the design, evaluation, and use of safety symbols to identify and warn against specific hazards. The purpose is to promote the adoption and use of uniform and effective safety symbols for safety communication.

The symbols in the original ANSI Z535.3 standard were selected because they addressed some of the most common, general, or critical hazards. In the table below are a few examples (without the pictogram) of some of the hazards that had symbol guidance as featured in the 1991 version:

As the realm of possible hazards continues to unfold across environmental, commercial, and industrial spaces, ASC Z535 is continually challenged with selecting and gaining consensus on new criteria and examples to be included in the standard.

Coupled with the criteria codified in the body of the standard are two informative annexes created to guide implementers. The committee developed Annex A to provide principles and guidelines for the graphical design of safety symbols. This is where the concepts of standardization are delineated by providing examples of panel designs of the safety symbols. With hazard alerting, there are examples of symbols depicting the following: flammable, trip hazard, explosion, and falling objects. There are also prohibitionary symbol examples such as no smoking and no diving.

Annex A also provides fire safety examples for important symbols such as fire extinguisher, fire hose and reel, and fire alarm point call.

Since the suite of ANSI Z535 standards cuts across many industries, inquiries and suggestions come in from time to time asking about symbols, colors, and labels. In determining and selecting any new or revised guidance for inclusion in the standard or revising an existing symbol depicting an example, the committee needs to think about what message is being communicated to the viewer. It is not only the symbol itself that has to be taken into consideration, but the referent, which is the message intended to be associated with the safety symbol.

Before building consensus and proceeding to voting, the Standards Committee must choose a symbol, which typically involves testing that measures a person's comprehension of the symbol. Which symbol passes the comprehension test? Which symbol fails?

As such, the committee also developed Annex B, which contains general procedures for implementers evaluating candidate safety symbols. Annex B contains a testing procedure using an empirical approach for evaluating the comprehensibility of candidate symbols for safety messages. See Exhibit A below for a sample symbol test question.

Exhibit A. An example of a sample symbol test question from Annex B, General Procedures for Evaluating Candidate Safety Symbols of ANSI Z535.3

Example of a good answer

Context: This symbol appears on appliances and machines used in the home and workplace.

Exactly what do you think this symbol means?

Caution. Moving gears. Do not stick hand near machine while it is running.

What action should you take in response to this symbol?

I would stay away and not put my hand near the machine until someone stopped it.

What might happen if the instruction is not followed?

My fingers might get caught in the gears.

Participant No._____

Standards committees that administer actively used standards that are used across different sectors (such as the Z535 series) recognize that keeping those standards relevant with technology and societal needs is vitally important to the U.S. standardization landscape.

So, what is planned for Z535.3 to keep it relevant? One anticipated change in the upcoming 2022 edition of ANSI Z535.3 is that multiple choice testing as a method of symbol comprehension is to be eliminated. It is an outdated method of comprehension testing that has not been recommended for decades. Several symbols in Annex A are being updated as well. The 2022 edition of this standard is also being revised to clarify the relationship of ANSI Z535.3 to other applicable standards and regulations.

While Z535.3 addresses criteria for symbols and their safety messaging, there are product-specific marking and labeling requirements applicable to appliances in the home, such as for irons and toasters, electric tools such as drills and circular saws, and other hand tools. Computers and peripheral devices also bear labels and markings.

Whether shopping on the Internet or at a brick-and-mortar retail supplier, consumers should certainly look for markings that would indicate declaration of third-party safety testing on their electrical products. For instance, an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing certification mark or an ETL mark (Intertek) would indicate that an electrical product has been tested by the respective laboratory and that it meets certain established safety requirements. However, there are other labels, markings, tags, and instructional graphics that we need to be aware of. This is where the ANSI Z535 messaging standards apply.

Manufacturers of products that have a likelihood of posing a risk when used should follow voluntary labeling compliance by preparing their labels, markings, colors, and other collateral material in accordance with the requirements in the respective ANSI Z535 standards. For example, a product may have a mandatory symbol instructing and alerting the user to consult the instruction manual before proceeding. There may be a symbol denoting that there is a hot surface. The layout of the caution and warning of these types of graphic symbols across the ANSI Z535 suite of standards is developed with the intent of facilitating a high level of comprehension and understanding and to provide messaging to minimize the likelihood of personal injury.

ANSI Z535 standards overall cover a wide array of safety messaging across many industry platforms and applications. There are presently six ANSI Z535 standards, as follows:

ANSI Z535.1: Safety Colors

This standard prescribes the technical definitions, color standards, and color tolerances for the ANSI Z535 uniform safety color.

ANSI Z535.2: Environmental Facility and Safety Signs

This standard regulates requirements for the design, application, and use of safety signs in facilities and in the environment through consistent visual layout.

ANSI Z535.3: Criteria for Safety Symbols

ANSI Z535.3 contains general criteria for the design, evaluation, and use of safety symbols to identify and warn against specific hazards and provide information to avoid personal injury.

ANSI Z535.4: Product Safety Signs and Labels

This standard delivers specifications for the design, application, use, and placement of safety signs and labels on a wide variety of products.

ANSI Z535.5: Safety Tags and Barricade Tapes (for Temporary Hazards)

ANSI Z535.5 discusses tags and tapes, which are used only until the identified hazard is eliminated or the hazardous operation is completed. Industries (typically manufacturing and construction) that employ lockout/tagout procedures or have a need to mark an area affected by a temporary hazard will find this standard beneficial.

Ansi Z535.6

Product Safety Information in Product Manuals, Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials. ANSI Z535.6 provides updated information for manufacturers to promote the efficient development of safety messages.

While ANSI Z535.4 specifies guidelines for the design of safety signs and labels for application specifically for products, ANSI Z535 standards overall cover a wide array of safety messaging across many industry platforms and applications. For instance, the National Electrical Safety Code® (NESC ANSI C2®) rules and OSHA regulations require ANSI Z535-compliant signs at appropriate places around electrical utility facilities and workplaces. The attributes of appropriate safety signs and labels for electrical utility use include ANSI Z535.2, ANSI Z535.3, and ANSI Z535.5. The coordinated ANSI Z535 criteria apply to every temporary or permanent safety sign or tag on a utility system.

The next editions of the ANSI Z535 standards are expected to be published by the fourth quarter of 2022. Additionally, a seventh (new) standard is being developed to address safety information in electronic media. The scope of this standard is anticipated to include web pages, video materials, smartphone and tablet applications, augmented and virtual reality, etc. The intent is to assist manufacturers in formatting and maintaining safety information in electronic media while conforming with ANSI Z535 standards.

For more information on ANSI Z535 standards, contact Paul Orr ([email protected]).

Paul Orr is senior program manager of utility products and systems at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

Paul Orr is senior program manager of utility products and systems at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

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