How Do I Know What Warning Labels My Product Needs
Written by David Smith Nov. 2nd 2018
I recently got a call from a company that wanted help determining what warnings or safety labels they needed to put on their product.  This is a great question that comes up more often than most people expect as every product has risks associated with its manufacture or use.   

I asked them if they had done any sort of hazard analysis on their machine… Which was met with the all too common silence on the other end of the line.

You see, companies understand that they have a responsibility to ensure their products are safe for use, but all too often don’t know how to ensure that they are.  And really, warning labels are an outcome of the process, rather than the process itself.  

What this company was really asking about, what so many companies are really asking about, was how do I ensure that I have done everything possible to keep the employees, customers, users, and everyone else that will interact with the product, stay safe?

And the answer is very simple once you know and understand it.  The problem is that it doesn’t really get taught in school.  It isn’t talked about around the dinner table.  It rarely even comes up in safety circles.  But it is so very important for new products; for new manufacturing processes; and for older products or processes that need to be revamped.  

The answer is a Risk Assessment.  

But what is a Risk Assessment?  A Risk Assessment is the process of figuring out what might go wrong with the product, and then taking steps to make sure those things don’t happen.  The process usually involves the following steps:
 
•    Identify Hazards  - Hazards are aspects of the technology or activity the produce risk, or in other words, could be harmful to operators, helpers, bystanders or property.  For example, pinch points, or slippery walking surfaces.  

•    Consider Failure Modes - These include possible failure (breaking, bending, tipping, instability, heat, etc.) of the technology or process while it is being used, including reasonably foreseeable uses and misuses.  For example, a trailer coupler coming off of the ball because the wrong size ball was used.  
   
•    Assess the Severity of Consequences - Each hazard and failure mode needs to be categorized based on its particular severity of consequences ranging from negligible to catastrophic.  Negligible consequences can typically be treated with first aid, while catastrophic consequences typically result in permanent total disability or death.  
 
•    Determine the Probability of Occurrence - Each hazard and failure mode needs to be categorized based on its probability of occurrence, ranging from improbable to frequent.  Improbable probability is very unlikely - unrealistically perceivable while frequent is likely to occur repeatedly.  

•    Defining Initial Risk - Risk is a combination of the severity of consequences and the probability of occurrence of each hazard or failure mode.  Once these have been defined, their combination on the risk matrix shows the level of risk.  Management can then determine if the risk is acceptable.  

•    Reducing Risk - If management determines that the level of risk associated with a particular hazard is too high, then steps need to be taken to reduce that risk.  Steps for risk reduction for a particular hazard in preferred order are: design it out, guard against it, warnings and administrative controls.  

•    Iterating - If risk reduction methods have been implemented, it is necessary to reassess the hazards to determine if any new hazards have been introduced and to ensure that risks have been reduced to acceptable levels.  Depending in your product or process, the initial risks may be acceptable, or you may need to go through the process several times.  

•    Documenting the Results - One of the most important parts of a risk analysis is to document the results.  Documentation should include the names and qualifications of the people involved in the analysis, the hazard and failure mode identification processes used, and the risk associated with the hazards.  As they say, if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.  

Once the risk assessment is complete, and the risk reduction method implemented... it will show what hazards need to be warned against, what hazards exist that should be noted and explained in the operators manual.

For more information, check out the free training:

David Smith


David Smith helps companies improve the safety of their products, equipment and processes.  He is an expert in risk assessments, and design safety reviews and making safety easy to understand.  He is a licensed professional Engineer (PE) and a certified safety professional (CSP).
If you're interested in improving safety in your business then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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