User Manual Development: Ensuring User Safety

What is the role of user manuals and user guides? Providing usage instructions? Absolutely. That is essential information. However, do you know the most crucial responsibility of a manufacturer regarding user manuals? It is to ensure consumer protection. Many countries legally require manufacturers to provide user manuals that enable users to safely and appropriately use the product. This falls under the realm of product liability laws.

Product Liability Laws and User Manuals

Product liability laws are established in various countries, generally holding manufacturers accountable for damages caused by product defects. This liability extends not only to defects in design and manufacturing but also to defects in warnings and instructions. The “Failure to Warn” defect occurs when adequate user safety information is not provided in the correct format as mandated by law. There are numerous cases worldwide where companies faced bankruptcy and significant losses due to product liability issues.

To avoid warning defects, ensure that:

  1. Sufficient user safety information is provided.
  2. The warning information is displayed appropriately, adhering to legal regulations.

Many believe that user manuals are primarily for operating instructions and question their necessity in today’s digital age, where multiple information channels exist without referring to user manuals. While reliance on instruction manuals may have decreased over the past few decades, their role remains critical in providing accurate, comprehensive information and ensuring user safety.

Types of Information in User Manuals

User manuals generally contain three broad types of information: instruction information, additional information, and safety information. While this categorization may differ from the more detailed classifications in standards such as DITA and international standards, it provides a useful framework for understanding the essential components of user manuals.

Instruction Information
Instruction information includes user tasks such as the installation, setup, and operation of the product, forming the core content of the user manual. The international standard IEC/IEEE 82079-1, developed by ISO, IEC, and IEEE, outlines the principles and general requirements for preparing product instruction for use (IFU) information. The latest version, Edition 2 (2019), applies to both electrical and non-electrical products, including software. Familiarize yourself with IEC/IEEE 82079-1 to ensure your manual’s instruction content and presentation meet global standards. The manual should cover all product functions as designed and intended, not just those frequently used by consumers.

Additional Information
Additional information covers extra reference materials to help users maximize the product’s efficiency. Examples include troubleshooting pages, optional accessories, tips, and appendices. Although classified as additional information, it should still adhere to IEC/IEEE 82079-1 guidelines for preparation and presentation.

Safety Information
Safety information is crucial for guiding users on safe product use and is the main subject of this article. It includes potential hazards and prevention methods, such as electric shock risks, overheating prevention, and static electricity precautions for electronic products. Safety information is often the first reference point in cases of user claims to determine manufacturer liability versus user error.

Handling User Safety Information

Regulation Compliance

Different products and countries have specific legal requirements for presenting user safety information. For example, medical devices must comply with ISO 15223-1, while industrial machinery adheres to ISO 12100 and the ANSI B11 series. Identify and study the relevant safety regulations for your products, as international standards often form the basis of national regulations.

Benefits of Following International Standards

International standards simplify compliance. For example, they specify how to present warnings, reducing legal liability as long as these guidelines are strictly followed. The standards provide clear instructions on warning symbols, font sizes, visibility, and overall presentation, ensuring that warnings are recognized and understood by consumers.

Relevant International Standards for Safety Information

IEC/IEEE 82079-1: This standard provides fundamental guidelines for the safety information that should be included in user manuals and how this information should be presented.

ISO 3864 and ISO 7010: Both aretwo complementary standards that regulate the design, color, and use of safety signs and warning labels. Used together, these standards ensure the effective design and consistent use of safety symbols. ISO 3864 establishes the basic principles, while ISO 7010 provides specific symbols that can be used according to these principles.

ANSI Z535 Series: Although the ANSI Z535 series is not an international standard but a US standard, it is highly detailed in specifying principles and directions for product safety communications. Therefore, except for products with specific uses, the ANSI Z535 series generally meets all the safety labeling requirements for most machinery and electronic products. As a manual developer, I found the ANSI Z535 series to be the most useful. The ANSI Z535 series is composed of the following:

  • ANSI Z535.1: Safety colors. Specifies colors like red, orange, yellow, green, and blue with specific meanings.
  • ANSI Z535.2: Environmental and facility safety signs.
  • ANSI Z535.3: Safety symbols. Provides guidelines on the design, interpretation, and use of safety symbols.
  • ANSI Z535.4: Product safety labels. Includes warnings, cautions, and danger information.
  • ANSI Z535.5: Accident prevention tags and labels.
  • ANSI Z535.6: Safety messages in manuals. Specifies how to write and use safety messages in manuals, procedures, and safety instructions.

While it is important to learn all parts of the series, ANSI Z535.6 is the most useful from a manual developer’s perspective.

Presenting Safety Information in User Manuals

Based on the related standards, the instruction manual developers should identify:

  • Types of Information to Classify as Safety Information
  • Warning Levels
  • Safety Symbols
  • Safety Messages

Step 1: Identify Information to Classify as Safety Information

Safety information refers to warning messages that alert users to potential hazards that could cause harm if the product is used incorrectly. If there is too much safety information, it may indicate that the product is not inherently safe. Therefore, it is essential to carefully select what needs to be classified as safety information. For example, if a product has rotating parts that pose a risk of injury if touched, this should be managed as safety information. However, if there is a safety mechanism that prevents the lid from opening while the product is rotating, thus eliminating the risk of contact with the rotating parts, there is no need to warn the user this information as Danger.

Step 2: Assign Warning Levels to the Classified Information

Refer to international standards for guidance. Warning levels are typically categorized as Danger, Warning, Caution, and Notice. Each level requires a different method of presentation. If the manual is to be localized into multiple languages, ensure that warning symbols are accompanied by the appropriate terminology as regulated by the respective countries.

Step 3: Apply Safety Symbols Recommended by Standards

According to the specified warning level, apply graphic symbols in accordance with the standards, including the size, color, and presentation method.

Step 4: Craft Messages According to Standard Guidelines for the Classified Information

Messages should inform users about the nature of the hazard, the consequences of not avoiding the hazard, and how to avoid the hazard. Ensure that the message follows standard guidelines.

Good Message Example vs. Incomplete Message Example

Contact Hansem Global

User manuals are essential for providing correct product usage information and ensuring user safety. When developing manuals, pay careful attention to drafting and positioning safety information, referencing international standards for guidance. If you need further assistance or a review of your user manuals to ensure proper implementation of safety information, contact Hansem Global.