Sign of the times

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Our litigious society has led to an explosion of warning labels on products. Some products take on the appearance of a quilt because of the mass of warning labels and icons.

These labels — as well as the warnings in any manual — are there for several reasons. Some are required by law, some are there for market access reasons and still others are there because of the requirements of the customer. Labels may warn of operating hazards, recommend safety equipment, offer maintenance tips or give an overview of how the product should be properly installed.

“Once you’ve established the basics, you need go into it deeper: Where will it be used? Where will it be sold? What location is it intended for?” says Darrell Lehman, director of Global Business Development for Intertek Testing Services, an independent certification firm that helps companies figure out what labels are required for their products.

If you’re planning on selling to a large chain store, bilingual labels might be in order.

“There may be some cases where bilingual is required by law, such as in Canada,” says Lehman. “It may not be a requirement elsewhere, but it may be implicit for market access.”

The regulations can be overwhelming. Different laws govern size, placement and appearance of warnings. Additional instructions may be required in the owner’s manual. There are even specific requirement for the type of adhesive used on the label itself. Foreign markets have their own set of standards.

Lehman sees products arrive in various stages of compliance.

“Some companies are more sophisticated and come in with a product that’s in full compliance and they just need a final confirmation required by law,” says Lehman. “Others come to us with a raw product. The sooner we get involved, the better. We encourage our clients to get us involved in the product cycle itself. By the time they’re done developing the product, it’s already fully compliant.”

The further along the product is, the more it will have to be reworked if something isn’t in compliance, leading to higher costs.

“The biggest mistake we see is companies that just don’t understand what’s involved,” says Lehman. “They don’t even get copies of the standards.”