©2019 by Impala Services Ltd.

Danger, Warning or Caution? A simple Traffic Light Guide to select the correct Warning Label

In this article, we explain the differences between the most common product warning labels and provide practical examples as to when to use which label.  

The rules on the correct use of product safety labels can be confusing. Not making mistakes however is critical to protect your customers, as well as to reduce the risk of costly product withdrawals. This guide will help you determine which label to use for your products, both domestically, as well as in international markets. 

Key Warning Labels 
There are three so-called “signal words” as defined by ISO 3864-2: ‘Danger’, ‘Warning’, and ‘Caution’. Deciding which one to use in what situation can be confusing. The trick is to think of them as a traffic light:

 

  • DANGER! The red traffic light. This signal word indicates a hazard with a high level of risk which, if not avoided, will result in death or serious injury. In practice ‘Danger’ is used for high-risk products, such as electrical products, or power and garden tools.
     

  • WARNING! The equivalent of a yellow traffic light. Use this signal word to indicate a hazard with a medium level of risk which, if not avoided, could result in death or serious injury. In practice, this signal word is the most frequently used one, as there are often scenarios where the incorrect use of a product may cause serious harm.
     

  • CAUTION! This is the lowest tier signal word. It indicates a hazard with a low level of risk which, if not avoided, could result in minor or moderate injury. “Caution” is typically applied to battery operated, or non-electrical products, such as furniture. Incorrect use or assembly of such products may create hazardous situations, however, during the foreseeable intended use of the product users should not be exposed to serious risks.

Be careful when Using the ‘Caution’ Label
Brands tend to misinterpret the risk levels and the correct use of signal words. Figuring out that a chainsaw requires a ‘Danger’ label is an easy task. However, for other products, safety labels are less intuitive. Too often the reasonably foreseeable misuse is not considered (i.e. the use of a product in a way not as described, but due to readily predictable human error). As a result, oftentimes the ‘Caution’ label is used, when the use of the ‘Warning’ label would be appropriate. Think of this as the equivalent to an airplane crash - it rarely ever happens, but when it does, things go really bad. 

An example of this is refrigerators. Tragically, cases, where children get trapped inside large refrigerators and die of suffocation, are more common than one might think. In early 2019 three young children in Florida playing hide-and-seek ventured into an unplugged freezer and were discovered only when it was already too late. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has even issued a safety alert to educate the public on the risks posed by large, air-tight boxes that can be difficult to open from the inside. Thus, even for a seemingly harmless product like refrigerators, the use of the ‘Caution’ label would be incorrect. At Impala, we thus pay extra attention to protecting our customers’ users from credible risks and consult on the proper use and wording of product warning labels.

Examples of Warning Labels and Product USE cases

 

Caution

  • Hand Saw - CAUTION! Cut Hazard: Sharp Blades! Improper use or contact may result in injury. Always keep blades away from fingers and body. If saw blade jams while cutting, use extreme care when dislodging it. Do not use if damaged or if the handle is broken or loose. Handle with care. Keep out of reach of children.

  • Centrifugal Juicer - CAUTION! Cut Hazard: Sharp Blades! Do not insert any body parts (e.g. fingers) or kitchen utensils into the rotating centrifugal screen. Always use the provided pusher only.

  • Deep Fryer - CAUTION! Burn Hazard: Hot liquids! Do not move the appliance during use.  

 

Warning

  • Kids’ Products Choking Warning (Ages 12 and under) -  WARNING! Choking Hazard: Small parts! Not intended for children under 3 years. Handle with care. Use with adult supervision.

  • Button Cell Battery - WARNING! Swallowing can lead to chemical burns, perforation of soft tissue, and death. Severe burns can occur within 2 hours of ingestion. Seek medical attention immediately. Keep out of reach of children.

  • Recessed Luminaire - WARNING! Risk of electric shock! Switch off the power supply at the fuse box or circuit breaker before installation.
     

Danger

  • Packaging Materials - DANGER! Risk of suffocation! Keep any packaging materials away from children – these materials are a potential source of danger, e.g. suffocation.

  • Chain saw - DANGER! Risk of injury! If the chain brake is not engaged, the chain saw starts moving directly after the engine is started. Make sure the chain brake is engaged before starting the engine!

  • Disc sander - DANGER! Risk of explosion! Do not operate power tools in explosive atmospheres, such as in the presence of flammable liquids, gases or dust. Power tools create sparks which may ignite the dust or fumes.