Using Warnings and Instructions to Increase Safety and Reduce Liability

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Course Overview

Thoroughly developed warnings and instructions are the most cost-effective way to increase the safety of your product while decreasing your product liability exposure. Learn the current legal duty to warn, the latest ANSI standards that apply to product warnings, factors useful in evaluating effective warnings and instructions, and how to test and revise warnings and instructions.

Who Should Attend?

  • Managers 
  • Engineers 
  • Technical writers
  • Product safety specialists
  • Anyone responsible for creating or reviewing instructions and warnings

Additional Information

Although not required, course attendees are encouraged to bring ANSI Z535.4 and ANSI Z535.6 to class.

Course Outline

Day 1

Duty to Warn and Instruct: Legal Responsibility

  • No guarantees
  • Broad and important topic
  • Key: Being organized
  • Theories of liability: Negligence/strict liability
  • Factors in determining whether a duty exists
  • Warnings vs. instructions

There is No Duty to Warn Where Hazard Is Open and Obvious 

  • Debate of what is open and obvious
  • Know the use of the product

Unintended/Unforeseeable Misuse 

  • Foreseeability
  • Know the use of the product

Environmental Test 

  • Modifications
  • Adequacy of warnings
  • Factors

Causation: Did the Failure to Warn Cause the Accident? 

  • History
  • Factors
  • Warnings/retrofit/recall

How to Improve Your Product 

  • Be organized
  • Documentation and its importance
  • The role of sales/service


Day 2 

The ANSI Z535 Standards for Product Safety Signs and Labels 

  • Guidelines for content of product safety signs (hazard nature, seriousness, consequence, avoidance)
  • Guidelines for the format of product safety signs (signal word, color, pictorials, word messages)

International Standards 

  • ISO standards for product warnings
  • EC machine safety directive

International Standard Harmonization 

  • US standards harmonization
  • ANSI Z535 revision
  • ISO 3864 revision

Durability Considerations 

  • Product environment
  • Product surface
  • Material choices

Team-Based Workshop Activity 

  • Evaluate warning
  • Develop recommendations
  • Team presentations


Day 3 

Writing and Designing Manuals and Warnings 

Integrating Product Safety 

  • How to conduct a hazard analysis
  • Designing instructions and warnings for users

Designing Instructions 

  • Who is your user?
  • What you see is what you read…or not
  • What to put in…and what to leave out

Designing Warnings and Safety Messages 

  • Liability prevention vs. product safety


Day 4 

Evaluating Warnings and Instructions 

Evaluation Considerations 

  • When to evaluate
  • Evaluation methods
  • When and how to document
  • Evaluation workshop

Complete Evaluation and Final Adjournment


"The program is very well-rounded and covers each of the elements of warnings and instructions in a thorough, effective, and interesting manner."

"I'd be hard pressed to say what was best—there was so much useful information, and the outside experts were super."

"Good consistent information throughout the presentations. Everyone had the same message for action by companies for warnings and instruction."


Charles Burhans

Charles Burhans is a Senior Consultant at Applied Safety and Ergonomics, a consulting service that has been providing valuable analysis, insight, answers, training, data, and problem-solving strategies in consultation and expert witness capacities to help clients make informed decisions since 1994. Recent professional activities include development and evaluation of warnings, instructions, and product literature, analysis of standards, accident investigation and the development of safety training materials and product safety/integrity documentation. Mr. Burhans is a member of the ANSI Z536.6 subcommittee on Product Safety Information in Product Manuals, Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials.

Cal Burnton

Cal R. Burnton is a partner in the Litigation Department at Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Mr. Burnton has tried and won numerous complex toxic tort and product liability cases, earning a national reputation for his ability to coordinate, manage, and defend mass toxic tort and complex product liability cases with a special emphasis on high-risk matters involving novel legal, scientific, and environmental theories. His clients have included leading manufacturers and sellers of products such as chemicals, health care appliances, medical devices, electrical equipment, firearms, printing presses, industrial machinery, and power tools. Mr. Burnton is a trusted counselor to his clients, advising them on issues regarding, product liability, government regulations, product safety, and related matters. Throughout the years, he has represented corporate clients in both federal and state courts in almost every state across the country. Mr. Burnton is a frequent lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has presented seminars on liability issues in Japan and the University of Warwick in England. Additionally, he has been an instructor at the National Institute of Trial Advocacy since 1999. Mr. Burnton has also been involved in law firm professional standards and ethics counseling for many years.

Angela Lambert

In her role as head of standards compliance at Clarion Safety Systems, Angela Lambert is actively involved in the ANSI and ISO standards related to visual safety communication. Together with contributing to committee work, she acts as a liaison between these bodies and Clarion Safety, bringing standards-informed expertise to clients to keep their warnings up-to-date. For nearly fifteen years, she has collaborated with Clarion Safety’s product manufacturing and facility safety customers – as well as industry partners and advocates – on label and sign systems that can help reduce risk and protect people. In addition to designing and producing best practice labels and signs, Clarion Safety specializes in guiding its clients through a streamlined process to implement cutting-edge visual safety communication systems in line with today’s leading safety standards. The company is a member of the ANSI Z535 Committee, the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 145 and the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 283.

Patricia Robinson

Dr. Robinson brings more than 35 years of experience to consulting and training in product safety, particularly in the area of warnings and instructions. She is the author of Writing and Designing Manuals and Warnings (4th edition), as well as other books and articles. Dr. Robinson has helped more than one hundred national and international companies improve their warnings and instructions, addressing safety issues in a wide variety of consumer and industrial products ranging from infant car seats to high- wall coal-mining machines.

Dr. Robinson brings a unique blend of skills and experience to her consulting. She began her work in instructions and warnings while serving on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering. In addition to developing curriculum and teaching technical communication courses, Dr. Robinson helped develop and served as the first Director of the Technical Communication Certificate program and served as Program Director for continuing education courses in technical communication, including product documentation. She continues to teach regularly at product safety conferences and seminars.

Upcoming dates (1)

May 17-20, 2021

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Program Director

Jeff Oelke

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