After twelve years of work in the standards arena, breakthrough developments have occurred in the American National Standards Institutes Z535 series of standards, the standards that set the bar for safety signs, labels, tags, and barricade tapes in the United States. Many of the changes that have taken place in the ANSI Z535 standards are the direct result of efforts to harmonize the U.S. standards with new international standards related to safety signs, labels, colors and symbols. As such, the ANSI Z535 standards embody a new level of global best practice when it comes to the design of visual safety systems.

A Brief History – The Rise to Prominence of ISO Standards for Graphical Symbols

You are sent to China to install a new piece of factory equipment in an automotive plant. On the outside of an enclosure, you see the sign shown in Exhibit 1. You only speak English, the workers in the plant don't speak English and your job is to integrate this new machine into the existing assembly line by the end of the day. You recognize the message might have something to do with safety because the color-coding is somewhat familiar, but you have no idea what the sign is intended to convey. End result: safety communication failure.

(Exhibit in full paper)

Whether you are looking at a product safety label with text in an unfamiliar language or you find yourself in a foreign land surrounded by signs you don't understand, the effect is the same; the message is not understood. This is an issue and it has significance, especially when it comes to safety. We live in a time of rapid globalization; a large portion of our manufactured products are marketed worldwide, people travel with increasing ease to every corner of the earth and our nations' economies are tied together through the integration of our commercial workforces. A universal system for the communication of visual information is needed and that is precisely the task that was set before ISO in 1995.

To begin this discussion of the possibility of an international system for the visual communication of information, think back over the last 15 years and try to recall if you have ever gotten into a car and not been able to find the windshield wiper switch or turn the headlights on. Probably not. In the not so distant past there were pull knobs or push buttons in cars that had words printed on them for each control, like "windshield wipers" and "headlights." If you were in a different country, the knobs would have these same words for each function but the words would have been in the language of the country where the car was sold. Things have changed. One of the primary reasons you are now able to find the control switches for any car in the world is that these functions are clearly indicated by the use of standardized ISO symbols (see Exhibit 2).

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