RE: clarity of terminology can save lives

Subject: RE: clarity of terminology can save lives
From: JB Foster <jb -dot- foster -at- shaw -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 05 Feb 2003 19:56:45 -0700

I ran into the same problem, once I got involved in writing technical
instructions. Trying to keep consistent with the proper use of ANSI 'signal
words' for safety 'caption boxes', was a very difficult task to do. Also,
the understanding of the differences between the ANSI definition for
'Warning' and 'Danger' was not completely clear in my mind. Both definitions
appeared to overlapped in a parallel way - to that of the Avalanche Danger
Descriptors of 'Considerable and High.' In both cases, either word can
indicate a risk of death or serious injury. When creating safety labels in a
document, it can quickly get confusing on which verb to use, and I found
that inconsistencies would start to form from that.

In ANSI Z535 - 'Danger' is defined as an imminently hazardous situation,
while 'Warning' is defined as a potentially hazardous situation. It would
seem to suggest that there is a definable difference between 'imminent' and
'potentially' - though I wouldn't be surprised if someone asked me if it's
possible for a certain hazard to become 'potentially imminent.' ANSI does
not clear this up by using 'will' and 'could' as additional descriptors.
What I'm getting at, is as follows: If 'Danger' is defined by ANSI as 'will
result in serious injury' and 'Warning' defined as 'could result in death.'
Then, what are the actual differences between these to definitions? As any
first-year medical student would tell you - any action that will result in
serious injury, could result in death. So therefore one could presume that
'Danger' and 'Warning' indicate the same thing! That's why (when I write up
service manuals) I leave out 'Warning' because it's not clear enough to the
reader, and tends to overlap with using 'Danger.' Besides, I find that most
workers easily understand the intention of using the word Danger. While
using 'Warning' might leave the reader with a false sense of security. A
sense of security that I had no intention of offering.

As for avalanches, the Swiss definition between 'Considerable' and 'High'
for avalanche-warnings can be just as vague. This is in view of the fact
that 'Considerable' indicates that the snow-pack is only moderately, or
poorly bonded. While 'High' is supposed to indicate that the snow-pack is
poorly bonded. The North American definitions are not much better, as Bil
suggests. But again, there is little separation between these two words, and
this leads to some confusion. Add to that, the subjective nature of
determining what the level of safety really is.

The U.S. National Weather Service has done a better job of classifying
hazards, by the use of 'Watch' and 'Warning.' Where 'Watch' is just that -
watch and wait; and 'Warning' means sever weather is approaching. That sort
of falls apart if someone from Buffalo hears a weather report in Atlanta -
declaring a Heavy Snow Fall Warning is in effect - because of a possible
accumulation of 4" of snow. But at least the classification system is
precise and to the point. Something that the AAA, CAA, and ANZI could all
benefit by taking a closer look at.


Bil Gladstone wrote:

>In light of recent multiple tragedies,
> the terminology used for these Ratings has been criticized.
> For example, in the Revelstoke area the Hazard is described as
> "considerable" through most of the winter. The current controversy
> focuses on just what "Considerable" means; is it closer to Moderate, or
> closer to High? Or are we just supposed to pause and "consider" that we
> really like back country skiing before we leave the lodge?


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clarity of terminology can save lives: From: Bil Gladstone

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