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: Thu, 06 Feb 2003 14:11:34 -0700


Exactly my point ... Advisories, descriptors, and signal-words, are all
subjective! The technical writer is usually responsible for creating the
tone of any safety alert, and as a consequence, able to decide on the
appropriate signal-word to use. As a result of ANSI using definitions that
blur the line between two different signal-words used to warn people of a
danger, the writer may unwillingly create a misunderstanding with the
reader. ANSI's definition of 'warning' and 'danger' leaves too-much
wiggle-room for interpretation; considering both words (at times) can have
the same meaning.

Using your analogy together with the ANSI rating - sticking a fork in a wall
socket, and working on 'live wires' - two deadly tasks that should not be
classified differently in terms of safety - can be painted different shades
of the same grey within the ANSI classification system. Especially when the
inappropriate use of 'warning' could give a false sense of security. The
real danger starts to unfold when a writer decides to use 'warning', when in
fact 'danger' would have better reflected the risks at hand. Add to this,
the frequently held view that 'warning' means you're taking a risk, but go
ahead if you need to (i.e. there's still some room for safety). And you can
probably understand why, in my mind, 'warning' should never be used in these
situations, and may even be indicative of something amiss with how ANSI has
classified this particular signal-word.

There is a similar problem with Avalanche warnings; where there is room for
interpretation on which descriptor to use - depending on when the last
official (snow) fracture-test was done. Also, the avalanche classifications
tend to mislay the intended meaning. This is because there are just too many
descriptors available to describe such an active, and unpredictable, state
(of nature). Considering the fact that a south-facing snow-pack's
classification can move from 'considerable', to 'extreme', within a single
morning. Which makes the published descriptor for that day, less relevant to
the user. Also 'considerable', like ANSI's definition of 'warning', induces
a false sense of security to the reader. A sense of security, that makes the
reader go ahead with an activity in the belief it's still not (as yet)
dangerous.

The National Weather Service obviously realized that it couldn't't
accurately predict what will happen overhead of people who reads the current
forecast. So in recent years, that organization simplified its 'storm alerts
' to the point that it's immediately clear how weather might directly affect
you, without much room for interpretation. These are the best types of
advisory words to use, since they are simple, the definition is to the
point, and there is no overlap (i.e. consists of clear boundaries).
Furthermore, I believe other organizations that define safety-related
activities, should look at whether they use crystal-clear, and
un-contradictory, definitions to the words used to inform people. In this
case, both ANSI and the AAA (and CAA) have done poorly, and the lack of
clear boundaries has been the main reason that I continue to refuse using
the word 'warning' for any safety-advisory for machinery!

Bruce


Valerie Priester wrote:

<snip>
> In my mind, Danger means always a hazard -- say, sticking a fork in the
> electrical outlet, whereas Warning is not advisable, but can be done --
> say, working with the wires in your house while the power is still on.
> >
> > In ANSI Z535 - 'Danger' is defined as an imminently hazardous situation,
> > while 'Warning' is defined as a potentially hazardous situation. [snip]
<snip>



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References:
RE: clarity of terminology can save lives: From: Valerie Priester

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