In today’s world, the use of digital media to convey important information is not only ubiquitous, but essential to modern businesses across all sectors. This trend only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many businesses began eschewing in-person communications and written information in favor of digital counterparts to meet changing demands and ways of doing business.
Product safety information has historically been provided to consumers in written form. For example, manufacturer warning labels and other safety information have traditionally been provided in writing on the product itself or with its packaging. More and more, this is beginning to change. Digital forms of communication such as QR codes, webpage links, online videos, smartphone apps, and more have become increasingly popular avenues to deliver product information, including safety information and warnings. Such digital media provides opportunities for manufacturers and other businesses to deliver information in ways traditional printed material and direct product labeling simply cannot.
This has the potential for far-reaching effects. In product liability litigation, for example, claims against manufacturers for failure to warn often turn on whether the consumer was adequately informed, which itself often depends on the type and amount of safety information provided. Digital media provides much greater flexibility with respect to the form and volume of safety information to be provided than could ever be possible in writing. There are other potential benefits as well—for instance, use of this technology may allow a business to track whether and when safety information was accessed and viewed, which could prove valuable if litigation arises down the line.
There are certainly risks to consider as well, such as the risk of misinterpretation by consumers, or the ability of consumers who lack the requisite skills or technology to view this information. Further, businesses in heavily regulated industries may find it difficult to implement digital safety information while remaining in compliance with all governing regulations. Consumers may also be less likely to see digital safety information than printed information, especially if a product ends up changing hands over time.
Formal guidance and standards specifically for digital safety communications are underdeveloped at present, but this is slowly changing. In December 2022, the American National Standards Institute called for comments regarding a new standard, ANSI Z535.7 (“Product Safety Information in Electronic Media”), in its weekly publication. This standard sets forth requirements for the use of certain formatting elements “in the design of visual product safety messages presented in electronic media.”
Whether using digital media to communicate safety information is the right choice for a particular business will be a case-by-case analysis, based on industry, applicable regulations, the amount and type of information to be conveyed, and a number of other factors. Even where digital media is utilized to provide safety information, written copies of the information should likely still be made available to the extent possible to mitigate potential risk. Nonetheless, the flexibility and benefits of digital media will make this analysis an important consideration for manufacturing businesses in 2023 and beyond.