May 2013
By Matthias Schulz

Image: © Kate Shephard/ 123rf.com

Matthias Schulz has been working as an independent consultant and author of books since 1991.  His areas of expertise include CE-marking, machinery safety and technical documentation. He has published several publications about machinery safety and technical documentation. He works for tekom on the advisory committee for standards and the trade magazine ‘technische kommunikation’. Till 2008 he taught technical legislation at Aalen University.


mschulz[at]profiservices.de
www.profiservices.de


 

IEC 82079-1 in a nutshell

It is here: the IEC 82079-1. What does the standard deal with? What are the significant changes vis a vis EN 62079:2001? What must technical writers adapt to?

The IEC 82079-1 “Erstellen von Gebrauchsanleitungen” [Creating user manuals] as successor to the EN 62079 of 2001 is a so-called horizontal standard. It does not apply to just a specific product or sector, but contains rules across sectors for almost all branches of the industry. This concept has a considerable impact on the contents of the standard.

Many users of the standard would like to know what exactly they need to add to their manuals. “Is it necessary to include this or that?” is often the question.  However, the IEC 82079-1 answers such questions only to a moderate degree – it deals more with the “how” and less with the “what”:

  • How should manuals be prepared, i.e. what steps lead to a result of high value?
  • How should technical writers and translators be qualified?
  • How should instructions be presented, i.e. what fonts are suitable, what should be considered during layout and organization, how should the language be composed?
  • How should safety related information be structured, designed and highlighted in instructions?

IEC 82079-1 is an attempt at representing state-of-the-art technology in the area of technical communication at an international level. It has been achieved only partially from the German perspective. The bulk of the specification is no surprise for professional writers, but rather has been known for long and unfortunately it is often disappointingly insubstantial. This applies especially to rules related to comprehensibility of texts and quality of illustrations, but also to specifications for the use of electronic media. The strength and importance of the standard therefore primarily lies in its existence in itself. There is no way to skirt this minimum standard for instruction manuals. Many companies will discover hardly any need for action; others must however cover large gaps to achieve the level.

Content overview

The standard has seven main sections of which chapter 4 to 6 are the “flesh” of the standard. The table offers a brief overview. As compared to preceding standards, the IEC 82079-1 has increased half as much.

The contents of the IEC 82079-1

Section

Brief description of the content

1 – area of application

Defines the validity area of the standard and its target group

2 – references to standards

Contains a list of standards which are referred to in IEC 82079-1

3 – Terms

Contains definitions of important terms, including many new terms

4 – Principles

Contains basic regulations, e.g. for

·       Type of preparation of instruction manuals

·       Qualifications of technical writers and translators

·       Minimizing risks

·       Target group analysis

·       Media and their availability

·       Instructions for different product variations

·       Terminology, language and translations

5 – Content of user manuals

Contains listings of typical content for the following aspects of use (lifecycle phases):

·       Preparation for operation (Transport, Storage, Installation, Commissioning )

·       Operation (Normal operation, emergency situations, error search and fault rectification)

·       Maintenance, repairs

·       Deinstallation, Recycling, Disposal

However, this list provides just a rough framework. Product specific standards must always be considered in addition. Some requirements apply to the content due to the clear orientation towards the phases of the lifecycle:

·       Information for identifying the product and for changes

·       Safety-related information and product conformance  

·       Information about accessories that are delivered together with the product, consumables and spares

·       Information about special tools or equipment that is required

 

6 – Presentation of user manuals

Contains basic rules for the following areas:

·       Comprehensibility

·       Readability (font sizes)

·       Quality of illustrations

·       Graphic symbols and safety signs

·       Design of tables

·       Document types and electronic media

·       Highlighting safety-related information

·       Use of colors

 

7 – Analysis of conformance

Contains recommendations on how the alignment of instruction manuals  can be checked vis a vis the requirements in the  IEC 82079-1

There are many new definitions of important terms in section 3. In section 4 it becomes noticeable that the rules included in a fragmented manner in EN 62079 are presented in more detail. The same can be said for section 6, where technical writers now find three pages on the topic of readability under 6.2 instead of a single sentence on font size.

Process-related regulations

It has been criticized often enough that the title “Erstellen von Anleitungen” [creation of instruction manuals] is deceptive. IEC 82079-1 suggests that the process of creation of instruction manuals has been explained and regulated in the standard. This is however not the case, nevertheless a few important process-related regulations have been added to the standard.

Section 4.3 requires that a risk assessment should precede the creation of an instruction manual. The residual risks determined must then be mentioned in the instructions. This clearly refers to the creation process. The new rule wants to support technical writers in asking for the overdue risk assessment, as they have never received a risk assessment of design and development till now and have had to research safety-related information.

In connection with 4.8.2 section 4.4 demands conducting an analysis of the target group, also in the run up to the creation of an instruction manual. The target group analysis should then form the basis for decisions about the language to be selected (4.8.3), the contents required (4.8.2.2), the terminology (4.8.2.3) and also the distribution of the information over possibly what could be several manuals. Furthermore, it contributes to the decision about the form of the instructions, i.e. the selection of the medium– 4.7.3.

Quality-related regulations

The objectives of the standard include making a minimum quality of instructions achievable and reviewable. For that, it contains numerous rules such as those for readability, quality of illustration, organization and layout or comprehensibility of text. This was already so in EN 62079 as well.

Two new sections now aim at qualifications of the persons involved in the creation of instructions. Thus, we find in section 4.2 minimum requirements related to technical writers; they must

  • possess profound communication skills, particularly in technical communication,
  • certainly master the used source language,
  • be functionally well-acquainted with the object being handled,
  • have knowledge about the organization of the workflow for creating an instruction manual and be capable of implementing the requirements of the standard.

These requirements are of greatest importance, especially in an international horizontal standard; finally it is clearly stated that only trained experts for technical communication should create instruction manuals. Whether the required knowledge and skills have been acquired through training or further education is immaterial here. But an unqualified “alongside” while creating instruction manuals is clearly rejected by the IEC 82079-1.

Similar applies to the qualification of translators of instruction manuals.  Basic requirements related to this can be found under the misleading heading “Quality of translations” in section 4.8.3.3. Actually this is hardly a topic for the standard, because standards for quality of translations and the qualifications of translators either exist already or are just coming up at other places. However, it was considered necessary to list minimum requirements. Translators must

  • possess basic communication skills, particularly in technical communication,
  • be functionally well-acquainted with the object being handled,
  • master the source and target language fluently; preferably they should be native users of the target language.

The last criterion repeats a much-discussed “iron” rule of the art of translation and can therefore stay in the background for now. It appears more important that the translators involved must be familiar with the nature of technical communication. At some universities such as the Technical University of Cologne for instance, translators are already introduced to peculiarities of the language in instruction manuals. The requirement about the technical knowledge of the translator is irreplaceable, although often not heeded. It is based on the understanding that it is not possible to correctly translate something that one cannot understand and classify.

The table shows which sections a technical writer should consider when he works with warnings and safety instructions.

Must read

Section

Keyword for the contents

1

Validity area; also states the objective of the standard

3.19, 3.34, 3.37, 3.43

Important new definitions on user manuals, safety tips, experts, warnings

4.2, 4.8.3.3

Requirements related to the qualification of technical writers (4.2) and translators (4.8.3.3)

4.3

Conduct risk assessment before creating the instruction manual

4.4 und 4.8.2

Conduct target group analysis before creating the instruction manual; decisions that are influenced by the target group analysis

4.8.1.2

Instructions describing several product variations

5.5 und 6.8

Updated rules for safety-related information

Rules for warnings and safety instructions

Perhaps the changes for the warnings and safety instructions were those expected with the greatest anticipation. Section 5.5 is dedicated to them systematically under “safety-related information”. This is also the new umbrella term that we must get used to.

The following is defined as safety-related information:

  • Safety signs, e.g. labels on products
  • Safety instructions, particularly in a section or chapter Safety
  • Warnings in the context of instructions

Specific requirements apply to each of these types of information. Unfortunately, the list of signal and warning systems missed stating that safety-related information should be presented in a visible, audible or tactile form. The next version of the standard should be improved in this regard.

Safety instructions should be organized meaningfully.  For that they must appear in a section or chapter at the beginning of the instruction manual , which can be identified clearly as being relevant to safety from its heading respectively (5.5.2). A kind of “chapter on safety” is specified for the first time in international standards with this requirement.

With regards to content, at least information on safe usage, dangers and their avoidance and consequences is required (5.5.1). The basis for selecting safety-related information must however be formed by the risk assessment (4.3).

Plants or systems safety information referring to individual components should appear only in the respective instructions for the components. However, if new risks arise from the integration of components at the equipment level then this additional safety information should be provided (only) at the corresponding equipment level.

When integrating individual instructions, the safety instructions must always appear only at the instruction level at which the risks are actually relevant (5.5.4). This specification is an initial attempt to regulate the complex topic of safety instructions at plant or system level. Unfortunately however, it throws up more questions than answers: How should the information be distributed specifically in the instruction manual? Can there be several chapters on safety? Are cross-references to other parts of the instruction manual possibly sufficient?  Since several parts of a system or plant work together functionally, risks that exist when operating or maintaining individual components may be relevant at plant or system level. How do we deal with the corresponding warnings?

All safety information that is relevant in relation to the activities described in a short instruction manual must be included in it (5.5.5).

Warnings should appear in the context of the instructions in which the danger about which they warn occurs as well (5.5.2). They should include the following:

  • a signal word – danger, warning or attention, with the same meaning as in ANSI and ISO 3864 (not stated in 5.5.2 but in 6.8.3)
  • the danger
  • the possible consequences
  • the remedy (not included in 5.5.2 but in 6.8.3)

The form of warnings is handled in 6.8.3, 6.8.5 and 6.8.6. The salient points are:

  • It is not mandatory to use safety colors.
  • The warning triangle must always appear before the signal word.

Sadly, requirements related to warnings are not consolidated in a single section and must be searched and put together. Many technical writers will also be amazed by scope for the design.  Some had expected or even wished for stricter rules. The freedom would please all those who continue to subject the design of the safety and warning instructions – safety-related information – to the layout and typographic design of their instruction manuals and want to adapt it to it.

What should be done?

First, everyone should analyze the standard carefully.  The consequences related to the IEC 82079-1 can be determined in three steps:

  • Make a planned/actual comparison
  • Create a list of measures and define priorities
  • Work out an implementation plan

tekom has worked on a comprehensive commentary that supports technical writers in understanding the standard and correctly organizing their content. Furthermore, there will be more lectures during the conferences.

Anyone searching on the Internet will already find numerous training offerings and reading material. A proper “82079 hype” is expected during 2013. To avoid losing oversight, everyone should clarify the extent of the gap in their knowledge for themselves. This works best by first reading the new standard and working with a text highlighter. Even “old hands” may possibly get surprising insights in the process: The new standard is not completely new, but more in depth and stronger in many areas.

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#1 Nirmala wrote at Fri, Jun 07 answer

Very informative. But where do we access these standards?