Design of user guides for complex safety-related systems

Project No. BIA 0067


completed 05/2004


Safety laser scanners and ultrasonic protective devices are used to protect persons and property. Laser scanners enable safety fields to be defined for specific applications on a case-by-case basis. This characteristic yields decisive benefits for users of protective equipment, enabling hazard areas to be safeguarded in flexible manufacturing systems, and providing obstacle detection, for example on driverless industrial trucks. Laser scanners are particularly popular on mobile conveyors in the corrugated cardboard industry.

Studies of practical applications have shown that protective zones are often not dimensioned correctly. The main reason for laser scanners not being employed properly on mobile conveyors is that the personnel fitting the laser scanners are not sufficiently familiar with the mode of operation of this protective device. In the past, user guides were tested only for the completeness of the technical safety information during assessment of a system by the BG Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BIA).

The objective of this project was to draw up instructions for the presentation of complex technical information, including by means of new media, such that users can grasp the information with ease. This was included in the formulation of general criteria for the drafting of manuals.


A media pack, comprising a video, a poster and a model user guide, was drawn up in conjunction with the Technical Journalism Department of the Fachhochschule Bonn-Rhine-Sieg, Applied University, and a producer of user guides for laser scanners and other complex safety-related systems. The media pack was produced in consideration of the existing recognized principles for the design of technical information (content and format). A survey was also conducted to ascertain whether the design of the complete pack resulted in the information actually reaching the user.


A comparison between various user guides revealed numerous deficits: visual aids to comprehension are used sparingly. Captions to images are frequently missing, as are explanations and references to them in the text. Where indexes are provided, they are not complete. In some cases, the structure of the text impairs understanding rather than supporting it. Checklists by which users can check for completeness are seldom used. In sample calculations intended to illustrate mathematical content in a practical manner, formulae are not explained. Symbols may have different meanings even within the same user guide, with the result that examples are more likely to cause greater confusion. The same applies to dimensional units: values in diagrams for which no units are indicated may be in centimetres or millimetres. Finally, translations are often so poor that they are not understood by native speakers.

In conjunction with the FH Bonn-Rhine-Sieg, Applied University, a media pack was developed for a user guide of unconventional design. The pack comprised a video, poster, booklet, and learning modules. Comics were used as a design element in the booklet. The pack was sent to over 50 users, and feedback recorded by means of a questionnaire. The questionnaire revealed that 82% of the users questioned regarded the booklet as an improvement over conventional user instructions. 71% also considered the use of comics to be an enrichment. 65% favoured the use of a video, and 53% regarded the provision of a poster as an enrichment.

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Financed by:
  • Hauptverband der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften (HVBG)
  • Berufsgenossenschaft Druck und Papierverarbeitung
Research institution(s):
  • Berufsgenossenschaftliches Institut für Arbeitsschutz - BIA
  • Fachhochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg
  • Studiengang Technikjournalismus

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

Gestaltung von Arbeit und Technik, Qualifizierung/Aus- und Weiterbildung, Mechanische Gefährdungen


Maschinensicherheit, Bildung, Sicherheitstechnik

Description, key words:

instruction manual, laser scanners, safeguarding of hazard areas, driverless industrial truck, protective equipment, detection, protection of persons, personnel recognition, machine safety, safety system, user information, comprehensibility, software ergonomics