Must Operating Manuals still be provided in printed form?

An interpretation of DIN EN ISO 20607.

Must Operating Manuals still be provided in printed form?

Let's be honest: what percentage of our day-to-day business do we Technical Editors spend on creating useful content, and how much on dealing with real or perceived legal risks?

In order to avoid liability issues, output formats are sometimes chosen that simply aren't appropriate for the specific usage context. For example, file folders containing maintenance information for a system are delivered in which the Service Technician is actually only looking for a setting value. The Operating Manual for machines is stored in a well-protected place in the filing cabinet of the Shift Supervisor, while the Operator probably only receives the required information – if at all – from colleagues. The main thing is to have a hard copy and keep it "permanently available".

Although harmonisation is still pending, the EN ISO 20607:2019 standard – Safety of machinery – Instruction handbook – General drafting principles, which has also been available as a German translation since October 2019, provides me with a bit of hope: provision in paper form is not the only option here. Chapter 7 "Forms of publication" also mentions electronic storage media in addition to the paper version, such as server access by the machine or another terminal device. I find it particularly exciting that, according to the standard, the instruction handbook may also be made available in the form of Human-Machine Interfaces, as video, internet-based or as an audible recording.

The Service Specialist could probably "click through" to the setting value in no time at all. The Operator could receive answers to their questions on the HMI, where perhaps even explanatory videos could be used. The paper form could still remain in file folders or cupboards if, for example, a power outage paralyses all electronic media.

Unfortunately, it's still a little too early to pop the champagne cork and usher-in the eventual paperless age. The standard clearly mentions that one must be aware of legal requirements. If other forms of provision have proven to be reliable, these forms of provision will certainly be acceptable to all parties involved. At some point one could arrive where I, as an information provider, want to go: needs-based information that really helps the user.

And just FYI, this blog post was created completely paperlessly.

Jörg Sannemann
Blog post Jörg Sannemann