AEM Safety MaterialsBy Becca Basten, AEM Safety Materials Manager —

In the last year, I’ve engaged in several conversations with member company representatives on the topic of digital documentation. Some have shared their intention to move to digital instruction manuals in response to a pending European Directive coming in 2023, which gives OEMs the option to provide technical documentation in a digital format. While this won’t directly affect AEM Safety Materials, the program is exploring options to make AEM’s safety manuals more accessible to member companies and their customers through some form of electronic delivery.  

Members regularly cite the need for electronic safety materials for easier operator access, more efficient real-time updating of content updates and synchronization of translations efforts. All of this suggests a future with digital libraries for safety materials and online training kits is imminent. And, as we continue to explore digital mediums, it's becoming increasingly clear we must begin to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of distributing safety materials digitally. 

With an increasing number of technological advancements evolving within our industry comes a growing demand for safety training and documentation in digital format. Augmented reality, along with many other forms of modern technology, is quickly gaining traction for safety training purposes, as well as digital suites for technical information and reference materials.  

One longstanding benefit of the printed safety manual, however, is the ability for an OEM to assign the physical manual an official part number to be included with each piece of equipment. Industry consensus safety manuals serve to reinforce OEM's operator’s manuals and other technical documentation, which strengthens risk management programs and ensures operators are provided safety documentation in the field. Ultimately, operator awareness and consistency in safety messaging is the best means of accident prevention. Sensory overload and fractured attention are both things to consider when adding more technology into the operator’s working environment. 

One might view a physical manual as clumsy or outdated. Oftentimes, however, physical materials remain accessible in situations where a tablet or personal device is not easily navigable. This can be due to the presence of debris, lack of connectivity, or other environmental factors that can render an electronic device useless on a jobsite. 

Research suggests users retain more information when reading from a physical book or pamphlet than an electronic device. The tactility of a physical document offers operators a better chance at comprehension and retention of the material. Another study out of Norway found that factual recall was significantly higher for print than digital. While these studies are carried out in a controlled environment, it doesn’t take much to extend these findings to a real-life setting where informational recall is crucial.  

Since starting at AEM, I’ve received a handful of inquiries about the future state of AEM safety manuals. Members are curious about all the possibilities for electronic content delivery, how it can benefit their customers and, most importantly, how it can keep operators safe. The Safety Materials program is currently exploring offering our manuals in PDF format as a supplement to operators’ risk management programs. This is not to say that AEM manuals will be replaced with PDFs altogether. While the benefits of PDF manuals include language accessibility, such as text to audio and translations, I strongly believe printed manuals will continue to be a necessary part of any OEM’s safety program.  

The AEM safety materials program is committed to serving its members and recognizes their dedication to safe equipment operation. With that in mind, we will continue to explore all the possibilities for electronic content delivery in the coming year and work in concert with our members to help make the industry safer. 

With the adoption of digital documentation on the horizon, we must remember the necessity of physical training and safety materials for both end users and OEMs. Screen-based safety materials are not going away, but neither are physical reference materials. In the end, operators’ access to safety and technical documents needs to be reliable and readily available in any situation. AEM members agree that while providing electronic safety content is the future, including printed manuals within equipment remains a critical component of any risk management program.

For More Information

AEM supports safety awareness year-round by offering an extensive array of safety products, including safety manuals and videos, with major equipment types covering aerial, agriculture, compact/portable, earthmoving, forestry, lifting, road paving and utility excavation applications.

Click here to see the complete line of AEM safety materials, or visit

Subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor for more member perspectives.