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Labelling and packaging practices: A summary of some of the evidence

Version 1.0, January 2013

21 January 2013

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Small containers

Space availability on a medicine label has significant impacts on readability of the information, although in general, small containers are usually not given separate consideration in studies of medicines labelling effectiveness. Beyond medicine labelling, there has been some investigations of alternative labelling for small containers and the impact on behavioural compliance, as discussed below in the work of Wogalter and Young (1994). In a study that was designed to compare two alternative label designs, tags and wings, with the conventional labelling for their effect on behavioural compliance on a very small container of glue, Wogalter and Young (1994) found that the tag design had a greater compliance than the other labelling methods, when measuring compliance of participants. The findings suggest that alternative designs can enhance warning communication and compliance, particularly if they are used to provide greater surface area for information.

In a comparison of guidelines for labelling anaesthetics, Merry et al (2011), identified a number of factors that can provide guidance for developing suitable labelling requirements for small containers. In particular, they highlighted the lack of legibility of information on ampoules, suggesting that separate consideration of requirements for this type of packaging may be appropriate. It was suggested the focus of labels should be on legibility, ease of identification and avoidance of look-alike labels, rather than information for quality control of medication manufacture and distribution.

Merry et al (2011) also suggested there should be a consistent approach to addressing colour coding, container size, background, font size and type, look-alike sound-alike names and poorly legible labels, which have all been implicated in medication errors. The work advocated a coordinated approach to clear, consistent presentation of the active ingredient and concentration in each container.


Merry AF, Shipp DH, Lowinger JS, The contribution of labelling to safe medication administration in anaesthetic practice. Best practice and research clinical anaesthesiology 2011;25:145-159.

Wogalter MS & Young SL, The effect of alternative product-label design on warning compliance. Applied Ergonomics, 1994;25:53-57.

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