If your workplace has health and safety hazards—and most do—you have a duty to use signs to warn workers, contractors and visitors about these hazards. Additionally, safety signs reinforce training, meet safety compliance regulations and provide visitors with legally adequate warning, protecting your company from liability.
One of the easiest ways to warn everyone of hazards is to follow safety sign and marking requirements. In 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its regulations to incorporate the new American National Standards Institute (ANSI) style for safety signage. All the information you need on the subject of signs, tags and markings, is readily available from these organizations, but here is an overview of some key steps in meeting these requirements:
It’s important to properly assess how well signs are used at your worksite. Walk through the workplace and note all hazards as well as the location of existing safety posters, signs, tags and markings.
Make a comprehensive list and ask yourself some questions: Are some areas missing important signage? Do you have outdated signs that don’t follow the new, regulated formats? Are there signs that warn of hazards that are no longer present? Are there multiple, redundant signs in one area?
This step allows you to assess your company’s needs. In addition, your workplace inspection results and a thorough list will be helpful when you decide to purchase the right safety signage.
Before deciding on your signs, you need to look through the regulations concerning the specific shape, color and design of safety signs and note all the information you require to be compliant. For example, what are the color codes you’ll need for your workplace? OSHA specifies that:
- Red is for danger tags that are to be used in major hazard situations where an immediate hazard presents a threat of death or serious injury.
- Orange is for warning tags that signify a hazardous situation that, if not avoided, could result in serious injury or death.
- Yellow is for caution tags that are to be used in minor hazard situations where a potential hazard or unsafe practice presents a lesser threat of an injury.
- Fluorescent orange or red-orange is for biological hazards.
Other colors of signage should be used to notify people of different situations. For example, blue denotes information, green means safety, and magenta or purple on yellow signifies radiation.
You also need to make sure you understand the difference between different types of signs in order to use them efficiently and correctly. For example:
- Notice signs provide information about equipment, areas, maintenance, instructions, and directions unrelated to personal injuries.
- General safety signs share information relating to first aid, medical equipment, sanitation and other topics. For example, they can mark emergency exits or eye-wash stations.
- Blue non-hazard signs can cover anything from directions and procedures to marking washrooms. They don’t communicate hazards and are purely information-centered.
Signs use easily understandable symbols to help draw attention to the safety message and allow people who don’t speak the language to understand their meaning. A multitude of pictograms and symbols are covered by the standards and you should easily be able to find the ones relevant to your workplace.
Consider the wording on signs. The basic OSHA/ANSI signs use the signal words DANGER, WARNING or CAUTION to indicate the risk severity level and these must be included on your signs. The rest of the warning message should be concise and easily read and understood. It should also make a positive (rather than negative) suggestion. For example, instead of saying “Don’t forget your PPE” the sign should say “Remember to wear your PPE”.
Your safety signs should use their message (and symbols) to clearly state the nature of the hazard, the consequence of interacting with it, and instructions on how to avoid it.
Also, don’t forget the size of the letters on your sign. Are they large enough to be read from a safe reading distance? Or in unfavorable conditions? Make sure you signs follow the guidelines regarding the correct size of the letters depending on the circumstances.
Signs shouldn’t have any sharp edges or burrs. They should also be made of the right material for your workplace, hazard area and the environmental conditions. If the signs become damaged, detached or degraded, it puts people at risk and it also makes you vulnerable to litigation. So consider these factors:
- What are the environmental conditions in the area where you want to place the sign? Is it indoor or outdoor? What is the temperature?
- What is the sign’s fade resistance? Will it fade quicker due to certain factors?
- What are the lighting conditions? Consider whether your signs have to be seen in the dark or under emergency lighting. Are fluorescent or photoluminescent signs a better option?
- Will the signs be regularly cleaned? Are housekeeping solutions going to damage the sign? Will the sign be affected by washdown conditions?
When affixing and placing the signs in their relevant areas, keep in mind that the signal word (WARNING, CAUTION, DANGER) must be readable from at least five feet away (1.52 m). This is because a person reading the sign must enough have time to follow the sign’s instructions safely.
Signs should be placed so that they are easily noticeable and clearly visible. They mustn’t be obstructed from view or create a hazard themselves (such as a warning sign that prevents the reader from seeing the hazard it’s warning against).
Consider whether the signs are going to be seen straight on or at an angle, and choose a design that will be clearly readable. Don’t forget to account for lighting conditions by placing safety signs where they will be easily seen.
Finally, think about the mounting heights of your signs. You can choose high, medium, and low-located placements, but they all should follow the guidelines.
Provide training to all employees on the meaning of the signs and tags used in the workplace. Everyone should be comfortable with the color and meaning of the signage, and understand the precaution that each sign communicates.
Your employees must recognize which signs indicate immediate danger, know the difference between danger and caution signs, and always take proper precautions. Signs might seem clear and understandable, but it’s not enough to put them up and expect everyone to comply. Education and training are a huge part of safety, and if you want to ensure a safe work environment for your workers then training cannot be ignored.
Safety signs and tags inform people not only of a danger but also of the right behavior to navigate it. The regulations relating to signage are clear, but it’s worth remembering that where OSHA’s requirements are absent, ANSI standards should be followed, as well as any applicable federal, state or municipal regulations.
Signage might appear to be a minor aspect of safety, but it helps warn workers of hazards so don’t ignore it, do your research and invest in appropriate and OSHA-compliant signs. You’ll be protecting your workers as well as your company.