American workers are what keep our country successful. Road builders, manufacturers, food industry workers, health workers, service workers and teachers and scientists keep our country one of the most prosperous on the planet.
Keeping employees safe is an important part of successfully running a company. Employees shouldn’t put themselves at risk when going to work, but nearly three million private employees were injured on the job in 2015. On-the-job safety has improved in recent years, yet further action must be taken to ensure workers can enjoy a workplace free from hazards.
Visual cues and safety signs can play an important role in ensuring a safe workplace. Employers who implement effective, clear visual communication may enjoy fewer accidents and injuries, increased efficiency and more productivity in their facility.
We recommend employers go above and beyond what the compliance regulations are for safety signage. Employers should think outside the box and provide visual cues created and designed to make a difference in the level of safety provided to employees – not just the bare minimum requirements.
Today’s modern safety signs address the fact that just the use of colors and words is not enough to keep all employees safe. What about a temporary employee just coming onto a plant floor? Sure, they’ve had an abbreviated safety education presentation, but what about when another employee unknowingly sends them into an area where there are designated pedestrian paths and fork lift paths. Will that worker know just by the color of the pathway, which path to walk into? And would a new worker understand a sign with a drawing of a hardhat?
New standards and options in safety sign graphics and words are working toward making workplaces more safe and productive. As advocates for visual workplaces, we fully support more graphics and explanatory illustrations in safety signs and we strive to work with our customers be provide OSHA compliant signs, as well as the most visually instructive cues on the market.
ANSI and OSHA requirements are a necessary and good place to start when planning visual safety cues throughout a workplace. Here are some tips in getting the best safety signs in front of employees.
Understand ANSI and OSHA Requirements for Signage
29 CFR §1910.145, is OSHA’s guideline for signs and tags that identify hazards, outlines design requirements and specifies when safety signs must be used. These design elements are further described and expanded on in the ANSI Z535 standard, which utilizes alert symbols and pictograms to communicate hazards.
The ANSI Z535 standard dictates every aspect of sign design, including:
- Standard sign and label colors
- Signal words (such as “Danger” and “Warning”)
- Letter style and size
- Sign and label placement
Recognize the Different Types of Safety Signs
OSHA and ANSI have established three primary severity classifications for safety signs. They are danger signs, warning signs, and caution signs; each relates directly to the severity of hazards present (or potentially present).
- Danger: Danger signs signal the most serious hazards, where special precautions must be taken. The “DANGER” signal word is printed in white letters on a red background and is preceded by the safety alert symbol, which looks like an exclamation point inside a triangle. This type of sign indicates that death or serious injury is almost certain to occur if the hazard is not avoided.
- Warning: This sign describes a hazard that may result in death or serious injury, but where the overall risk is not severe enough to need a danger sign. A safety alert symbol precedes the “WARNING” signal word, which is printed in black on an orange background.
- Caution: The hazards described on a caution sign may result in minor or moderate injuries if not avoided. These typically caution against unsafe practices. On caution signs, the “CAUTION” signal word is printed in black on a yellow background header and is preceded by the safety alert symbol.
Biological hazards are grouped into another hazard classification. These signs alert employees to the presence – or potential presence - of biohazards (including materials, equipment, containers, and rooms) where workers may be at risk of exposure.
Placement of Safety Signs
29 CFR §1910.145(f)(3) is OSHA’s rule for when and where signs should be placed within a facility. The standard points out that labels, tags, and signs:
“Shall be used as a means to prevent accidental injury or illness to employees who are exposed to hazardous or potentially hazardous conditions, equipment or operations which are out of the ordinary, unexpected or not readily apparent. Tags shall be used until such time as the identified hazard is eliminated or the hazardous operation is completed.”
Once you’ve determined that safety signage is necessary, 29 CFR §1910.145(f)(4)(vi) states that signs must be placed “as close as safely possible” to the nearby hazard. OSHA is somewhat vague when offering guidance on the placement of most safety signs.
Here’s some information OSHA provides about what kind of sign to provide near what kind of hazards:
- Danger signs must be placed where a hazard poses an immediate danger and special precautions must be taken.
- Caution signs must be posted to warn of potential hazards; they may also be used to caution against unsafe practices.
- Safety instruction signs should be used wherever general instructions and safety suggestions can help workers perform their tasks in a safe manner.
Workers must be able to see the sign, before they are in danger. 29 CFR §1910.145(f)(4) requires the sign’s signal word—“Danger,” “Caution,” etc.—to be readable from at least five feet away. We would suggest this is a prime example of a time when you should go further than what the OSHA requirements are. Use common sense and use a larger sign to offer a greater protection to employees – help workers see the sign from 12 feet away. Broadly speaking, signs should be placed such that workers are aware of the hazard and able to respond appropriately before being exposed to it.
Make sure your safety signs aren’t hazardous. Safety signs should have rounded or blunt corners, and have no sharp edges, burrs, or splinters. Similarly, a sign that warns pedestrians to look out for forklift traffic at an intersection should not block their view of incoming forklifts.
Think about if you were trying to protect your child from potentially getting electrocuted. Would you just put up a sign with the words spelled out? No, you’d also use a sign with a pictogram and maybe even put floor tape around the electrical panel indicating “Don’t go past this line.” Don’t do the bare minimum. Do your best to protect employees from dangers.
We suggest making sure your safety message is placed in as many spots as necessary to make sure your employees stay alert and aware of nearby hazards. By using a combination of floor tape, floor safety signs and safety signs affixed to walls, employees are more likely to stay alert and be cognizant of a dangerous hazard.
Know the Different Types of Safety Signage
Safety signs and labels should be posted whenever hazards may be present throughout a facility. There are other visual cues and safety signs that can help employees stay safe and productive without pointing out specific hazards. These cues can indicate the following:
Notice: Use notice signs to deliver information about a machine, building, area, or equipment. These signs outline procedures, maintenance information, instructions, rules, and directions unrelated to personal injuries.
General safety signs: These offer broad safety-related messages, typically relating to health, medical equipment, sanitation, first aid, housekeeping, and suggested general safety measures.
Admittance: Admittance signs alert and explain the dangers and consequences associated with entering a restricted area.
Fire safety: Fire safety signs point out emergency firefighting equipment and fire exits.
Non-hazard signs: These communicate general safety facility information, such as wayfinding directions procedures, usually through simple text and clear symbols. These should be never be used to communicate hazards, risks, or dangers; they are not technically safety signs but nevertheless promote a safer workplace.
Illustrations in Safety Signs
Today’s safety signs are more than just red and white signs with a circle with a line through a phrase.
Safety signs are an important part of having a visually organized workplace – not to mention you will not be OSHA compliant without them. The cost for good visual cues should not be thought of as just an extra expense to shoulder. Visual cues and good safety signs are an investment in your company. Having a safe and visually instructive workplace will lead to a more productive workplace.