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Visual communication throughout a facility can be vital in improving safety and boosting productivity. Color-coded labels and easy to understand graphics help staff and visitors spot hazards and avoid accidents more quickly than text-based warnings alone. Implementing color-specific floor tape, labels, and signage helps improve employee compliance with safety standards, including government-mandated Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards or non-mandated American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines.

As each facility has different needs, there are various ways to implement color-coding and visual cues in the workplace. Here, we cover the basics for using color and graphics to create a safe, sustainable, and effective facility.

How to Use Color for a Safer Facility

OSHA Color Use Standards

OSHA, under the Department of Labor, sets the standards for safe working conditions, including fines for violations. While there are no required color schemes for most of the mandated guidelines, OSHA designates red and yellow to carry specific meanings. Additionally, OSHA offers recommendations for using orange and orange-red. OSHA’s color guidelines include:

  • Red to mark fire hazards, flammable liquids, and fire protection equipment such as fire extinguishers and emergency switches. (§1910.144(a)(1))
  • Yellow to designate hazardous areas and urge caution and indicates physical hazards from falls, trips, and more. (§1910.144(a)(3))
  • Orange is often reserved for warnings—less hazardous than caution labels, but still requires notice.
  • Fluorescent Orange designates biological hazards such as infectious waste, contaminated PPE, needles, and other medical waste and is usually accompanied by a bio-hazard symbol and text.
  • Lettering and Symbols must appear in contrasting colors for visibility against the background.

The association of red means stop, yellow means caution is one we see daily outside of industrial facilities and workplaces—think stop signs and traffic lights. This daily use means these colors can be interpreted quickly, which can be imperative for safety.

The use of yellow is not limited to hazards by OSHA, however. While its designation as a caution label is stated by the standard, yellow is often used otherwise. For example, facilities may mark aisles and passageways, such as traffic routes for machinery or to establish walking paths for foot traffic, in yellow as well.

While the means of marking is not specified by OSHA, floor marking tape is a cost-effective solution that installs easily, requires no dry time, and withstands heavy traffic. This solution is effective throughout a facility, including labeling:

  • Safe clearances and limits in aisles, at docking bays, loading docks, doorways, and passageways
  • Storage for containers, equipment, and housekeeping supplies
  • Dangers such as trip and fall hazards, open pits, tanks, and vats
  • Risk of electric shock or fire hazards
  • Evacuation routes

ANSI Color Cue Recommendations

Additional color guidelines come from ANSI—and, while ANSI is not legally mandated, the system is thorough and useful in many facilities. Under ANSI, colors are used as follows:

Color

ANSI Guidelines

Red

Danger, immediate hazards, or flammable liquids; emergency stop buttons, switches, or levers

Orange

Warning labels, hazards, and work zones

Yellow

Communicates warnings, signals caution

Green

Health and safety information, first aid

Blue

Safety precautions and non-emergency notices

Purple/White/Black

No assigned meaning, at the facility’s discretion

Use Standardized Colors to Create Safer Workplaces

While there are relatively few designated color standards, a consistent color scheme helps keep facilities safe and productive. Assign a standard color scheme that complies with OSHA requirements and ANSI guidelines.

For example, OSHA guidelines state that “permanent aisles and passageways shall be appropriately marked,” (1910.176(a)). To ensure visibility, the minimum width for aisle markings to be between two and six inches wide, with minimum aisle widths at least three feet wider than any equipment that uses the aisle. While no required color is specified, consistency is key. Yellow Superior Mark™ floor marking tape is a common choice for marking pathways and aisles.

Aside from using tape to mark aisles, visual cues for health and safety can include floor tape, barrier markings, signage, and pre-cut floor marking kits. Color-wrapped posts or wall signage in tandem with floor markers can help a first aid kit, eyewash station, fire extinguisher, or OSHA-required SDS datasheets stand out.

Using Graphics and Text in Visual Workplaces

Complement the color-coded safety instructions with meaningful graphics and easy-to-read text to aid in training new employees, improve efficiency, and promote safety for visitors. While long-term employees may understand the color system in place, using graphics and text reinforces the message and helps everyone understand the danger. Examples of situations where graphics, shapes, and text are useful include:

  • Footprints and arrows designating traveled paths to help people find their way.
  • Informative signage that provides instructions for machinery use and requirements.
  • Safety messages to bring attention to hazards with “caution” or “warning” text and relevant instructions.
  • Exit and egress markings and signage used to clearly mark pathways to indicate safe exits or evacuation routes.

Evaluate the facility prior to implementing a visual strategy. What concerns or challenges do you face? Request input from floor supervisors, but also consider suggestions from the staff, analyze current methods, and develop a plan to improve workflow—rather than complicate it.

Visually Organized Floor Layouts

Organizational systems like Lean and 5S rely on color-coding to improve workflow as well as safety.  Floor tape allows for clear communication and organization, providing opportunities to boost efficiency and reduce waste. Common uses for floor tape for visual organization and safety include:

  • Assigning equipment storage spaces
  • Marking facility floor layouts
  • Designating pathways for foot traffic
  • Indicating traveled zones
  • Creating one-way traffic flow

Painting floor markings is time-consuming, requires dry time, and is difficult to change. Floor tape applies easily, withstands heavy traffic, and removes without residue—allowing the opportunity for continuous improvement by adjusting layouts to suit improved workflows.

Training for a Productive Visual Facility

A visual workplace does not replace targeted training—while clearly marked floors and informative signage assist employees, instruction is required to understand the methods and meaning of color-coded floor markings and hazard signage. Implementing a training program ensures everyone understands what messages are being communicated, but also motivates staff to improve safety and compliance. Consider these tips for training employees for a visual facility:

  • Keep it straightforward: It’s easier to understand a simple plan than a complex process.
  • Share the goals of the training so employees understand the importance of the methods.
  • Use relevant examples and real-world experiences to highlight the value of the training.
  • Train new staff right away, and host annual refresher trainings for current staff members.
  • Ask for feedback: The employees on the floor may have suggestions for how to improve workflow; listen and respond to feedback, adjust as necessary.

Improve the safety and efficiency of your industrial facility with color-coded floor markings, signage, and relevant trainings. Implementing visual cues empowers employees to comply with OSHA requirements and facility-wide protocols. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to safety: Create an effective workflow and safe environment with floor marking tape, signage, and streamlined processes specific to your needs.