Before OSHA began mandating specific signs, employers did not have strict requirements for workplace safety signage—and if employers did choose to put up signs, they were free to create them with whatever materials, fonts, colors, and wording they wanted. The result: signs that were hard to read or understand, which often didn’t help reduce workplace injuries—and may have contributed to them. With the inception of the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) in 1970, certain guidelines were put in place for employers to follow to help maximize worker safety. What are OSHA’s design requirements for safety signs? We’ve compiled an overview of OSHA’s safety regulations that apply to signs and other visual cues.
OSHA Safety Sign Requirements
OSHA provides a set of requirements regulating workplace signage in section 1910.145¹. As with traffic signs, the primary focus of these regulations is to standardize design elements, making signs easy to read and understand for all workers. OSHA safety requirements for signs and other visual cues are logical and easy to abide by, including:
- Font and Text Size Protocols. By regulating sign size, font style, and text size, OSHA guidelines help ensure that all signage is easily visible and legible for improved worker safety. Text size must be large enough that people with normal vision (with or without correction such as glasses or contact lenses) can read the sign at a “safe” distance, and the text and background colors must provide sufficient contrast.
- Sign Wording Guidelines. While OSHA’s guidelines for wording aren’t specific, it suggests that the wording should be concise, easy to read, and should portray messaging as a positive statement (for example: “Watch for Forklift” rather than “Don’t walk in front of forklift.”).
- Signal Words. In addition to providing guidelines for how to word signage text, OSHA also provides a list of specific signal words that must be included on various signs, like “Danger,” “Caution,” or “Warning.” These signal words also correlate with specific color standards to provide notice of any potential hazards in a consistent way.
- Inclusion of Pictographs. A graphic, also known as a pictograph, helps further convey the intended message. Pictographs are easy to understand and help reduce literacy or language barriers.
- Signage Materials. While OSHA doesn’t specifically state which materials should be used for signage, they do specify that signs should not have sharp edges, jutting-out bolts, or any other feature that constitutes a hazard. Since signs should not create a further hazard to the workplace, we recommend using easy-to-apply, durable, OSHA-compliant adhesive floor marking signs to provide clear visual cues for improved safety. Non-slip and anti-skid floor sign materials can improve traction, as well.
- Sign Color Requirements. By setting color standards—and even specifying the exact shades to use—for different sign types, you can help employees easily differentiate between warning signs, danger signs, hazard signs, and other visual cues. Color isn’t only dictated by OSHA: While OSHA’s color scheme requirements help create easily identifiable messages with contrasting colors to improve visibility, ANSI sets required color schemes that apply to specific types of messaging.
Note: The above rules do not apply to plant bulletin boards, safety posters, and news releases, as none of these are considered to be “signs.”
OSHA Exit Sign Requirements
When it comes to exit and egress route requirements, OSHA provides standards to ensure signage is easy to understand, can be spotted from a distance, and will direct employees away from danger—rather than deeper into the building. When installing exit signs, refer to OSHA’s requirements², including but not limited to:
- Exits must be visible and are required to be marked with an “EXIT” sign.
- Each letter of the word “EXIT” must be no less than six inches high and at least three-fourths of an inch wide.
- Exit signage text must be in a distinctive color; red and green are the standards set by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
- Doors and passages along the exit access route must be labeled to identify where the door leads (for example, “storage area”) and must include the text “Not an Exit.”
- Exits must be unobstructed—no materials may be permanently or temporarily placed within the exit or egress route. Use exit area signage to provide a reminder to “Keep Area Clear” or “Do Not Block.”
- OSHA requires that exit signs are illuminated, even during power outages, which may require an emergency power source; photoluminescent signage may also be accepted.
Additional OSHA Safety Sign Resources
In some states, the OSHA program is administered by the state itself rather than on a federal level, and some of these states have additional requirements as part of their standards. To find out whether your state is one of them, refer to OSHA’s Directory of States with OSHA-Approved Occupational Safety and Health Plans³.
If you’re interested in learning more about OSHA workplace safety sign requirements, we can help. Our OSHA Resource Center includes further information about which safety signs OSHA requires and how to comply with OSHA safety requirements using industrial floor signs. You can also contact our experts for help creating custom OSHA signs or floor tape to help you satisfy all facility safety requirements. After you’ve chosen OSHA-compliant signage and properly marked your facility, find more ideas for improving your efficiency, productivity, and safety in our Resource Center.
Disclaimer: Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, including having this document reviewed by an OSHA official, InSite Solutions expressly disclaims all warranties and liability of any type whatsoever relating to the use of this document. Any questions about signage requirements may be directed to OSHA.