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Every day, American workers service high-powered equipment, build and fix roads, and manufacture the goods we use regularly.

Each year nearly 3 million employees are injured on the job. Work safety has improved in recent years, yet further action must be taken to ensure workers can enjoy a workplace free from hazards.

Safety signs play a vital role in ensuring a safe workplace. Employers who implement effective, clear visual communication have fewer accidents and injuries, increased efficiency, and safe behavior throughout their facility.

How can employers realize these benefits and comply with federal standards for visual communication? Here are four ways to meet OSHA requirements for safety signage.

1) Understand ANSI and OSHA Requirements for Signage

29 CFR 1910.145, 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 expanded upon in the ANSI Z535 standard, utilizing 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

Graphic Products has produced an infographic that broadly covers OSHA safety signs and the ANSI Z535 design standard.

ANSI last updated the Z535 safety sign standard in 2017; employers should use the latest standard when printing new labels. Replacing old ANSI signs is voluntary for now, but employers should consider updating to minimize confusion.

2) 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.

3) Know the Different Types of Safety Signage

Safety signs and labels should be posted whenever hazards may be present throughout a facility. Yet other types of signs can help employees stay safe and productive without pointing out specific hazards. They include:

  • 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.

4) Learn Where to Place Safety Signs

It can be tough to know when and where signs should be placed throughout a facility. For quick reference, here is a quick primer on sign placement. 

OSHA Offers Clear Guidance for When to use Safety Signage.

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 Outlines Different Guidelines for Placement, Depending on the Type of Sign.

Not sure which sign to place near a hazard? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • 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 Signs From a Safe Distance.

29 CFR 1910.145(f)(4) requires the sign’s signal word—”Danger,” “Caution,” etc.—to be readable from at least five 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.

The Sign Itself Should not Cause a Hazard.

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.

Since 1949, Lettermans has served the business community, and we are here to continue to fulfill our promise to our customers. With a talented team of artists and craftsmen and three locations to serve you, we have customized, cost-effective solutions that can be produced on time. 

Contact us today for your obligation-free workplace safety signage consultation.