Workplace Safety Signs Requirements and Best Practices

Herbert Post January 11, 2023 8 min read

workplace safety signs and when to use them

Workplace safety signs are part of enforcing everyone’s safety in a workplace. Some hazards cannot be entirely eliminated, so people should do their part to minimize or prevent the consequences of being exposed to these hazards. Having safety signages in strategic places will help people be more aware of hazards and take extra precautions to protect themselves.

In this article, we will go over everything about safety signs, from their requirements to different types of safety signs and when to use them.

What Are Safety Signs?

A safety sign is a visual tool providing information about:

  • Health and safety protocols that must be followed in a workplace
  • The presence of hazards that people should watch out for
  • The location of safety-related objects such as exits, fire extinguishers, and more

Health and safety signs can contain text only, symbols only (also known as safety signboards), or both. A safety sign must be posted in risky areas, by emergency evacuation routes, near dangerous machinery, and wherever it is needed based on the assessment of a safety manager. However, these signages are not a replacement for safety training.

OSHA and ANSI Requirements for Safety Signs

The two standards used for workplace safety signs are OSHA 29 CFR 1910.145 and ANSI Z535, which govern their design, application, symbols and pictograms, wording, and lettering. These standards are updated on a regular basis to allow for the introduction of new standardized elements that are recognized globally to improve communication and help overcome language barriers.

In 2011, ANSI Z535.2-2011 (R2017) standard for safety signs was issued, which added the following components:

  • Use of globally recognizable graphical symbols
  • Clearer, more substantive text on signs
  • Specific signal words for hazard-alerting safety messages, non-hazard-alerting safety messages, and instructional safety messages

5 Types of Safety Signs

Safety signs are color and word-coded based on the severity of the hazard they aim to refer to. According to OSHA safety signs standard, there are three main classifications of signs, while ANSI recognizes at least five types of signs. Despite having different visual specifications, both standards must be taken into account when choosing the most appropriate safety signage in the workplace.

The chart below shows which safety sign must be used based on the severity of a hazard it aims to indicate:

osha ansi safety signs

1. Danger Signs

Danger signs are OSHA safety signs used in areas with an immediate hazard that can cause serious injury or even death if special precautions are not taken. ANSI has also added that danger signs must always have the “Danger” signal word on them.

Colors: Red, white, and black

2. Caution Signs

According to OSHA, caution signs are appropriate in areas where the presence of a minor hazard or unsafe work practices can result in a minor or moderate injury. This type of safety sign is not only meant for industrial use, such as in production or distribution facilities but can also be employed in a number of public settings.

Caution signs often include the safety alert symbol, but when not, they may serve as an alternative to notice signs–as approved by ANSI.

Colors: Yellow background where black letters are printed. The panel is black.

3. Warning Signs

ANSI has classified warning signs as one level of severity down danger signs. They are safety signs used in areas where death or severe injury may happen. This is in contrast with danger signs which must be posted in areas where death or serious injury is very likely to happen if proper precautions are not taken.

Colors: Black letters on orange background

4. Notice Signs

Based on ANSI standards, notice signs are used to indicate possible equipment or property damage, giving general information not related to personal injury. Information can be about practices, operating instructions, rules, procedures, and more.

Colors: “NOTICE” text in white, italicized font on blue background. Body has blue or black letters on a white background or white letters on black background.

5. Safe Condition Signs

Also known as general safety signs, these safe condition signs offer safety-related messages without referring to any hazards. These OSHA safety signs are used to point out emergency eye wash stations, first aid kits, safety routes, and more. These signs can also be used to encourage employees to report unsafe conditions as well as motivate them to be extra mindful of general hazards.

Colors: White letters on a green background. If the sign comes with a header, the main text should be black printed on a white background.

When Must Safety Signs Be Used?

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.145(f)(3) states the regulation for when must safety signs be used. According to this standard, 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."

Why Are Safety Signs Important in the Workplace?

Safety signs are important in the workplace since they are primarily a legal requirement for every organization, plus they allow any individual to roam or work on site safely. Below is a closer look at each point.

Supplementing Safety

Safety signs in the workplace usually feature illustrations with accompanying text either explicitly mentioning the hazard or giving instructions specific to the hazard. This visual communication tool is color-coded in line with OSHA 1910.145 Specifications for accident prevention signs and tags. Well-placed signage gives information and awareness to a person at a glance.

Highlighting Safe Work Methods

In any workplace, employees are exposed to certain hazards that are part of their work. Since some of these cannot be eliminated, employers must use signage to inform and remind employees of the best safety practices they should do to avoid hazards.

Moreover, signs can indicate the location of safety essentials such as emergency exits and first aid kits. This way, people can quickly and properly respond in case of an emergency.

Compliance

Complying with legal requirements is one of the most important responsibilities of an employer. No matter how good a company’s health and safety programs are, if there are no proper signages around, it can face regulatory fines and reputation damage.

After all, who would want to work with a company that neglects safety compliance? Even customers or clients won’t feel safe transacting with such a company.

Most Common Safety Signs and Safety Symbols

Here are some of the safety signs you might notice around you. Since most of these signs contain images and text, you can easily understand them at a glance:

Construction Safety Signs

These occupational safety signs aim to communicate safety instructions and identify hazardous areas in a construction site. Among the most usual post signs you'll encounter on a construction site are prohibition signs, personal safety equipment signs, and a caution sign.

construction safety sign

COVID-19 Safety Signs

COVID-19 safety signs are used to communicate your policies for anything that aids in the prevention of COVID-19 spread, such as social distancing and PPE requirements. These signs may be used both in private or public spaces.

covid-19 safety signs

Workplace Safety Signs

These safety signs aim to notify workers and visitors who may be exposed to hazards. Additionally, workplace safety signs communicate what cannot or must be done in the work facility.

workplace safety signs

PPE Safety Signs

Besides notifying individuals of potential hazards in an area, safety signs provide guidelines for preventing danger and maintaining a safe working environment. These workplace safety signage specify which types of PPE should be used in a certain location.

site safety signs

Fire Safety Signs

As fire is a high-risk hazard, fire safety signs typically display white text on a red background or vice versa. Its vibrant red color makes it easier to draw attention and locate fire extinguishers. It also allows for a faster response in the case of a fire.

fire signs

Smoking Signs

Smoking signs advise the location of no smoking and designated smoking areas within the facility. For no smoking signs, they often show a graphic of a lighted cigarette surrounded by a red circle with a slash.

smoking signs

Exit Signs

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.37 outlines the standard and best practices for communicating emergency egress routes. According to this standard, every exit sign must be:

  • Visible and marked by a sign reading “Exit”
  • Legible with lettering at least 6" (15.2 cm) high
  • Posted along the exit route, indicating access to the nearest exit, when a path isn’t obvious
  • Line-of-sight to an “Exit” sign must be visible at all times
  • For doors that may be mistaken for an exit must be marked "Not an Exit" or identified by their real usage
exit signs

Safety Warning Signs

Safety warning signs alert you to the presence of a hazard or hazardous condition and are easily identified by their warning symbol.

safety warning sign

4 Best Practices for Workplace Safety Signs

Your safety sign system reflects the safety culture of your company. So, here are some of the best practices to keep your safety culture on track and safety signs working and effective:

1. Position Signs Carefully

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.145 has not specified an absolute formula for this, but it is important to take note that each workplace safety sign must be placed to the nearby hazard as close as safely possible, easily visible from all angles, unobstructed, and visible in low-light settings by employing lighting and reflective tape products as needed.

2. Don’t Overdo It

Whether you want to admit it or not, posting workplace safety signs in every corner of an area can be overwhelming and counterproductive. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that safety signs should only be utilized in locations where it is absolutely essential.

3. Use Clear and Readable Signs

Similar to going overboard with posting signs, a workplace safety sign with too many words and information can be difficult to understand and easy to ignore. Use signs that communicate important information and are easily understood by the general public.

4. Maintain Signs Diligently

Usually, safety sign boards are posted, and that's about it–leading to faded, obstructed, and outdated signs. To prevent this, it is better to include sign maintenance in your safety program. This way, you can regularly move, update, and replace worn or damaged signs. Just remember: well-positioned and perfectly crafted signs are useless if they cannot be read.

What Are the Penalties for Non-compliance With Safety Signs?

Non-compliance with safety signs is punishable by fines imposed by OSHA. But, before we get to the maximum penalty amounts, it is important to understand that a violation of signage standards is already considered non-compliance.

  • Serious or other-than-serious posting requirements: $14,502 per violation
  • Failure to correct a cited violation: $14,502 per day beyond the date of notification
  • Willful or repeated violations: $145,027

Are Safety Signs Effective?

Yes, safety signs are effective, especially when they are easy to read and understand, well-maintained, and strategically installed in an occupational environment. Safety sign boards help employees and individuals understand hazards present in the area and communicate safety measures that must be followed to avoid accidents.

These safety signs may be distinguished by color and wording, dependent on the severity of the hazards. There is also a distinct safety symbol on each safety sign that assists in the communication of messages, warnings, and safety instructions. OSHA safety signs also aim to make communication more global by introducing Spanish safety signs as well as Bilingual safety signs that convey safety information in both English and Spanish.

Workplace safety signage is an essential component of any workplace safety program, ensuring that you adhere to OSHA and ANSI regulations. So, if you’re looking for a way to improve safety culture in the workplace, putting up effective signage is your best first step.

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Author: Herbert Post

VP Global Compliance at Barron Short Companies LTD. Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston in a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations


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