Workplace safety starts with you. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. You must model safe work practices to gain the most buy-in from employees. One way to engage employees is through safety signage.
Safety signs can warn about hazards, set clear expectations and promote mindful behavior among employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration uses signage standards that are enforceable at the state and federal levels.
Learn about safety signage rules and ways to comply with OSHA’s guidelines.
Signage requirements for all employers in Portland, OR
Whether your business is in an office or a manufacturing facility, you must display the “Job Safety and Health: It’s the Law!” poster. Hang the sign in an unobstructed location where all employees can easily read it (like in a breakroom). If you have a multilingual staff, the poster must be in a language they can understand. OSHA offers free copies of the poster, including multiple translations, on its website.
Signal words classify the severity of a hazard
OSHA uses classifications or “signal words” to indicate the severity of a hazard.
- Danger signs indicate the most serious workplace hazards. It means serious injury or death is almost certain if you don’t avoid the hazard. Take precautions and follow the safeguards on the sign. The sign must include “DANGER” in white letters on a red background.
- Warning signs indicate a serious injury could occur if you don’t avoid the hazard. The sign should be orange or predominantly orange and include “WARNING.”
- Caution signs indicate a moderate to minor injury is possible if you don’t avoid the hazard. The sign should be yellow or predominantly yellow and include “CAUTION.”
Safety symbols must precede the signal words and lettering on the signs.
Use signal words, colors and symbols to communicate hazards
Most signs strive to describe a hazard and ways to avoid a hazard. A single symbol or word rarely does both. OSHA created guidelines for several types of signs, using words and symbols to communicate specific hazards.
- Biological hazard (aka biohazard) signs signify the actual or potential presence of a biohazard and identify equipment, containers, rooms, materials, experimental animals or combinations of these that contain (or are contaminated with) viable hazardous agents. According to OSHA, biological hazards or biohazards include “only those infectious agents presenting a risk or potential risk to the well-being of man.”
- Caution signs indicate a potentially hazardous situation that may result in a minor or moderate injury. Hazards may be the same as those associated with danger signs but with less significant consequences. They also warn against specific potential hazards capable of resulting in severe, but not irreversible, injury or damage. Caution signs may also alert against unsafe practices that could cause property damage.
- Danger signs indicate immediate and grave danger, usually requiring special safety precautions. They also indicate hazards capable of producing irreversible injury or property damage and a prohibition against the activity. Danger signs use the signal word “DANGER” in white letters at the top in a rectangular safety red background.
- Emergency instruction signs provide employees with instructions on an emergency process (like first aid). They look similar to posters. They are white with a green upper panel with white lettering. Instructive text on the lower panel is in black lettering.
- Exit signs show the direction to the nearest exit using an arrow. Do not use an arrow if the exit path continues straight on. Exit signs can be red or green. Signs that show an arrow point in the direction of the exit in conjunction with a symbol of a person exiting should make sure the person and the arrow both exit in the same direction on the sign.
- Fire and emergency signs point to fire extinguishing equipment, fire escapes and exits, gas shut-off valves, sprinkler drains and lifesaving equipment (like defibrillators). They have a signal word in white on a red background.
- Informational signs provide general information to avoid confusion or misunderstanding. Informational signs display the word “NOTICE” in white on a blue background in the upper panel. The lower panel is white with additional wording or symbols in blue or black. Alternatively, the entire sign may be white letters on a blue background.
- Safety instruction signs provide notices about health, first aid, medical equipment, sanitation, housekeeping and general safety. According to OSHA, “the standard color of the background shall be white and the panel, green with white letters. Any letters used against the white background shall be black.”
- Slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblems identify vehicles that move slowly (25 mph or less) on public roads. Emblems are not clearance markers for wide machinery, nor do they replace required lighting or markings on SMVs.
The materials used to manufacture safety signs matter
According to OSHA, all signs must have rounded or blunt corners. They must not have:
- Projections that create a hazard Sharp edges
The fastening devices you use to hang signs (like bolts, nails or screws) aren’t hazardous unless they protrude in a way that creates a physical hazard to employees.
Rules related to sign visibility and distance
OSHA has rules about making sure signs are visible and readable.
- Signs, signals and barricades must be visible while work is performed and removed or covered only when the hazard no longer exists.
- The signal word on a sign (“DANGER” or “CAUTION”) must be readable at a minimum distance of 5 feet. If a hazard requires a distance greater than 5 feet, the sign must be readable from a distance that suits the hazard.
- You must illuminate a sign if there is not enough light to read the sign easily.
Select signs based on the job hazards in your business
Your signage needs will vary based on the workplace hazards and types of jobs your employees do. Conduct a hazard analysis and review OSHA’s specifications before purchasing signs. Always defer to OSHA guidelines on signs, signals and barricades, but in the absence of OSHA guidelines, use the:
- American National Standards Institute — OSHA standard 1910.6 requires accident prevention signs and physical hazards markings to be equal to or better than the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards cited in subparts 1910.6(e)(59), (66) and (67).
- Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways — OSHA 1926.6 requires flaggers to use the signals and wear the safety garments described in Part 6 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTD) , Temporary Traffic Control.
Stay in compliance and model safety
Staying in compliance is essential, but safety signs also show you care about your employee’s wellbeing. Lead by example and model safe behaviors by:
- Performing job hazard assessments annually or after safety incidents and near-misses Remaining vigilant about safety protocols
- Rewarding safe behaviors
- Encouraging employees to speak up when they see hazards on the job, including missing signs and tags Providing a workplace free from fear and retaliation
A safe workplace increases morale, reduces employee turnover and helps to control workers’ compensation rates. Review OSHA’s environmental control specifications for accident prevention signs and tags for more detailed information.