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Risk Management Bulletin


By October 1, 2011No Comments

They might not be exciting or high tech, but safety signs in the workplace can be worth their weight in gold! Says a recent article on “The importance of workplace safety signs can’t be stressed enough. [If properly designed and used], “signs can overcome a number of losses due to language barriers, reading abilities, and insufficient work experience. Wherever there’s need for general instruction, there should be a safety sign to help avoid potential injury.”

Of course, even the best signs won’t help if poorly designed or improperly used. Although OSHA uses ANSI standards to specify the design of such common signs as EXIT or CAUTION, there’s no way to regulate how every sign will be made and used.

An effective safety signage program should meet these standards:

  • Visibility. It sounds basic, but signs can’t do any good if people can’t see them. There are plenty of reasons they might not be able to. Check your break room bulletin board. Is one sign plastered over others? Are the signs so old they’re now the color of the Declaration of Independence? Are they hidden in corners or in hard-to-reach places on the equipment they’re designed to explain? To enhance visibility, especially from a distance, choose such contrasting color choices as yellow on black and put borders around every sign.
  • Noticeability. Qualities that make a sign stand out include shape and color – most people recognize a “stop” or “yield” sign without even reading it. Perpendicular signs are among the most noticeable, which is one reason that stores use them to stand out in a streetscape, and why they can help identify areas of special hazard.
  • Legibility. One reason it’s hard to read government regulations as published in the Federal Register is the size and grayness of the type. In the same way, type size can make important safety signs stand out more, as does spacing between words and individual letters. Printing a sign’s message in a second color improves retention of the message by 82%.
  • Durability. Signs need to survive the environment in which they’re placed. High heat, humidity, or corrosives can wilt or stain a sign beyond recognition. Don’t use cardboard when sheet metal is required.

Even if your signs meet all these criteria, OSHA still requires you to post and maintain them properly. This leads to the classic compliance issue of how to make sure that workers are observing all regulations when you can’t be everywhere at once to check.