Signs and the law
In countries around the world, it’s required by law to display certain signs in the workplace to help prevent accidents, everything from signs for electrical hazards to wet floors.
Different countries have different laws around which safety signs must be displayed, but most require safety signs for any area in which there is potential danger or risk of injury, and these need to meet the standard that each country has set.
Awareness of the importance of signs was recognized earliest in the US, over a century ago, in 1914. Universal Safety Standards was published as a first attempt to standardize safety signs and encourage workplaces to use them effectively. In the 1940s, new and more advanced standards were released and improved upon over the next few decades.
Most countries developed their own unique standardization for signs. Signage in Europe developed around the same time period as the US, but with text-only signs being the most common. The European Union adopted certain standardization regulations and today use ISO 7010 to regulate the use of signs and help make them internationally recognizable.
There are now various laws and standards in place to help ensure that signs effectively communicate safety messages in all workplaces. Many signs do still differ according to the country’s laws and regulations, but most are very similar.
From power plants to restaurants, safety signs are vital to protect employees from potential hazards.
It’s not just construction sites and factories that need safety signs; they’re also essential for offices; for example, to instruct people on how to react in a fire. This would include signs on where to find fire escapes or the locations of fire retardants.
Every type of sign will consist of a mixture of words, images and symbols. All symbols and shapes used on signs are standardized. This means they’re easily recognizable and communicate messages effectively across different nationalities and languages.
The ISO 7010 outlines some internationally standard symbols and shapes. These are the symbols that should be used on signs in the workplace to ensure they can clearly communicate and therefore effectively contribute to your workplace safety.
For example, hazard signs will always consist of a yellow triangle and black exclamation mark. Blue circles are always used for mandatory action signs. For example, ‘Hard hats must be worn’ would be in a circle sign. Green coloring is used to show the location of emergency equipment, such as first aid boxes or fire escapes.
While in 1914, a company could put up any sign of any color, today it’s a legal requirement to hang signs of the correct standardization.
Every company needs a health and safety policy.
Signs are a way to communicate your safety policy as well as being an active part of the policy itself. For example, to prevent the problem of hand injuries when working with sharp tools, you could put in place a policy that employees must wear protective gloves. Signs allow you to communicate this regulation to your employees and, therefore, part of your health and safety policy should include that a sign be clearly displayed in the area in which gloves must be worn.
Varieties of safety signs
Safety signs come in a range of different formats which allows every company and business to find the sign they need.
These inform people of behavior, activity or items that aren’t allowed in certain areas. A prohibition sign helps to keep people safe in a number of ways by preventing activities that would cause an accident to the individual or potential danger to other people. For example, no smoking signs are vital in areas where there are highly flammable materials.
Prohibition signs feature a red circle with a dash going through it. There is often a symbol of the prohibited activity behind the red line to make the instructions as clear as possible.
Hazard signs help to warn people of a potential risk and hazard -- something that could cause harm to an individual. Hazard signs are important as knowledge of a hazard allows an individual to take preventative action. Usually, this is common sense. A ‘Wet Surface’ sign, for example, means people will avoid walking on the wet surface or will walk with more caution, therefore preventing injury.
Hazard signs always feature a yellow triangle and, commonly, a black exclamation mark. This makes it clear to someone, even if they can’t read the text beneath, that they should proceed with caution.
Hazard signs often come with very specific text. This is essential as each hazard may be different. Examples include: ‘DANGER: Asbestos’, ‘Beware Sailing Area’, ‘Bull in Field’ and ‘Contamination Area’, amongst countless others.
Any potential hazard that could cause serious injury should be highlighted with a hazard sign.
Mandatory signs are used to inform or remind people of actions that must be taken. It ensures that people act correctly in order to stay safe in an environment. For example, even when employees are informed verbally that they must wash their hands, a sign acts as a reminder and a way to enforce the rule.
Mandatory signs always feature a blue colored circle, often with a white image or text. Occasionally, mandatory signs might feature a rounded square box with white text and no image, but this is still always blue.
Signs are essential for the safety of employees and any customers using a building as they communicate hazards or safety regulations. Signs dramatically reduce workplace accidents and keep your company safe from lawsuits.
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