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The Cornerstone of Safety: Workplace Signage

A comprehensive signage plan can have a sustained impact on safety.

By: Kevin Fipps, Contributor: DuraLabel

Safety is a paramount concern for any business or organization. Whether it is a factory, a construction site, a hospital or an office, ensuring the well-being of employees, customers and visitors is essential for productivity, reputation and compliance. One of the most effective and economical ways to promote safety in the workplace is with well-designed signage.

Signage is a vital communication tool that can inform, instruct and alert people of the potential hazards and safety procedures in different work environments. Signs and labels play a fundamental role in creating a safe work environment.

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PREVENT ACCIDENTS

Many of workplace incidents can be avoided or mitigated with proper signage. Signage can prevent accidents by:

  • Warning people of the presence and nature of hazards, such as slippery floors, moving machinery, electrical equipment or flammable substances.
  • Providing clear and concise instructions on how to avoid or minimize exposure to hazards, such as wearing protective gear, following lockout/tagout procedures or keeping a safe distance.
  • Indicating the location and availability of emergency equipment and exits, such as fire extinguishers, first-aid kits or evacuation routes.

To be most effective, signs must comply with the relevant standards and regulations, such as the ANSI/NEMA Z535 series of standards or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations that specify the design, application and use of safety signage, including color coding, sign size, text size and viewing distance.

ENHANCE HAZARD AWARENESS

Signs and labels enhance hazard awareness by:

  • Educating people about the risks and consequences of unsafe behavior.
  • Motivating people to adopt safe behavior, such as slogans, rewards or recognition of safety achievements.
  • Reminding people to maintain safety standards.

To be most effective, signage must be relevant, engaging and updated regularly. Signage should reflect the specific needs and characteristics of the workplace, such as the type of work, the level of risk and the demographics of the workforce. It should be visually appealing and capture the attention and interest of the audience, using graphics, humor or personalization. Signage plans should be reviewed and revised periodically, to ensure that the information is accurate, current and consistent.

CONTRIBUTE TO A CULTURE OF SAFETY

Signage contributes to a culture of safety in the workplace by:

  • Demonstrating the commitment and support of the management and leadership to safety, such as vision statements, policies or goals.
  • Encouraging the participation and involvement of the employees and stakeholders in safety, such as suggestions, feedback or committees.
  • Reinforcing the expectations and responsibilities of the individuals and groups in safety, such as roles, rules or accountability.

To be most effective, signage must be aligned with the other elements of the safety management system, such as training, supervision, monitoring or evaluation. These visual cues should be integrated with other communication channels and methods such as meetings, newsletters or an intranet site. Make sure messaging is consistent with the organizational culture and values, such as mission, vision or identity.

BLUEPRINT FOR SAFETY: DEVELOPING A COMPREHENSIVE WORKPLACE SIGNAGE PLAN

To develop a comprehensive signage plan for workplaces:

Assess Hazards

Some examples of hazards are:

  • Physical hazards: such as noise, vibration, temperature, electricity or radiation.
  • Chemical hazards: such as gases, liquids, solids or dusts that can cause burns, poisoning or explosions.
  • Biological hazards: such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites that can cause infections, allergies or diseases.
  • Ergonomic hazards: such as poor posture, repetitive motion or inadequate lighting that can cause musculoskeletal disorders, eye strain or fatigue.
  • Psychological hazards: such as stress, violence or harassment that can cause anxiety, depression or burnout.

The outcome of the hazard assessment should be a list of hazards, ranked by their severity and frequency and documented in a hazard register. The hazard register should include the following information for each hazard:

  • Description: a brief and clear statement of what the hazard is and how it can cause harm.
  • Location: the specific area or zone where the hazard is present or can occur.
  • Risk level: the combination of the likelihood and consequence of the hazard, expressed as low, medium or high.
  • Control measures: the actions and strategies that are in place or planned to eliminate or reduce the hazard, such as engineering, administrative or personal protective equipment.

Design Consistently

Design signage that will communicate both the hazards and the control measures to the audience. Signage design should follow these principles:

  • Clarity: the signage should convey the message simply and understandably, using words, symbols, colors and shapes that are familiar and meaningful to the audience.
  • Consistency: the signage should follow the same format and style throughout the workplace, using the same fonts, sizes and alignments for the text, and the same codes, meanings and orientations for the symbols and colors.
  • Compliance: the signage should adhere to the relevant standards and regulations, such as the ANSI/NEMA Z535 series of standards or the OSHA rules, that specify the design, application and use of safety signage.

Effective design will consider the purpose and the audience of the signage. The purpose of the signage can be classified into four categories:

  • Danger: to indicate an imminent hazard that will result in death or serious injury if not avoided.
  • Warning: to indicate a potential hazard that could result in death or serious injury if not avoided.
  • Caution: to indicate a potential hazard that could result in minor or moderate injury if not avoided.
  • Notice: to indicate a general statement of policy or practice related to safety or property.

The audience of the signage can vary depending on the type and size of the workplace, such as employees, customers, visitors, contractors or regulators. The design of the signage should consider the characteristics and needs of the audience, such as the language, literacy, culture or disability.

Deploy Effectively

Place the signs and labels in the appropriate locations and positions in the workplace. Placement should take into account:

  • Visibility: the signage should be easily seen and read by the audience, using adequate contrast, illumination and size for the text and symbols, and avoiding obstructions, distractions or glare.
  • Accessibility: the signage should be easily reached and understood by the audience, using appropriate height, angle and distance for the viewing, and providing alternative formats, such as braille, audio or tactile, for ADA accessibility.
  • Durability: the signage should be able to withstand the environmental and operational conditions of the workplace, using suitable materials, finishes and fasteners for the signage, and protecting the signage from damage, vandalism or theft.

The signage should be placed as close as possible to the hazard or the control measure, but not so close that it poses a risk or interferes with the operation. This includes placement where the audience is most likely to see and act on it, such as at the entrance, exit or transition points of the workplace. The timing of the signage refers to the duration and frequency of the signage. The signage should be placed before the hazard or the control measure is encountered, and remains in place until the hazard or the control measure is eliminated or reduced. All signs and labels should also be updated or replaced as needed, depending on the changes in the workplace, such as new hazards, new control measures or a new audience.

Update Regularly

When updating signage, consider:

  • Evaluation: the signage should be monitored and measured for its impact and outcome on the safety behavior and results in the workplace, using indicators, such as incident rates, compliance rates or satisfaction rates.
  • Feedback: the signage should be reviewed and reported for its strengths and weaknesses, using audits, inspections or surveys.
  • Revision: the signage should be improved and modified for its accuracy and currency. This includes deploying corrections, additions or deletions.

The update of the signage should also consider the cycle and the responsibility of the signage. Cycle refers to the frequency and schedule of the update, which can vary depending on the type and level of the signage, such as daily, weekly, monthly or annually. Responsibility includes the roles and duties of the people involved in the update, such as management, employees or contractors. This update should be planned, coordinated and documented using checklists, calendars or logs.

SEE YOUR WAY TO SAFETY

Signage is a cornerstone of safety in the workplace. It can prevent accidents, enhance awareness and contribute to a culture of safety in the workplace. However, signage alone is not enough. Signage must be part of a comprehensive signage plan that covers the assessment of hazards, design principles, placement strategies, and the importance of regular updates for a sustained impact on safety. By following the best practices and standards for signage plan development, businesses and organizations can create a safe work environment that benefits everyone. WMHS

Kevin Fipps is a safety professional based in Portland, Oregon. He has extensive safety industry training and planning experience at multiple global operations. He also authors a monthly safety column called, Tips from Fipps. Read more about visual communications and safety at www.duralabel.com/resources.

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