Signs, signs, everywhere are signs

September 5, 2008
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How many signs do you walk by each day and not even notice? Signs can easily blend into the scenery, especially when they get old and faded.

In the safety world, signs are an everyday part of life. Safety signs are necessary, but like any other budget item, costs need to be managed.

Sometimes we don’t realize how important safety signage is to our employees and especially to new employees. An exit sign may not seem too important unless you are that person in a smoke-filled room trying to find your way out of a building. The new employee who sees a sign that says “Lockout required” may keep a colleague from making the mistake of placing his hand in machinery that could power up at any time.

Signs do help us work safer, so making sure we have a good safety sign program is important.

Sign purpose
Many signs are required by OSHA, for example, Confined Spaces and Emergency Exits.

There are many purposes for safety signage:

Alert: signs that alert you to “Danger,” “Warning,” “Caution.”

Danger: an immediate hazard that could result in injury or death, such as “Do Not Operate,” “Rotating Machinery.” These signs use white letters on a red background.

Warning: imminent hazard that could also result in injury or death, such as “Machine Starts Automatically,” “Low Clearance.” These signs use black letters on an orange background.

Caution: potential for a hazard, such as “Watch for Lift Trucks,” “Safety Belt Required.” These signs use black letters on a yellow background.

Awareness: signage that reinforces safety, such as “Think Safety,” “Safety First,” “Safety is Number One.” These signs are green with white letters or white with green or black lettering.

Information: NOTICE signs, such as “Put used respirators here,” “Hearing protection required,” “Do not enter when light is flashing.” These signs have blue and white backgrounds with black or white letters. “NOTICE” is normally printed in white on a blue banner.

DOT signage: signs required for the transportation industry, such as “Flammable,” “Corrosive,” “Radioactive.” These signs have color regulations that apply specifically to this area.

There are also many signs available using pictures to convey the message.

Sign review
A sign review is a good task for an employee safety committee. At the next meeting, take the committee on a tour of your facility. Have them look for:
  • The number of signs, just to give them an idea of how many signs there are throughout the facility.
  • Are the signs being used for the right purpose?
  • Condition of the signs — are they faded and hard to read?
  • Visibility — can they easily be seen?
  • Give a special focus to signs that identify exits, fire extinguisher locations and safety shower eyewashes.
  • Make sure exit signs are working and that they actually identify an accessible exit.
  • Fire extinguisher and safety shower signs should be placed so that they help people find their location.
The group will probably be surprised by their findings, especially if your facility has been in the location for a long time. Over the years, more and more safety signs are put up and usually very few are removed.

You may end up with a long list of signs that need to be replaced and/or removed. Don’t try to make all the changes at one time. The cost will be prohibitive, and the maintenance department won’t be too happy if you send them a long list of signs to move, replace or install. Let the safety committee sort the findings and prioritize what needs to be changed over the coming months. If the signage has been there for a long time, taking a few months to make the changes shouldn’t be a problem.

Bottom line
A good safety sign program will focus on the following items:
  • Meeting regulatory guidelines.
  • Having signs that identify hazards.
  • Increasing employee safety awareness.
  • Purchasing the appropriate sign in the correct size and in the best material for the area where it will be used.
  • An ongoing plan that makes sure that your signs are providing the information that is needed and that they are in good condition.
Following this plan will assure you that you are getting your best value from your signs and, at the same time, knowing that the signs are getting the correct message to your workers.

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