We don’t realize how much we depend on visually communicated information. But visual cues are essential for recognizing, controlling and avoiding hazards, especially in the workplace.

In addition to OSHA requirements (29 CFR 1910.145), there are some general guidelines to follow when it comes to your company’s safety signage. Wording should be brief and easy to read and understand, and it should make a positive statement. Here are five tips to help your signage be as effective as possible:

1. Training

You’re probably required to conduct training to ensure that workers understand the various types and meanings of signs in your facility. The best time to train is during new-hire safety orientation or annual safety refreshers. Show every type of sign, tag and label used in your facility. Provide an explanation of each one’s purpose and meaning. Employees should know what to do when they encounter specific signs, labels or tags.

Take special care to fully demonstrate hazard communications, such as chemical safety labeling programs.

Showing and explaining safety signs and meanings in company newsletters and on employee bulletin boards will help improve awareness.

2. Placement

Place hazard signs as close to the corresponding hazard as possible. You want to create a definite link between the message and the hazard. For example, in a plant maintenance shop, each bench-mounted tool should have hazard signs posted nearby emphasizing the use of eye protection and any other hazard precaution applicable to the specific tool.

Be aware that placing a group of hazard signs on a door, entryway or wall leads to confusion.

3. Maintenance

Over time, signs become faded and damaged, rendering them useless for the intended message. To show employees that these messages are important, replace signs as soon as they have any wear or damage. Keep a stock of replacement signs.

4. Language barriers

To ensure that non-English speaking employees understand signs, some companies employ translators to accompany trainers on facility tours to explain specific signs and their meanings. The use of pictogram safety signs is also important. Bilingual signs may also be helpful, but be aware that not all ethnic groups speak or read their languages the same.

5. Hidden message

The method you use to visually communicate information about hazards in your workplace, and the quality of your signage, tells employees more about your company’s safety attitude than policies, lectures and verbal reminders. Keep signs clean, legible and current. Ensure labels and tags are used for their intended purpose each and every time. And integrate “sign language” into every training session.