Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also seems to breed invisibility when it comes to dangers and warnings. This begs the question: What percentage of the millions of work-related accidents and thousands of fatalities reported annually could be avoided with proper, highly visible signage to provide instructions, warnings and directions?

Your first step should be to objectively evaluate your worksite:
  1. — Look at your plant’s safety record. Trace all recent accidents to their source area. Is the area properly lit and ventilated, and are hazards and directions clearly marked?

    Are there dangers that a newer employee might not see? Or would an otherwise pre-occupied veteran employee miss them?
  2. — Have an “out-of-body” experience. While walking around, consciously force yourself to forget that you know your way around. What would a brand new employee see and do? Would he or she be in more danger than you are simply because you know your way around and where dangers exist?
  3. — Consider the consistency of message delivery. Often, changes in the safety symbols and colors used for the various hazards have changed over the years. This makes subsequent — newer — versions of the same sign and message slightly different than earlier renditions. Lack of consistency can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, especially given today’s often multicultural workforce composition. Consistency of message, delivery, colors and symbols has greater impact today than ever before!

    What you’re looking for is the proper number of signs, in the proper sizes and locations, with a correct, consistent, precisely stated message and/or directions. If there are any questions in your mind in any area, you probably need more, better, different, perhaps tailored signs to address your specific needs.
  4. — Consider the makeup of your workforce. The percentage of multicultural workers that comprise the average workforce has increased dramatically. Many of these workers continue to rely mostly, if not totally, on their native language. This poses one of the most serious communication issues facing businesses today. Principal among the challenges is the fact that a multi-lingual workforce can render your safety signage virtually meaningless.
  5. — Consider your need for international symbols and industrially harmonized colors, patterns and color schemes. Often these are used in combination with textual copy on signs. While certainly helpful, and oftentimes required, these symbols and color schemes can complicate sign layouts — especially when multiple languages are needed. This usually increases the size of signs that include all of the elements in question. Pre-designed signs are usually limited in terms of the permutations that can be depicted. And if you can find them to fit your specific needs, they are often so large that they become more of an obstacle than an assist. Plus, multiple signs in a single area can be a distraction.

Tailoring your message

If you’ve uncovered issues in any of the areas outlined above, you probably should consider using one of the on-site sign preparation and printing packages.

Things to look for in an on-site sign design and layout package:
  • Software packages are available that allow users to easily access and manipulate (if necessary) pre-designed signs that cover literally hundreds of the most common requirements.
  • Several brands require their own proprietary printers. Ideally, the package you choose should work with a standard PC and virtually any printer.
  • You should be able to resize finished signs — including multi-lingual, multi-functional textual communications, graphics and symbols, colors and color schemes — to fit specific areas.
  • Safety identification is moving to more of a “harmonized” approach to incorporate both ISO and ANSI symbols into new sign formats to permit universal applications. Consider packages that provide international ISO symbols incorporated with the ANSI symbols.
  • Recent developments in security have led to the establishment of “Homeland Security Symbols,” which are becoming more and more prevalent in plant signage, mapping and instructions, as well as for training purposes.
There’s certainly a lot at stake in plant safety and security today. And business needs are changing rapidly. Requirements placed on safety signs, labels and other in-plant directions have become more specific and more diverse at the same time. That dynamic has driven a growing number of facilities to use easy-to-navigate, flexible, multi-function, multi-lingual on-site sign and label development software.