The Importance of Safety Signs and Hazard Signs in the Workplace

The proper use of safety signs is a compulsory requirement for all businesses, commercial organisations and public access buildings. Legislation is in place to enforce the proper use of these signs. The enforcement of this legislation is within the remit of The Health and Safety Executive (The HSE).

The content of health and safety signs is split into the following categories.

1. Prohibition.

A predominantly red and white safety sign which denotes that a certain behavior or activity is prohibited. “No smoking” and “No access” are common examples.

2. Hazard.

A warning triangle which is yellow with a black border signifies all potential hazards. Signs can be generic and just state “Danger” or can be more specific, such as “Caution slippery surface” or “Danger High Voltage”. The symbol within the triangle varies according to the hazard. An exclamation mark denotes a general hazard, whereas a lightning strike denotes an electrical hazard.

3. Mandatory.

A blue and white sign denotes that a certain action must be taken. By far the most common use is to signify that certain types of protective equipment must be worn or used. “Hard Hats”, “Safety Footwear”, “Hi-visibility clothing” and “Eye protection” are essential in nearly all areas of industry and construction.

4. Fire Equipment.

A red and white sign is used to denote all fire equipment such as extinguishers, alarm call points, and fire hoses. Extinguisher signs are further coded to denote the type and its proper use. For example, CO2 (black) signifies safe for use on electrical fires but should not be used in a confined space.

5. Safe condition.

A green and white sign that denotes safe conditions. These are predominantly used to inform people of escape routes and escape procedures. The normal style is wording such as “Fire Exit” or “Exit” along with a running man symbol and a directional arrow. Other common uses are for “Assembly point” and “Push Bar to Open”.

All of these signs are usually available in a choice of materials. Self adhesive vinyl, rigid plastic, dibond and aluminium are the most usual materials. Self adhesive vinyl is for internal use, and should only be applied to smooth flat surfaces. Rigid plastic can be used externally but is predominantly for internal use. These can be fixed using appropriate double sided tape or can be pre-drilled for screw fixing. Dibond and aluminium are more suitable for external use and have the appropriate fire ratings for signage in high risk areas, such as chemical or gas cylinder stores. For buildings without emergency lighting, the use of photoluminous signs is essential particularly for Fire Exit and Fire Equipment signage. This too is available in all of the above materials but as only suitable for interior use, most commonly in Self Adhesive Vinyl and Rigid Plastic.

The size of the signage required is determined by the viewing distance of the sign. For example, as a rough guide, signs visible up to 10 metres away should be 300mm x 100mm, up to 20 metres, 600mm x 200mm and up to 40m, 1200mm x 400mm.

There are many British Standards governing the design of signs, but with particular reference to “Fire exit” and “Fire equipment” signs, BS5499 or 92/58/EEC should be used.

Sign buyers should also be aware of their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) where it may be appropriate to provide signs in “Tactile” or “Braille” formats.

In short, signs are an essential part of every business and advice should be sought when determining what is needed in terms of content, size and material.