How To Read a Safety Tag

Danger, Warning, Caution, Biohazard Tags

When used correctly, safety tags protect your people and potentially saves lives. This guide explains how to read and use safety tags.

What Types of Workplace Safety Tags Are There?

There are four standard OSHA signal words used on tags, and those words indicate varying levels of workplace hazard.

  • Danger: Only used for major hazards with a risk of serious injury or death
  • Caution: Used for minor hazards, situations where possible safety risks might cause less serious injuries
  • Warning: Used when a hazard risk is lower than danger tags but greater than caution tags
  • Biohazard: Always required for any immediate or potential biological hazards, including containers, rooms, equipment or animals

OSHA Standard 1910.145 requires that signal words on a tag must be visible from a distance of at least 5 feet. This means a letter height of 0.16 to 0.33 inches, depending on the surroundings.

What Do Safety Tags Mean?

A proper safety tag includes two key elements to help convey its meaning:


OSHA has specific requirements for the colors you choose for your tags. Using the right color is essential to communicate clear messaging to employees:

  • Red: Danger tags, emergency instructions and safety cans
  • Yellow: Caution tags, falling hazards and some containers for corrosive materials
  • Orange: Warning tags, often used for equipment maintenance hazards
  • Fluorescent orange-red: Biohazard tags for blood and other biosafety risks
  • Black/white/yellow: Boundary tags, often with “Caution” in the label
  • Green: Safety tags related to first aid equipment, eye protection and safety equipment locations
  • Blue: Information tags with general info, such as notices

Major Message or Hazard Symbol

Every safety tag should have a signal word or easy-to-identify symbol, such as the biological hazard symbol, as well as a “major message” that indicates the specific hazardous condition or instruction to be communicated. Common major messages include:

  • Do Not Operate
  • Out of Order
  • Electrical Hazard
  • Do Not Enter
  • Do Not Use

Status tags provide key information such as inventory levels or inspection records, or the status of an items such as gas cylinders, ladders and scaffolds, or other equipment.

When Should You Use Tags or Signs?

A tag isn’t meant to be a replacement for a warning sign. Tags are usually designed to be temporary to identify or address:

  • Temporary risks: A tag can help you warn employees when a safety risk is temporary, such as a piece of equipment in an unusual location.
  • Interim warnings: Until a permanent safety sign is in place, you need a tag to highlight risks.
  • Ongoing monitoring: Tags can be a convenient way to keep inspection records close to the item you need to monitor, such as forklifts or pumps.

In other words, tags complement safety signs for a safer workplace.

How Can You Encourage Employees To Read Your Tags?

Creating an environment of workplace safety requires training. Walking your team through different scenarios can help them feel comfortable using different tags.

Safety Tag Resources: