Why Are Safety Signs Important in the Workplace?

Let’s explore the early days of safety signs to discover their true impact 

One commonly cited OSHA statistic claims that 13 work-related deaths occur every day.  Based on this shocking figure, you may have questioned the importance of safety signs, since serious injuries still occur in the workplace. 

The truth is, if safety signs were nonexistent, no one would know about potential hazards and the amount of injuries would escalate dramatically.

A world without safety signs

Electrocutions from high voltage would be on the rise without safety signs. More of your workers would be exposed to hazardous chemicals, resulting in serious health issues, such as cancers, without specific safety signs. Workers would be walking around like the one-eyed man who refused to wear goggles when exposed to flying chips. You get the picture. A world without safety signs would be a far more dangerous place.

When did the industry discover the need for safety signs?

The combination of a growing industrial revolution and the rise of accident/death rates introduced the early days of safety signage. In 1914, the Worker’s Compensation Bureau published a pamphlet titled “Signs and Slogans,” which supported the use of DANGER safety signs in the workplace. Employers and companies could choose any message, design, and color to meet their needs.

David Stewart Beyer wrote in his 1916 book titled, Industrial Accident Prevention, that the safety movement is in a state of constant evolution. Beyer goes on to say that safety inspectors are frequently asked the following question: “How can you prevent this kind of accident?” 

33 years later, Beyer got his answer. Safety sign standardization was established in 1941 by The American Standards Association (which would later become the American National Standards Institute or ANSI). ANSI published ASA.Z35.1 Specification for Industrial Accident Prevention Signs. This standard outlined and introduced standard formats for DANGER signs, CAUTION signs, NOTICE signs, and EXIT signs, among others.

For 50 years the ASA Z35.1 was the standard that governed the industry. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted it as the basis for its 29 CFR 1910 regulatory safety sign formats that were published in 1971. 

What are safety sign requirements today?

Since the inception of safety signs in the workforce, further standardization and updates have paved the way to keep safety the main focus point. The same two agencies govern safety signs and marking today – OSHA and ANSI.  

Safety signs should be used when hazards can’t be eliminated. 

“Signs and symbols required by this subpart shall be visible at all times when work is being performed, and shall be removed or covered promptly when the hazards no longer exist,” per OSHA 1926.200(a).

Specifications for safety signs are spelled out in OSHA 191.145(a)(1) and indicate “….use of signs or symbols that indicate and, insofar as possible, define specific hazards that could harm workers or the public, or both, or to property damage. These specifications are intended to cover all safety signs except those designed for streets, highways, and railroads. These specifications do not apply to plant bulletin boards or to safety posters.”

Under OSHA’s revised Hazard Communication Standard, in addition to standard OSHA signs, organizations can now use either the ANSI Z35.1-1968 or ANSI Z535.2-2011, and ANSI Z35.2-1968 or Z535.5-2011, with respect to such additional rules.

OSHA classification of signs:

  1. Danger Signs – Indicate a hazardous situation that, if not avoided, will result in death or a serious injury. Danger signs are required to have red as the predominate color for the upper panel, black outline on the borders, and white lower panel for additional sign wording.
  2. Caution Signs – Indicate a hazardous situation that, if not avoided, could result in minor or moderate injury. Caution signs are required to have yellow as the predominate color and black upper panel and borders. Black lettering should be used for additional wording.
  3. Safety Instruction Signs – Indicates specific safety-related instructions or procedures that are related to safe work practices. Safety instruction signs are required to be white with green upper panel with white letters. Additional wording to be black on a white background.

Next time you walk past an OSHA or ANSI style safety sign, take a moment to fully appreciate the message and understand the role it plays in preventing injuries and death. 

When you need help choosing the ideal safety sign, contact ComplianceSigns.com to help keep your workers safe.