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A Guide to Workplace Safety Signage: Pointing You in the Right Direction

If you’re a small company, you might feel that some of the rules that are in place are for bigger organisations and don’t apply to you.

Why are safety signs used in the workplace?

Workplace safety signage is something we don’t often think about, yet they form a normal everyday backdrop to many working lives. But did you know that such signs are sometimes mandatory, have to be displayed in certain locations and are even colour coded?

They play an important role and are sometimes a legal obligation for employers to display within the working environment, be it at offices, warehouses, factories or building sites.

What signage is mandatory for the workplace?

Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve only got a handful of employees so it’s not relevant– many of the rules will still apply to you. Depending on the industry you work in, you will need to research into the type of signage you need in the workplace.

Safety signs in a workplace is essential. These signs can include:

• UK Health and Safety Legislation Poster
• Fire notices, fire exit and emergency escape signs
• First Aid signs
• Obstacle notices (e.g. trip hazards)

Why are safety signs used in the workplace?

The Government states that “mandatory signs must be used by employers and duty holders when they have a duty of care to protect the public and employees on their premises or the site they are working on.”

These signs relate to the use of equipment and machinery, and they instruct and inform employees regarding specific areas and actions. Use of these signs helps employers to adhere to the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996.

Types of workplace safety signs

Such signs typically relate to eye protection, state that visibility jackets must be worn in an area or that ear or head protection must be worn. Signs can be directional, serve as warnings, offer instruction and tell an employee of potential hazards.

In Britain there are hundreds of safety signs that must be displayed within the workplace; indoor, outdoor, on-site and covering approaches to dangerous areas. And there are a handful that anyone who has staff ignores at their peril.

What are the 4 types of safety signs?

In a nutshell, compulsory signs in the UK cover the following workplace hazard signs:

• Fire safety signs
• Emergency exit signs
• Road traffic regulations within the workplace
• Prohibition signs.

It’s best for any company regardless of size to familarise themselves with the types of workplace safety signs.

It’s not enough to create your own handwritten signage for workers. UK rules and policies also dictate the colour and layout of such signs. Within all of the previously mentioned categories there is a colour-coded system in place that denotes the severity or ranking of the message.

Other types of signs in the workplace include colour coded signals. So if you’re considering ordering or creating your own workplace signs, note that each sign must meet the following colour-coded instructions:

RED signals a serious prohibition sign. It also indicates dangerous behaviour, stop, shutdown or evacuate.

YELLOW or AMBER signs are for warnings. They are signs to be careful, take precautions and or examine carefully.

BLUE is a mandatory sign which is for specific behaviour or action and indicates wearing protective equipment.

- And finally, GREEN signage shows an emergency escape, first-aid station or sign. It also highlights doors, exits, escape routes plus important equipment and facilities.

Typically prohibition signs are used to convey “Do Not” commands. For instance, to show that smoking is not allowed in a certain area. In the workplace, prohibition signs are used to reinforce instructions prohibiting potentially dangerous activities. They are shown in a bright red background or as a red circle with a cross through it with text in black or white.

Workplace warning signs tell of a potential hazard or danger ahead. For example, of flammable liquid store is nearby and smoking or open lights are not allowed. Such signs are shown in a thick black band in the shape of a triangle. They can also indicate a slippery or uneven floor and signs can be placed nearby or outdoors, using pavement signs.

Mandatory signs are shown in blue with white text, for example those which have messages such as “Fire Door, Keep Shut” or “Protective Gear Should be Worn.”

Finally, emergency safety signs in a workplace are green, displaying a green box with white text. Typically, they give messages relating to information on emergency exits, first aid, or rescue facilities and they are used to indicate escape routes - “Emergency Fire Door” - emergency exits and first aid equipment.

In turn, each of these important messages can then be further divided into four sub categories: prohibition, warning, mandatory and emergency signs.

Not all signage warns of danger – yet may help prevent it. For example large hanging directional signs within large complex factories or worksites clearly show someone where to go, avoiding potentially wandering into hazardous areas.

No matter what type of workforce or work your employees are engaged in, it’s worth checking out which types of workplace safety signs and symbols your company must comply with in the UK. They can be made of paper, laminated, hung on walls or be huge aluminium signs clearly showing safety messages.

The signs don't always have to be huge or made of sturdy lasting materials. Even strategically placed paper stickers in an office environment or communal kitchen can do the trick. Floor stickers in a dangerous area are increasingly popular and are designed to meet health and safety regulations – for example, measuring a social distance not to be breached.

Large portable banners could also be used within an indoor or outdoor setting, either offering directions or warning for employees.

If even one workplace warning sign helps prevent an accident or a serious incident from happening it’ll have been well worth it - and the signs have done their job.

Hopefully this should have answered any questions you may have on what are the safety signs in a workplace? And it means that you can get on with your job in a safe and secure environment.


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