How to Implement a New Safety Sign System

All workplaces should have safety signage, and every so often those signs need an update. Maybe the signs are outdated or worn. Maybe their instructions are unclear. Whatever the reason, when you begin the process of overhauling your safety sign system and creating a better one, it may be difficult to know where to begin. In this post we’ll take a look at not only how to begin, but also what types of signs exist and how you can select signs that will be most effective in your facility.

Take Inventory of Hazards and Signs

First off, walk through your facility and take an inventory of all potential hazards. This may include hazards that you’ve already labeled as well as unlabeled hazards. For example, you may already have warning signs on dangerous machinery, but maybe you don’t have labels indicating where pathways for vehicles are located. Make note of all these locations and see if any common needs become apparent. Also pay attention to areas where signs could make employees’ jobs easier. Useful signs might include ones that direct workers in where to walk, what to wear or how to find necessary tools. A sign always performs a function—usually to keep someone safe or to help them do their job—so think about what that function is.

Additionally, when you look at signs that already exist, assess their condition and whether their message is still effective. If the signs are worn, damaged or unclear, make a note and plan to replace them.

Learn About Sign Options

Once you know what signs you need, it’s time to look at your options. To get an adequate understanding of your choices, you’ll need to learn what types of signs exist and consider what types of hazard alerts best describe the risks in your facility.

Basic Sign Types

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Most safety signs fall into a few basic categories, which include policy signs, emergency and safety equipment signs and directional signs. Policy signs explain general rules and instructions such as who is allowed in a particular area. Emergency and safety equipment signs, as the name indicates, point to where equipment like emergency eyewash stations and fire extinguishers can be found. Other signs in this category might include instructions for natural disasters. Directional signs direct the flow of traffic in the workplace and indicate where exits are located. Most of these sign types will be useful in your facility.

Hazard Signal Words

Hazard signs deal more specifically with places, machines, chemicals and any other items that could pose risks in the workplace. To alert people to hazards, most hazard signs contain one of four signal words: Danger, Warning, Caution or Notice. These words typically appear at the top of hazard signs and indicate the level of threat in a particular area. “Danger” signs are intended for areas with the highest level of risk where a hazardous situation could cause serious injury or even death. “Warning” signs indicate a slightly less dangerous situation, where injury or death is possible. For hazards where injury could occur, but likely would not be serious, a “Caution” alert is used. In situations where there isn’t a threat to physical safety but relevant instructions are still needed, a “Notice” alert is the best option. Usually these signal words are accompanied by a corresponding color for easy identification (red for Danger, orange for Warning, yellow for Caution and blue for Notice).

hazard sign, safety sign

Determining which types of alert signal words you need will require assessing each hazard individually. In the case of hazards posed by chemicals, you should consult the material’s safety data sheet (MSDS). For hazards related to machinery, consult manufacturer guidelines.

If you choose to purchase signs from a third party, you will likely find many premade options that include these signal words as well as images, diagrams or text. Browse what signs are available to see which specific ones suit your needs.

Select Safety Signs

Selecting the best signs for your facility requires you to consult your initial inventory of hazards (or other places that could use instructions) and think about the location of each one. Will the sign be indoors or outdoors? Does it need to be seen from far away? Will it be placed near the floor? On the floor? Near the ceiling? Does it need to be visible during an emergency like a fire?

All of these questions will help you determine the appropriate size and durability of a safety sign. If a sign needs to be seen from far away, it obviously needs to be fairly large and use colors and fonts that are easy to read. If a sign will be located outside, it needs to be able to withstand the elements so it doesn’t fade easily or get damaged by rain. Another consideration might include whether a sign can glow in a dark room in the case of a power outage.

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Set Up Your New Signs

Once you’ve received your safety signs—either by ordering them from a vendor or printing them yourself—make sure you place them exactly where they need to go. Consider whether a sign is most visible at eye level or whether it needs to be at floor level so it could direct people to an exit should smoke fill the room during a fire. If you’re putting signs on machines or pipes, think about where employees will usually stand and whether these items should be labeled on more than one side.

Once you have all your new signs in place, you should inform employees of the changes. While these changes may not be huge, employees are likely to notice improved signage, and explaining the reasoning for the changes may help keep safety on everyone’s mind.

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