Safety Signage 101

Thinking safety

Keeping your employees safe and injury free can seem like a daunting task that seems to always be heading up hill. Even with the best safety practices and hours of rigorous safety training, accidents still seem to happen.

Of course, the goal of any organization is to completely eliminate workplace injuries or deaths. But, what else can be done aside from the regular safety meetings, trainings, talks, presentations, and constant reinforcement to protect your employees and visitors?

The countless hours spent training and investing into the best ways to keep your employees safe, can go to waste if you overlook one of the simplest ways to communicate.

Warning Danger

Warning Sign Electrical PanelSometimes the hardest task you will complete all day is capturing the attention of your workmates. However, a properly placed and designed safety sign can be extremely effective in more ways than one. Effective safety signage has numerous benefits including:

  • Reduced workplace accidents
  • Avoid potential fines from OSHA and others
  • Keeping workplaces free of clutter and other hazards

Creating effective safety signs truly is an under-appreciated art form. It’s a constant struggle between the identification process, overusing, underusing, and most importantly capturing the attention of the intended audience.

Your safety signage says a lot about your safety program. Any mistakes along the way can be detrimental to your program and lead to an unnecessary accident. An accident that could’ve been prevented, with the proper signage.

Consider these ten tips for creating the right safety signs for your business:

  1. Identify the areas that may need safety signs
  2. Pinpoint potential safety hazards
  3. Determine what message to convey
  4. Consider the signage placement
  5. Determine the sign type, color, size and shape
  6. Understand OSHA warning messages
  7. Locate a reputable signage provider
  8. Clearly communicate your needs
  9. Post signs in easy-to-see locations
  10. Monitor your signage often

Be creative

Floor sign
Floor sign

Sometimes the most difficult task of all is determining the actual location of the safety sign itself. As technology improves, so does the ability to place signs in places you once thought impossible. For instance, floor signs are now long lasting, and extremely durable under even the most extreme conditions. Many studies have shown that employees have their eyes towards the ground when walking from point to point. Placing a safety sign on the floor can be a sure way to convey an important safety message.

There are many things to consider when you are attempting to identify potential hazards and areas for safety signs. This is also the most time consuming of the steps and will require a complete audit of your facility to locate all potential threats.

Common potential hazards include:

  • Machinery
  • Electrical panels
  • Aisles
  • Forklift zones
  • Hazardous waste areas
  • Potentially slippery surface areas

 Get to the point

Once you’ve established the perfect placement for your sign, you then need to consider the message you wish to convey. Your message needs to be short and clear. Ideally, you want your audience to be able to read it quickly, yet use little cognitive skills to interpret it.

Signal words and special headings are a good way to capture attention and keep the message simple. Here are a few examples of signal words and special headings used in the safety sign creation process:

  • DANGER— indicates an imminent hazardous situation that, if not addressed will result in death or injury
  • WARNING— indicates a potential hazardous situation that if not addressed could result in death or injury
  • CAUTION— indicates a potential hazardous situation that if not addressed could result in moderate to minor injury
  • NOTICE— indicates a statement of company policy that relates to your safety program

Be sure your message matches the threat you wish to inform of. Your message should be constructed in an active voice that is short and to the point. It usually will not describe the actual hazard though. The best way to describe a hazard is a combination of a signal word or special heading, with a picture. Pictures are a universal language that is quickly understood, no matter what language you speak.


OSHA has many specific requirements for occupational safety signage. From size, to color, to placement, it is important to understand and follow OSHA guidelines when creating/placing signage.

There are several categories as well to consider. Each with their own specific regulations, such as exit and egress, hazard communication, lockout/tagout, confined space, and more.

Improper signage or lack of can result in heavy fines and worse yet, serious injury or death.

Keep it up

When you commit yourself to a successful safety program, you are embodying a full-time responsibility that takes little to no-time off. Your level of commitment is a direct reflection of your organization and in many cases a measurement for the overall success of the company.

Take your safety signage personal and commit to your employees safety today. The long-term benefits, will always outweigh the upfront effort needed to succeed.

Additional Resources