Safety Identification 101
Your safety program as a whole may be troubled if something as basic, yet important as a main exit remains unidentified.
- By Brad Montgomery, Elroy Lundblad
- Dec 01, 2006
AS a safety professional, you have learned
how to quickly identify hazardous environments, led the effort in determining
the best ways to protect your employees from those hazards, and spent countless
hours training those same employees on everything related to safety. It's a
safe bet you can probably recite an OSHA standard quicker than a quote from
your favorite novel. But that's OK; safety is what you live for and what your
fellow employees count on you to deliver.
Capturing employee attention is harder than
ever. And with so many distractions at the workplace, both internal and
external, concentration is more important than ever, whether the task is taking
the time to correctly don a respirator or ensure that the chosen gloves will
protect as needed. These otherwise simple steps can be quickly overlooked,
resulting in unnecessary injury or death. But short of repetitive training,
regular safety talks, presentations, and constant reinforcement, what else can
be done to protect employees, contractors, and visitors?
Over many years, many approaches have been
used to encourage employees to wear the proper personal protective equipment.
But when asked why employees are not wearing PPE, you get answers such as: "I
forgot," "It's uncomfortable," "Too warm," "Gets
in my way," "This task doesn't require PPE," and many more.
While many of these answers have some truth, we cannot ignore that PPE has a
role in protecting a company's important contributing member, the employee. As
safety professionals, our goal is to "zero" the chance of having
injuries or deaths.
Getting a Handle
In the constant struggle to keep your
employees safe, facility safety signage is an either overlooked, or in some
cases overused, aspect of your overall safety program. Both can be detrimental
to the safety program you have worked hard to establish. We will take a brief
look at ways to implement a viable, successful safety signage program.
In almost every case, signage is reflective
of your company-wide safety program. As touched on a moment ago, is your
identification program overlooked? If so, are other parts of your program
overlooked? True or not, this perception can be created if something as basic,
yet important as a main exit remains unidentified. Or do you have areas that
are haphazardly marked with multiple signs communicating essentially the same
As most of us know, maintaining a proper
safety identification program can certainly be a challenge. In order to have a
successful identification program, start by assigning responsibility for both
the initial and ongoing activities that have to be undertaken to comply with
OSHA standards. In some cases, these activities may be part of current job
assignments. For example, safety supervisors are frequently responsible for
on-the-job safety and training, but these should not be left to just one
person. Assign responsibility to a group of employees and consider establishing
a Safety Committee Group. This group can be all, or part, of your existing
safety committee. Don't stop there; encourage involvement from every employee.
With everyone's help in developing and maintaining your program, the end result
will be a more effective identification program. Having a sense of ownership in
the program will empower regular participation of your employees.
It's important to understand the
regulations associated with key areas such as exit and egress, Hazard Communication,
lockout/tagout, confined space, and more.
For any type of safety and health program,
success depends on commitment at every level of the organization. And this is
particularly true for safety identification programs, where success most often
requires a change in overall behavior. This will occur only if employers and
employees understand the program and are committed to its success. Helping
employees to recognize and understand safety signage should be a key part of
every company training program, whether it is focused on Hazard Communication,
lockout/tagout, or eye safety, to mention just a few.
If you're starting from the ground up, the
best way to begin a safety identification program is by preparing a
comprehensive list of signage that is based upon your internal procedures and
is needed in your facility. Survey your workplace. Take notes of where current
signage is located, its condition, visibility, and where signage is lacking.
Look around. Identify chemicals in containers, fire extinguishers, evacuation
routes, exits, pipes, first aid and eyewash stations, and potentially hazardous
equipment or work areas.
Look for old and/or faded signage. Signs in
poor condition reflect non-importance of the message that is printed. Sometimes
signs tend to blend into your everyday setting; use applicable OSHA headers as
detailed in standard 29 CFR 1910.145. Strive to standardize identification
throughout your facility, but don't stop there: Standardize your identification
program corporate-wide. This eliminates any confusion when employees shift
How to Write an Effective Safety Identification Message
Designing a safety sign, tag, or label to
relay important safety messages is critical in protecting employees and
visitors around, or within, your facility. To make sure you are as effective as
possible, here are a few simple suggestions for creating the best safety
Signs with headings, or signal words, often
get noticed first. OSHA or ANSI-style headings can add important,
attention-getting impact to safety signs; what's more, each contains a specific
meaning or application:
DANGER--Danger headings indicate imminently
hazardous situations that, if not avoided, will
result in death or serious injury.
WARNING--Warning headings indicate a
potentially hazardous situation that, if not avoided, could result in severe injury or death.
CAUTION--Caution headings indicate a
potentially hazardous situation that, if not avoided, may result in minor or
NOTICE--Indicates a statement of company
policy directly or indirectly related to the safety of personnel or protection
Hazard levels should not be overstated or
understated. For example, the overuse of DANGER to identify non-life
threatening hazards can dilute the intended importance of DANGER as a signal
word for life-threatening hazards. It follows that the other headings should be
carefully chosen to accurately depict the hazard at hand.
Special headings also can be helpful in
portraying the importance of your message. These include SAFETY FIRST,
RESTRICTED AREA, and THINK, among others.
Developing your message is at the heart of
what you are seeking to accomplish. The main rule for message development is
this: Brevity is best. The message should be a concise statement of the action
or precautionary measures necessary to avoid the hazard. It normally does not
describe the hazard. Hazard description is often best achieved by using a
pictorial symbol--and this is also important in a facility with a multilingual
Manufacturers of identification products
have done most of this work for you; however, there will always be a need for
identification that is customized for your facility.
Another tip is to construct sentences in
the active voice.
YOU MUST SHUT THE MACHINE OFF TO SERVICE
SHUT MACHINE OFF TO SERVICE OR CLEAN
Keeping your message short and distinct
will help lead to a safer working environment. When designing your safety sign,
eliminate excessive wordiness by omitting words such as "a," "the,"
"an," "this," "that," "they," "is,"
"are," and "were."
CLOSE THE VALVE THAT IS LOCATED UNDER THE
CLOSE VALVE UNDER MAIN CONDENSER
Another way to cut down on words is to use
pictorial symbols. Pictorials represent an internationally understandable
language that can immediately convey important information. By utilizing
symbols, your workforce, regardless of nationality or reading ability, will be
able to recognize important safety information quickly.
Now that you know the basic ropes, don't
overlook budgeting for your identification needs. Work to have identification
incorporated into your yearly safety or facility budget. By budgeting
identification directly into your budget, you are building in flexibility for
identification upgrades and providing funding when new hazards are in need of
Take note of new identification trends. In
just a few short years identification signs have taken a giant leap forward,
providing critical information on more than just hazards. Signs now can provide
key information on what types of gloves, respirators, safety shoes, or other
safety products are required in and around your facility--all the way down to
including the manufacturer logo and re-order number.
Technology is driving much of the progress
in not only personal protective equipment, but also safety identification. As
safety professionals, we need to recognize our responsibility to our company
and fellow employees to reduce injuries and provide an overall safer working
environment. That means keeping abreast of new standards, equipment, unique
training programs, and safety identification.
This article appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Stephanie Adams and Luann Lambert of Accuform Signs contributed to this article.
This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.