Increase Safety Awareness with Signs

Color combination is a vital component in all sign and graphic design and aids in all four of the basic sign design guides.

The best way to manage on-thejob hazards is to make sure every step is taken to avoid them. One way to help prevent accidents is by utilizing a safety signage program to keep employees informed and educated about possible hazards, company procedures, and general safety tips.

Each day, 9,000 workers require emergency care for treatment of injuries sustained while on the job. Of those workers, 16 will die, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. From safety signs that remind employees to wear protective eyewear to wellmarked exits, equipment labels, and decals that comply with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulation, a wellplanned, well-executed signage program not only decreases the chance of workrelated injuries, but also can increase general productivity.

From construction and manufacturing employees to public utilities and emergency response workers, people within every kind of service-related industry require clear, informative signs to convey directional, instructional, or safety information. Take a look around. Over time, it is easy for work areas and wall surfaces to become faded or cluttered with various signs. Once this begins to happen, the impact of particular messages becomes lost. Important messages, such as those regarding safety, should always take precedence over others. Other, less pertinent signs or graphics that may be overshadowing or drowning out the safetyrelated signs should be moved to a different location or removed altogether.

It is vital to prepare for the unexpected. For example, if there were an emergency within the workplace, would a visitor be able to easily comprehend his location and exit the building? Directional signage always should be unobstructed and placed in locations that are easily accessible from all viewpoints. The standard for all exit signs is red letters, at least 6 inches in height, on a white background. In industrial or manufacturing facilities where there is an increased likelihood of injury, adequate signs are absolutely crucial and required by law. Evaluate equipment and make sure all machinery displays proper warning messages and safety reminders, such as “Protective Eyewear Must Be Worn While Operating.” And be sure the signs are located where workers can easily view them.

Do operators immediately see the warning sign as they approach the piece of equipment? If not, the graphic should be immediately repositioned. These standards also apply to any material that workers may handle or come in contact with that can pose a risk to them. According to the Occupation Safety and Hazard Administration, containers that house chemicals should be adequately labeled for handling, whether in the workplace or for shipping off site.


¦ Make sure the message is short and simple. If it isn’t easy to read and understand, it will not be accurately comprehended by employees and increases the risk of injury.

¦ Place the sign or graphic in an area that is clear and accessible to an employee’s line of vision. For example, if someone has to bend over to see a warning message on a piece of equipment, the graphic should be repositioned.

¦ When using multiple signs in a small area, avoid excess visual clutter that can drown out and distract from important messages. Make sure signs and graphics that convey vital safety-related messages take precedence.

¦ Determine whether the signage in place complies with requirements put forth by OSHA.

¦ Reevaluate your sign and graphics program on a regular basis and make changes as needed to ensure effectiveness.

Four Factors for High-Quality Communication
Whether you are planning which signs and graphics are needed or assessing what is currently in place, remember four basic sign design elements that will help to ensure the highest quality of communication within the facility or workplace: visibility, readability, noticeability, and legibility.

Visibility, a key factor to consider when putting together a sign, is achieved by making sure the sign’s lettering is clearly distinguishable from its surroundings. There are specific color choices and graphic elements that can help a sign stand out from background clutter that can distract a viewer’s attention. The concept of readability is what helps to ensure the viewer not only reads the sign accurately, but also actually comprehends the message. To increase readability from a distance, certain color choices are best, such as yellow-on-black, which studies have shown is one of the easiest color combinations to read.

Noticeability refers to the characteristics of a sign that draws the reader’s attention. This can be easily accomplished by changing the message, color, size, or shape intermittently. For example, research has shown that parallel signs are missed significantly more frequently than are perpendicular signs.

Legibility is achieved by making sure the design of the sign enhances the distinction of each individual letter. Taking advantage of the right typestyles and spacing helps viewers read the sign quickly and easily; the larger the lettering on a sign, the better its legibility.

Sign Design and Color
Another way to maximize the value of a sign and the message it displays is to add a border. The border focuses attention to the sign and aids the viewer in reading it 26 percent faster, according to research done by the Pennsylvania College of Optometry.

Finally, know that color combination is a vital component in all sign and graphic design and aids in all four of the basic sign design guides. While still keeping visibility and legibility in mind, consider displaying any special information on the sign in a second color, which will aid in reader retention. According to a study done by Kodak on color, using color emphasizes important points and increases retention by 82 percent. Implementing a clear and consistent standard for signage throughout the workplace is essential to ensuring safety in the workplace and benefits all parties involved. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made, and the process can seem a bit overwhelming. A facility or safety manager’s best source for advice is a reputable sign and graphics professional.

Whether creating a completely new sign and graphics program or reviewing signage that is currently in place, you should remember that the correct signage can increase safe practices, possibly reduce maintenance and insurance costs, and, most important, keep workers safe and out of harm’s way.

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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