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A Guide To Health And Safety Signs In The Workplace

A Guide To Safety Signs In The Workplace

The importance of health and safety in the workplace is crucial, and as an employer, you are responsible for the welfare of your employees, guests, and visitors. 

Using appropriate health and safety signs that provide clear, concise information will help keep your staff and visitors safe – and your business compliant. Failing to identify and flag safety hazards, however, could result in damaged property, injured employees, and in extreme cases – workplace fatalities. 

This guide to safety signs in the workplace explains everything you need to know to safeguard your employees as well as your business. 

What are health and safety signs?

Health and safety signs provide information, instructions, or guidance about health and safety in the workplace. 

Mandatory health and safety signs play an essential role in protecting employees while meeting the criteria of specific laws and legislation. As a UK employer, you are responsible for ensuring the relevant information is available to keep everybody safe – failure to do so puts you at risk of substantial fines and potential legal action.  

Safety sign components 

Safety signs comprise four components that help the reader understand the message: 

  • Colour
  • Shape
  • Pictogram
  • Text

The combination of 3 or 4 of these components conveys the message. There are specific pieces of legislation that unify these to establish a universal understanding.

Different types of safety sign

Emergency escape signs 

Emergency escape signs provide information about emergency exits and escape routes. Signs that direct towards first aid or rescue facilities (first aid signs) also fall under this remit. Both sign types are green with a white pictogram and text. They indicate a behaviour, action, or route that leads to safety. 

Mandatory signs

Mandatory signs convey specific actions and behaviours that people should adopt to minimise potential health risks. PPE signs depicting what type of PPE should be worn is a prime example. Mandatory signs have a white safety symbol on a blue background. 

Prohibition signs constrain behaviours that are likely to cause risk to others (e.g., no smoking signs). They can be used in all working environments and will protect the safety of your business and employees. Prohibition signs feature a black safety symbol in a red circle with a diagonal line running through.

Warning signs

Also known as caution or hazard signs, warning signs advise people to take extra care around a specific hazard, such as electrical wiring. Warning signs comprise a black safety pictogram in a yellow triangle, surrounded by a thick black border.

Fire safety signs

Fire safety signs provide information on a premises’ fire exits and escape routes. They also identify firefighting equipment (e.g., fire extinguishers) and give details on the building’s fire marshals. Bear in mind that fire safety signs are distinguished by their colour. Fire equipment signs are red with white pictograms and text, while fire exit signs are green with white pictograms and text.

COVID-19 signs

During the current pandemic, it is likely that you will need to include COVID-19 signs in your workplace to prevent the spread and remain compliant. 

Health and safety sign colours

Health and safety signs use four different colours to specify their message:

Red

Red signs draw viewers’ attention to dangerous situations. They’re round in shape with a diagonal line passing through a black pictogram.  

Yellow or amber

Yellow and amber signs urge people to take precautions around hazards. They are often situated in environments with hazardous chemicals and are also known as hazard signs. 

Blue

Blue health and safety signs are usually mandatory and dictate specific behaviours that should be adopted to avoid injury from certain risks. They are circular with a white pictogram in the centre.

Green

Green signs provide safety information or highlight the route towards exits and first aid areas. They are rectangular with white images and occasionally include text for further clarification. 

Health and safety sign legislation

There are several laws covering health and safety signs which you should be aware of. We explain them in further detail below.

BS5499

The British Standards 5499 laid the foundation for safety signs in the UK. It covers all safety warning signs, including fire safety signs. The standards dictate the colours and design format that each sign should use, as explained above.

Health & Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996

Designed for employers and duty holders, these regulations state that safety signs and signals are required where there is a significant risk to employees’ health and safety. They also stipulate that signs must be:

  • Clear and legible
  • Used to identify prohibited actions, along with the appropriate safety procedures, and
  • Provide directions toward fire exits and equipment

While our primary focus has been on safety signs, it is essential that you do not use too many, as this can lead to confusion. To maintain clarity, undertake a risk assessment to establish where the necessary hazards and risks are, and determine the best way to signpost them.

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