Business Skills

Sign Up! For Safety: An Introduction To OSHA Safety Signs

Safety signs are an important part of maintaining a safe work environment in any industry. Safety signs can save lives and prevent damage to property or equipment. It is important to make sure that your facility has the proper signage and follows the current OSHA guidelines. Worker safety is paramount and is all of our responsibility.

Parts of an OSHA compliant safety sign:

Compliant signs are made up of two main components: the signal word panel and the message panel. See below for what is required in each of these panels:

Signal Word Panel: This panel is comprised of a safety alert symbol and signal word. This is the upper portion of the sign. The safety alert symbol is a triangle with an exclamation point in it. This symbol is required whenever something presents a safety hazard of any severity. Some examples of signal words include; Danger, Caution, Warning, Notice, etc.

Message Panel: This panel is comprised of the safety message and the safety symbol. This is the lower portion of the sign. The safety message is used to convey more detail about the specific hazard or information to be conveyed to the employee. For example a sign may say, “Keep hands away from roller while machine is on,” or “Emergency eye wash station keep area clear.” The Safety Symbol is important to include as it helps give a visual aid to reinforce the information on your sign.

Sign Classifications:

Primary Hazard Classifications:

Danger: Danger signs are reserved for the most serious of hazards. These types of immediate hazards WILL lead to serious injury or even death. Danger must be printed in white lettering on a red background in the signal word panel and must be proceeded by the safety alert symbol. Due to the serious nature of these types of hazards it is important to make sure these signs are highly visible and can be seen from a distance.

Image result for osha danger sign

Warning: Warning signs are a level below danger. These types of hazards COULD lead to serious injury or even death if not avoided. Warning must be printed in black lettering on an orange background in the signal word panel and must be proceeded by the safety alert symbol. These signs should also be highly visible as they are intended to warn employees before exposing themselves to danger.

Image result for warning sign

Caution: Caution signs are a level below warning. These types of hazards could result in minor or moderate injury if not avoided. Caution must be printed in black lettering on a yellow background in the signal word panel and must be proceeded by the safety alert symbol. Once again visibility is key to ensuring the effectiveness of your signage.

Image result for caution sign

Secondary Hazard Classifications:

Biological Hazard: This warning should be used to signify the presence or potential presence of a biohazard and to identify equipment, containers, rooms, etc. that are contaminated with hazardous agents. The Biohazard symbol may be either black or orange as long as it is clearly visible. A biohazard can also be indicated on a danger or warning sign and may have the safety alert symbol.

Image result for bio hazard sign

Notice: Notice Signs provide general information that may be relevant or important to a building, equipment, machine, etc, but does not address personal injury. Notice must be printed in white italic lettering on a blue background in the signal word panel. These signs never include the safety alert symbol.

Image result for notice sign

General Safety Signs:

General safety signs are used to provide information on practices, rules, procedures, and suggested general safety measures. These signs are often used for first aid, medical equipment, sanitation, and housekeeping. These signs use simple signal words that are specific to the sign in white lettering on a green background in the signal word panel. An example signal word may be “Safety Procedures” or “Eye Wash”

Image result for osha green sign


Admittance signs do not have a defined hazard category and may use any parts of the previous mentioned hazard types. These signs may use any signal word as long as the appropriate background is used in the signal word panel. The safety message should explain the personal risk or consequences of entering a restricted area.

Image result for  keep out osha

Fire Safety:

Fire safety signs show the location of firefighting equipment. They lack a signal word and the safety symbol can be printed in either red on a white background or white on a red background. The safety message must be in red letters on white background. These signs do not indicate any kind of injury hazard so the safety alert symbol must not be used. It is important to position these near fire equipment in case of a fire. These are not to be confused with emergency exit signs or any sort of fire safety route.

Image result for fire extinguisher sign

Non-Hazard Signs:

These signs convey general information about a facility and can be placed at various locations for various reasons. These signs use simple texts and symbols to convey information. These should aid employees and visitors with information specific to your facility such as way finding, trash, or restrooms. These are not considered safety signs and therefore, should not convey any information about potential hazards to employees, equipment, or the facility itself.

Image result for restroom sign

Safety Symbols:

Safety Symbols: Safety signs are improved by the use of symbols that show required action, effects, or consequences when interacting with hazards. More than one symbol may be used on a sign to show a sequence of events or to convey additional information. These symbols are usually a black image on a white background. The most important thing about these symbols is to keep them consistent throughout your facility to avoid confusion.

Surround Shapes: Surround shapes can help highlight your symbols, however they can reduce available space on a symbol and may not always be the possibly. Avoid surround shapes if they negatively effect your safety message.

Hazard Alerting – Use a black equilateral triangle with a yellow background to surround your symbol and draw attention to a potential hazard.

Image result for hazard triangle

Mandatory Action – To show an action that is required to avoid a hazard you can use a white circle with a solid blue or black background to surround your symbol.

Image result for blue circle osha

Prohibition – Use either a black or red circle with a diagonal slash through it to alert workers of a prohibited activity or action.

Image result for prohibition osha

Information – A square (or rectangle) as a surround shape usually provides general information such as locations of equipment, exits, or permitted activities.

Image result for fire extinguisher square

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