Are you updating your facility’s safety signs? Taking a sign inventory to make sure you’re OSHA compliant? Adding new signs for clarity? In any of these cases, it’s important to consider what signs will help keep your facility’s operations moving smoothly and keep employees safe. The number and type of signs you’ll want to include in your workplace obviously depends on your industry and your company’s size, but some basic kinds of signs will be beneficial for almost any workplace. This article will walk through a typical facility and look at 10 common signs that would make operations easier and safer.
1. Signs to Direct Foot Traffic
Begin by walking through your facility the way an employee would. Enter through an employee entrance and head to the break room, lockers or time clock – wherever your employees go first. Then proceed to the work floor like an employee. Are there signs pointing people in the right direction and helping them do so safely? Maybe these sorts of things seem self-explanatory, but to new employees, temporary employees and visitors, entrance and exit signs, arrows and labeled pedestrian walkways can be very helpful. Once inside the workspace, it’s possible employees will encounter obstacles like vehicles, machinery or tall shelves that block the view. Pointing people in the right direction with signs will keep them out of the way, eliminate confusion and save time; if an employee can easily read where pedestrians are allowed to walk or how to find the bathroom, they won’t have to waste time asking for help.
2. Signs for Drivers
Similar to the way well-marked pedestrian areas can make for ease of movement, clearly labeled vehicle pathways will help drivers move about easily and safely. Signs directing traffic—such as speed limit signs, arrows and colored floor tape—can create well-functioning vehicle “roadways”. Look around and think of your workplace as a small street or highway system. Everyone needs to get where they need to go as quickly and safely as possible. Provide signs that will help accomplish this task.
3. PPE Signs
Next, consider what tasks an employee will be performing. Approach machines or other workspaces. What signs do you see in these areas related to personal protective equipment (PPE)? Many tasks in industrial, manufacturing work settings require PPE for workers to safely complete tasks. This could mean wearing ear protection if equipment is noisy, goggles if liquids or dust could get into someone’s eyes or flame-resistant clothing if any chemical or procedure poses a fire hazard. Post signs in these areas alerting employees to these requirements.
In conjunction with those PPE signs, you’ll most likely need some signs alerting employees to the corresponding hazards, too. OSHA and the American National Standards Institute (ASNI) list four types of hazard levels, which they call alert signal words. These four categories of hazard help you as a safety manager determine what types of signs you’ll need in your facility.
The highest level of hazard alert is marked by a Danger sign, which can be used for a wide variety of hazards. A Danger sign might alert employees to the possibility of an arc flash or exposure to a poison, explosive or hazardous waste. A Danger sign means that should a hazardous situation arise, the result could be death or serious injury. Look around your facility for machinery or hazardous substances that could pose these kinds of threats. Then consider where to place a Danger sign so it will be most noticeable to anyone working in the area.
Warning signs indicate a slightly smaller level of risk, but still highlight that a serious injury or death is possible in a given area. Examples of common warning signs include alerts about flammability, moving parts of machines, dangers of smoking in a certain location and the possibility of falling objects. Warning signs apply in many different circumstances, so consider the level of caution you want your employees to take in a particular area.
Keep walking around and surveying hazardous areas in your facility. Have you covered the most dangerous areas and identified locations for Danger and Warning signs? Good. Now think about areas that are less dangerous, but where you still want employees to be alert to potential risks. For these situations, it’s best to use a Caution sign. This alert signal word indicates injury or harm is possible, but may be less severe than in more hazardous areas. You’ve surely seen Caution signs in all sorts of everyday scenarios—“Caution: Wet Floor;” “Caution: Merging Traffic”—and they can serve all sorts of purposes in your facility. For example, if there’s a place in your warehouse where pedestrian traffic and forklift traffic cross, you might post a sign alerting people on foot to the presence of forklifts. This type of sign is simple and effective.
Now that you’ve inspected all hazardous areas surrounding employee workspaces, is there anything else employees need to know to do their jobs properly? If so, select a Notice sign, which can list anything from further instructions for using a piece of equipment to simple statements like “No Food or Drink.” These types of signs will help standardize rules and procedures in your facility, and in many cases they will also help ensure safety. Maybe keeping food out of an area seems most important because it will prevent messes, but it’s possible food could at some point pose a risk. An employee might be distracted while eating on the job or could drop food in a sensitive area.
8. Emergency Equipment Signs
Now that you have most job-related areas labeled, consider what would happen if one of these hazards we mentioned actually turned into a dangerous situation. Would employees know what to do? To ensure your workers remember what steps to take, post signs for emergency equipment in very visible spots. Look around and see where signs would be most easily seen. These signs include things like eyewash stations, fire extinguishers, first aid kits and AEDs. You don’t want anyone to spend extra time looking for these things during an emergency, so label them ahead of time.
9. Evacuation Signs
After assessing signs for emergency equipment, look up and see if you can locate emergency exit signs. These are some of the most basic signs that need to be present in any workplace, so you probably have them already. Do consider, though, how visible they are, where they’re placed—The floor? The ceiling? At eye level?—and whether workers could see them in the event of a fire or power outage. Glow-in-the-dark exit signs are a great option to help in these sorts of unexpected situations.
10. Storage Labels
By now, you should have a good sense of your facility’s instructional, traffic, hazard and emergency signs. The last type of sign you’ll want to consider relates to what happens at the end of a shift. So look around one last time: where are materials stored in your facility? If an employee arrives at work and gets out certain tools, protective gear or chemicals, are there established procedures for keeping those items clean and organized? Signs can label where storage areas are located, where specific items should be placed and when employees should clean items or inspect them for damage or wear and tear. Having a system in place for storing supplies will not only make the workplace cleaner and more efficient, it will also keep it safe. A disorganized storage area can lead to tripping or to items falling off shelves. Those types of accidents don’t need to happen, and some simple signs can help ensure they rarely do.