When a hazard exists at a work site, there are two ways to limit access. First is a positive form where the hazardous area is under lock-and-key access, and the operator has control over who enters. Second is the passive form, which is where signs come into play.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established standards (1926.200 and 1910.145) for signs and tags. Incorporated by reference in those standards is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard Z53.1. To comply with the OSHA standard, you must understand and be compliant with ANSI.

There are three components of signs. First the signal word indicates the level of hazard. The signal word is placed in a color band that also matches the hazard.

  • Danger—Red indicates an immediate and imminent hazard. If this hazard is not avoided, death or serious injury will result. This word should be limited to only the most extreme situations. This signal word is not to be used for property damage alone.
  • Warning—Orange is used when a potentially hazardous situation exists, and if the situation is not avoided, death or serious injury could result. Like “Danger,” “Warning” should not be used unless personal injury is a likely possibility.
  • Caution—Yellow indicates a potentially hazardous situation exists that may result in minor or moderate injury. This signal word also indicates the existence of unsafe practices that could lead to property damage.
  • Notice—Blue indicates a statement of company policy. This policy should be either directly orindirectly related to the safety of personnel or property. A notice should never be used in direct connection with a hazard or in place of a signal word.

Next, the message panel allows for more detailed information about the hazard. The panel must contain three pieces of information. First is type of hazard, e.g., high voltage. Next is potential consequence of the particular hazard. This includes the possibility of shocks, burns or serious injury. The final piece is what can be done to avoid the hazard. Staying away or shutting off power would be appropriate in this section. The amount of information in this section varies by situation. For example, in an area where only qualified workers are allowed, the amount of information needed to communicate a hazard would be minimal. Their training will have included how to deal with the specific hazard.

The third component is the safety symbol, which is an easily recognizable symbol designed to warn about hazardous materials or locations. The symbol should clearly explain the hazard in a uniform way without using words. Hazard symbols may appear with different colors, backgrounds, borders and supplemental information to signify the type of hazard. Employers should refer to the ANSI standard for acceptable symbols.

Along with sign content, the standard sets sign size. A sign in English only should be 14 inches wide and 10 inches long. This size is suitable for reading at a distance up to 20 feet. If a sign is bilingual, it is usually in a slightly different shape. It should be 10 inches wide and 14 inches long. It would be suitable for reading at a distance of up to 15 feet. A good rule of thumb is to go by letter height. ANSI has a spec for letter size. The signal word (Danger, Caution, etc.) must be 2 inches high, and the letters in the message panel must be 1 inch high. Lettering this size is visible at 25 feet.

The signs discussed are premade and prepackaged. To deal with a new kind of hazardous situation, tags can be used. Tags offer a temporary warning to all concerned of a hazardous situation or defective equipment prior to its removal. Tags are not to be used as a permanent warning method but are suitable until a more appropriate solution is found. As with signs, ANSI has specific standards to be met when developing and using tags. The more common tags are as follows:

  • Do Not Operate—White background/red lettering
  • Danger—White background/red and black lettering
  • Caution—Yellow background/black lettering
  • Out of Order/Do Not Use—White background/black lettering

By correctly and consistently using ANSI-compliant signs and tags, the job site can be kept safer for all who work or visit the area.       EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.