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Safety Signs & Labels
Use of safety signs, labels and tags to visually convey hazard information to employees is required by 29CFR 1910.145 and other OSHA standards such as those for hazard communication, egress, confined space and Bloodborne Pathogens. OSHA standard 1910.145 covers the design, application and use of signs or symbols to identify specific hazards that could lead to injury, illness or property damage. OSHA has incorporated, by reference, the American National Standard Z53.1-1967 for specific sign color, size, lettering and contrast.
Information Safety Signs
Beyond the typical "Notice" signs, there is sometimes the need for more detailed information signs that provide complex instructions. Generally, these are in the form of Posted Operating Instructions for equipment or processes that require specific step-by-step procedures to ensure safe operation. Plastic laminated paper instruction can be used in areas that are clean and dry, however, photoengraved metal signs will last longer, especially in areas that have wet or dirty operations.
OSHA requires that Exits be marked by a readily visible sign with plainly legible letters not less than 6 inches high and illuminated on the surface to at least a value of 5 foot-candles. Most "glow in the dark" signs do not meet this lighting requirement. Access to exits must also be marked by signs showing the direction (arrows) of the exit or way to reach it. Additionally, any door, passage, or stairway which is neither an exit nor a way of exit access, and which may be mistaken for an exit, must be identified by a sign reading "Not an Exit" or by a sign indicating its actual use, such as "To Basement," "Storeroom," "Linen Closet," or the like.
Chemical Safety Hazards
In the workplace, OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard requires that each container of hazardous chemicals is labeled, tagged or marked. The identity of the hazardous chemical and appropriate hazard warnings, words, pictures, symbols must provide at least general information regarding the hazards of the chemical. Signs, placards, process sheets, batch tickets, operating procedures, or other written materials may be substituted for labels on individual stationary process containers, as long as this method identifies the containers to which it is applies and provides the same information required on labels. Small, portable containers, intended only for the immediate use of an employee and not for storage, do not require labels. Existing labels on containers, provided by the manufacturer, may not be removed or defaced unless the container is immediately marked with the required information.
Employee protection in public work areas
Before work is begun in the vicinity of vehicular or pedestrian traffic which may endanger employees, warning signs and/or flags or other traffic control devices must be placed conspicuously to alert and channel approaching traffic. At night, warning lights must be prominently displayed.
Employers are required to conduct training to ensure workers understand the various types and meanings of signs in their facilities. The best time to train is during new hire safety orientation and during annual safety refreshers. Showing and explaining safety signs and their meanings in company newsletter and on employee bulletin boards will also help improve employees’ awareness of hazard signs. Effective employee training includes showing every type of sign, tag and label used. You should also provide an explanation of each purpose, meaning and what you expect employees to do when they encounter specific signs, labels or tags. Take special care to fully show and explain your hazard communication - chemical safety labeling program, which is also required by OSHA.
Place hazard signs as close to the hazard as possible to create a definite link between the message and the hazard. Placing a group of hazard signs on a door, entryway or wall is asking for confusion. Let’s take a look at a typical plant maintenance shop. Every bench mounted tool should have hazard signs posted that require the use of eye protection and any other operation hazard that is applicable to the specific tool. These signs should be placed so that they are highly visible to the tool operator.
How you treat your signs sends a message. Over time signs become faded, damaged and totally useless for the intended hazard message. Outdated, faded or damaged signs send a negative message about your emphasis on safety. To show employees that the hazard sign messages are important, replace them (the signs not the employees) as soon as they have any wear or damage. Have replacement signs available - stock enough replacement signs so there is no wait when a sign needs to be replaced.
Sign Language Barrier
Being able to employ a diverse language workforce is essential in some industries. Using pictogram type safety signs to convey a hazard message can break reading or language barriers. To ensure that non-English speaking employees understand, some companies are employing translators to accompany trainers on facility tours with new employees to explain specific signs and their meanings. The food industry, which employees many non-English speaking Hispanic workers has seen the importance of bilingual signs. While bilingual signs are helpful, experience has shown that, as an example, not all "Hispanic" peoples speak or read the Spanish language the same - many words have entirely different meanings to various groups of peoples classified as "Hispanic". The same is true for many other ethnic groups.
Temporary Safety Signs
Certain operations may require the use of temporary visual warning. One of the most familiar is the "wet floor" sign placed by custodians. Others include those placed at boundaries of electrical work areas, confined space entry operations, temporary containment for asbestos removal or chemical spill cleanup. OSHA also requires that if work exposes energized or moving parts that are normally protected, danger signs must be displayed and barricades erected, to warn other people in the area.