This simple guide will discuss: safety signs and symbols, its importance, types, and examples. In addition, learn about Globally Harmonized System (GHS) pictograms and their hazard classifications.
Updated 2 Dec 2022, Published 11 Mar 2022
Safety signs and symbols are easily recognizable graphic labels that represent the general protocol and safety instructions in either workplaces, establishments, or public spaces. The appearance of safety signs and symbols can sometimes vary depending on the country or region, but their general goal is to communicate safety information which transcends language barriers and can be interpreted globally.
Safety Signs and Symbols
As one of the widely used industry practices in preventing injuries and accidents, safety signs and symbols inform individuals of the presence of hazards, dangers, or risks associated with certain items or places.
According to the ISO standard on safety colors and signs (ISO 3864-1:2011), “there is a need to standardize a system of giving safety information that relies as little as possible on the use of words to achieve understanding.”
Safety signs and symbols are used as safety communication tools—they help send clear messages, instructions, and warnings without the use of too many words. They speed up the level of understanding of individuals, and are useful especially in scenarios where a quick response is needed.
With the use of visual aids, safety signs and symbols reduce the risk of accidents and create awareness on hazards present in specific areas or materials.
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Standardized safety signs and symbols are characterized by images, pictograms, shapes, words, phrases, sentences, or statements. Each shape conveys a different meaning, and each color represents the type of precaution it’s categorized in. Below are the 4 main types of safety symbols with names and their meanings:
The prohibition sign, also known as the No symbol or “Do Not” sign, is a type of symbol that indicates an instruction of forbidding an activity. It aims to prevent a behavior that could pose a potential risk not just to an individual, but to the area and its other occupants as well. This can also sometimes be just direct commands for prohibited activities.
These signs are characterized by a circular red band with a diagonal line descending from left to right in a 45 degree angle. Examples of these are do not smoke or do not enter commands.
Warning signs, as the name suggests, are symbols that communicate warnings and notify individuals of the presence of hazards or dangers in an area. These dangers may not initially be apparent so usage of these types of signs helps ensure that special attention is gained from the people in the vicinity.
This can vary but the common characteristics of this symbol is a yellow or amber band in a triangle form and black text that specifies why it’s a hazard. Examples of these are deep excavation signs and high voltage warnings.
The mandatory sign is a symbol that orders a specific action to help comply with statutory requirements involving a business or industry. It aims to protect individuals from dangers that could arise, should these orders be disregarded, and is commonly used in isolated areas where a particular precaution is required.
These signs usually feature a circular shape with a blue background and white pictogram. Examples of these are areas with safety helmet and protective goggles requirements.
Emergency signs are one of the most common types of symbols used generally and understood fairly easily. These are symbols that indicate emergency exits and doors, escape routes, and signs that direct to first aid or emergency equipment.
These signs are characterized with rectangular or square shapes, green background, and white pictogram. Most common examples of these are fire exits and other secondary routes used for emergencies.
Aside from the above-mentioned safety signs and symbols, there are labels that are specifically or are mostly used for identifying potential chemical hazards called GHS pictograms.
GHS pictograms are graphic labels that communicate the potential risk associated with a specific chemical and unprotected exposure to its elements. It is characterized by a symbol on a white background, framed with red borders, and an imagery that distinctly presents the classification or type of potential hazard it is related to.
GHS pictograms are part of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals—an internationally agreed-upon standard of labeling scheme and hazard classification in relation to hazardous chemicals.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), and in compliance with the updated Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), it is required that all chemical labels have a standardized signal word, precautionary statement, and pictograms attached for each hazard class and category.
GHS pictograms are distinguished based on hazards they present and classified according to whether those hazards bring physical, environmental, or health damages. Below is the list of GHS pictograms under HCS and their definitions:
Ensure proper safety signs and symbols usage in your workplace or establishment with SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor). Available as a mobile app and web-based tool, this digital platform can help safety managers, safety officers, and employees in workplaces comply with the requirements of using safety symbols to reduce exposure to dangers and hazards. SafetyCulture can also help you do the following:
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Safety managers and safety officers can use this template to conduct inspections and ensure that safety symbols and signs are maintained and used as needed. This template also allows you to do the following:
Use this template in SafetyCulture to ensure that safety signs and symbols surrounding an area or establishment comply with the requirements of Safety Signs and Signals Regulations 1996, along with other best practices for safety signals and signs.
Use this template to conduct an inspection on proper handling, storing, and disposal of hazardous chemical substances. Begin with a description of the worksite activity and then list down the hazardous chemicals being handled. Use this template in SafetyCulture to do the following:
Jaydee Reyes is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her six-year experience in the field of data research and media monitoring adds expertise and quality to her work. She is also a champion of leveraging technology to promote a culture of safety in workplaces around the world. As a content specialist, she aims to help companies adapt to digital changes through interesting and informational articles.
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