Employers/employees/the self-employed and all those in charge of a premises have a duty under the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 to comply with them in keeping their work area safe. If a risk assessment shows that an area of work is a risk or hazard, the employer must put up the appropriate safety or warning signs. It is necessary to carry out a risk assessment for all workplaces in order to comply with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Also, fire safety authorities require that fire safety and exit signs be placed at appropriate locations. There are duties on employers under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 20015 to put up fire signs showing escape routes, providing information on firefighting equipment, for example, fire extinguishers.
If an employee’s first language is not English, the meaning of the sign should be communicated to them in their native language so that they understand it. If inexperienced workers do not understand what a sign means, it should be verbally explained to them. If an employee is hearing or sight impaired, for example when wearing PPE, the signs must be signalled by a flashing light or be audible. Other warning signs in the workplace may be acoustic, for example fire alarms. Verbal signs may also be more practical, for example, directing forklift traffic in the work area. However, these must be clear and precise with the operator not in danger themselves.
Some signs have a universal significance, for example, red means danger or stay away and yellow amber means be cautious. Blue means one needs to exhibit specific behaviour, for example, wear protective equipment. Green means no danger and is the code color for first aid, exits and return to normal. Some signs are portable, for example, a slippery floor sign used by cleaners.
Prohibitory signs are those with a round red shape and a diagonal line through them, prohibiting an action, for example, no smoking. Warning signs, for example, those used to warn against a harmful substance have a yellow triangle. Mandatory signs, for example, ‘eye protection required’ are white on a blue background. Emergency escape signs are green and firefighting signs are red. Most signs, are accompanied by text explaining what the signs means.
Containers and vessels containing dangerous substances used in the workplace may come under the regulations of Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Sites) regulations 1990 (NAMOS) as well as the signs regulations. All safety signs should not be a substitute for controlling the risks to employees.