Safety Labels and Signs Information

High voltage safety sign from New Pig Corp.

Safety labels and signs are visual alerting devices which advise observers of potential hazards. They may consist of a signal word, message panel, and/or a pictorial symbol that is displayed in specific colors to alert and inform observers of restrictions, or to take appropriate action in the presence of possible hazards.

Safety signs were developed as part of an organized effort to prevent industrial accidents. Near the turn of the 20th century, the National Safety Council charged the American Standards Association (ASA) with the responsibility of creating effective standards for safety signage. Today, the most generally accepted criteria for safety signs are published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) under ANSI Z535.

Safety Sign Composition

Safety signs are usually composed of at least one of three parts: a signal word, message panel, and/or symbol.

The signal word is the term used to indicate a hazard's degree of severity. These words (such as "danger", "warning", and "caution") are usually association with certain colors (red, orange, and yellow respectively).

Danger sign from Seaward Safety Warning no trespassing sign from Seaward Safety Caution - Hot sign from Seaward Safety

The message panel is the portion of the sign used to identify the hazard and indicate how to avoid it. These descriptions also have standards linked to specified colors for different situations.

Message panel - switch off sign from Seaward Safety Message panel - emergency escape window sign from Seaward Safety Message panel two languages sign from Seaward Safety

Some signs include a symbol or pictorial which is associated with a specific signal word or hazard. These give a visual indication of the hazard that is recognizable and universally understood.

Symbol safety sign from Seward Safety Pictorial safety sign - slippery from Seward Safety Pictorial safety sign from Seward Safety

Sign Selection

Safety and warning signs should be selected based on the type of sign required. Beyond this, it is important to consider its physical properties and the various features it may incorporate.

Types of Signs

Prohibition or danger signs are designed to restrict access to areas or actions that are dangerous to either personnel or property. These signs are usually red or have red indicators.

  • Caution or warning signs are designed to warn viewers of potential hazardous conditions. Warning signs are generally orange and caution signs are usually yellow.
  • Notice signs point out or provide awareness of conditions, proper procedures, or methods relevant to the surrounding area. These signs are generally blue or black.
  • Mandatory or compliance signs indicate procedures that must be performed or carried out, such as the wearing of safety equipment in a work area. These signs are generally blue.
  • Safety signs are used to indicate safety conditions or the location of safety equipment such as first aid stations and safety showers.

Physical Properties

Eyewash sign from Grainger

The physical properties of a sign determine its visibility and compatibility with the associated area. These properties include length, width, thickness, and shape.


Signs can be built with a number of different features depending on the requirements of its application and the occupied environment.

  • Adhesive backed signs use an adhesive with a protective release liner, providing the ability to stick the sign to a wall, machine, vehicle, or work area.
  • Multilingual signs have the feature text written in two languages. This provides readability for personnel who cannot read or understand the primary language.
  • Hanging signs are those with configurations allowing them to be hung above or in front of an area. They typically are designed with two holes to allow a rope, chain, or wire of appropriate size to be attached.
  • Illuminated or glow-in-the-dark-signs provide readability in lower light or dark conditions. Illuminated signs have a built in lamp while glow-in-the-dark signs are constructed with photoluminescent coatings or materials.
  • Post mounted signs are designed for mounting on a post or a sign with an integral post.
  • Reflective signs are highly visible and provide warnings about unsafe conditions in lower light conditions.
  • UV or weather resistant signs are suitable for outdoor use and resist harmful corrosion effects from ultraviolet light (UV), cold, heat, water, or other conditions.
  • Waterproof signs are specifically undeterred or unaffected by water, moisture, or water vapor corrosion or immersion.


A number of different standards have been set regarding the ways in which safety signs should be constructed and labeled.

  • ISO 7010:2011 and ISO 3864 are international standards pertaining to the graphical symbols and colors for safety signs.
  • ANSI Z535 is an American standard published by NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) concerning safety signs, symbols, tapes, and colors. This standard is similar to ISO standards, but is not fully compatible.
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) also has its own standard for safety signage symbols and text colors, published in CFR part 1926.


Seton - Safety , Labeling & Signage

Unified Engineering Inc. - Safety Signs

Seaward Safety

Image Credits:

New Pig Corporation | Seaward Safety | Grainger Industrial Supply


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