Workplace Solutions Signs/labels

Safety signs/labels

What are the best ways to ensure that safety signs and labels are understood by both facility managers and machine operators?

Responding is Brandon Nys, GM, Creative Safety Supply LLC, Beaverton, OR.

Whether you have a one-on-one relationship with a worker or a machine, you need to maintain convincing communications to inspire safety. Facility managers, charged with maintaining buildings, directing staff and overseeing equipment, are in a good position to use visual communications to motivate machine operators and others to work safely and productively.

When something goes wrong at a plant, usually a facility manager is held responsible, whether it’s a chemical spill or a shift that’s not keeping up. Having help in the form of visual reminders is a huge time-saver. Choosing what’s written, where it’s placed and who reads it is critical, especially in a global workforce where more than one language is spoken.

One solution? Conduct a communications site assessment. Where will generic messages work? Where are site-specific messages more appropriate?

Operators on the front lines working with precision computer-controlled (CNC) equipment must concentrate to understand why machines are not operating at peak performance. Being off by even millimeters is mission-critical. Keen attention to detail is required so machines work at full capacity.

Posting standard operating procedure labels on equipment prompts both experienced users and newcomers about steps needed from startup to shut-down. Lockout/tagout tags put unsafe machines out of operation until maintenance work is performed.

Training levels the playing field. Signs back up safety requirements and guidance covered in training, as do shadow boards and following ISO standards.

“Have both a symbol and a one- or two-word warning similar to the signs OSHA requires. Signs won’t matter if both machine operators and managers are not trained. Place signs at eye level. Some managers, though highly educated, may not understand signs, as they’ve never worked on the shop floor. Their lack of good ‘floor sense’ could make them dangerous,” says Steve Geigle of OSHAcademy Safety Training.

Color-coding uniforms and hard hats differentiates personnel. Rookies may be assigned one color; managers another. Then you know where to go for answers.

Tom Fabrizio, of Lean Manufacturing Tools LLC, adds, “Visual displays are not enough. You must have a standard design used throughout the plant.”

Chuck Paulausky, CP Safety & Environmental, refers to OSHA standards for label formats, size/shape, font size and recommended colors:

  • 29 CFR 1910.144, Safety Color Code for Marking Physical Hazards
  • 29 CFR 1910.145, Specifications for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags
  • ANSI Z535.1-2002, Safety Color Code
  • ANSI Z535.2-2002, Environmental and Facility Safety Signs
  • ANSI Z535.3-2002, Criteria for Safety Symbols and Labels
  • ANSI Z535.4-2002, Product Safety Signs and Labels

Visual communications for both facility managers and machine operators are most effective when messages are short, graphics are used, and signs are big and bold. Consider the workplace culture, refer to OSHA/ANSI requirements and make a commitment to training.

Your goal? To produce quality products without sacrificing safety.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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