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Safety sign standards: OSHA vs. ANSI

What are the differences between OSHA and ANSI safety sign standards?

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Photo: Avery Industrial

Responding is Colwin Chan, director of marketing, Avery Industrial, Brea, CA.

To understand the difference between OSHA’s and the American National Standards Institute’s standards on safety signs, it helps to know the difference between the two organizations. OSHA, an agency of the federal government, sets and enforces mandatory standards for health and safety in U.S. workplaces. ANSI, on the other hand, is a nonprofit organization that establishes voluntary consensus for standards that protect the safety and health of consumers, workers and the environment. ANSI standards are voluntary, unless OSHA uses its legal power to enforce them. The agency can do this via adoption, reference or indirectly citing ANSI standards in instances in which failure to communicate a hazard resulted in injury or death.

OSHA’s standard

When it comes to safety signs, OSHA’s standard (1910.145) regulates safety signs and tags for incident prevention. Three safety sign types are covered in 1910.145 and reference ANSI standards Z53.1-1967 and Z535.1-2006 (R2011). Each class of sign has its own set of colors.
Danger safety signs are used for hazards that constitute an immediate danger. These signs must be red, black and white.
Caution safety signs are required to warn against potential hazards and/or unsafe practices, and have a yellow background with a black header panel and black text.
Safety instruction signs specify safety instructions and procedures, and should have a white background with a green panel with white letters. Black text is used on a white background.

ANSI’s standard

The latest ANSI safety sign standard is outlined in ANSI Z535.2-2011 (R2017). This standard includes additional safety sign types such as “warning” and “notice.” ANSI Z535-2011 (R2017) also provides guidance on sign size, text size and viewing distance of a sign. It’s considered best practice to incorporate the additional ANSI sign types and guidelines in the workplace.

Warning safety signs communicate hazardous situations between “danger” and “caution.” Notice signs are used for situations not directly related to personal injury, but could contribute to overall safety or health of employees. An example would be “Wash your hands” messaging to prevent the spread of germs.

Even though OSHA allows the use of the older safety sign standards within 1910.145, there are three reasons to consider voluntarily adopting the latest ANSI Z535.2-2011 (R2017) safety sign standards. The first is to improve communication, because the newer standard recommends the use of globally recognizable symbols to improve understanding and help overcome language barriers. The second is that the text on signs that meet the ANSI standard is typically more substantive and explains in better detail the hazards and the precautions to take to avoid them. The third reason is that it’s the best way to ensure compliance. Because ANSI guidelines are more comprehensive, it’s an effective way to demonstrate to OSHA that you’ve taken the best measures to communicate safety hazards in your facility.

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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