Workplace Solutions Signs/labels

Get workplace signs noticed

Our employees don’t pay attention to the safety signs we have posted. How can we change this?

Responding is Rhonda Kovera, CEO, Visual Workplace Inc., Byron Center, MI.

Signs and visual controls are relied on every day to ensure people are doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time and for the right reason – even when no one is watching.

For example, consider the familiar stop sign. How many drivers fail to see this simple four-letter message? Not many. So, why do people miss or ignore signs and important messages in their workplace?

Whether a sign provides safety procedures, controls inventory and work flow, organizes tools, or documents standard work, applying four simple tips when creating your signs and visual controls will increase awareness so messages and instructions become universally recognized in the workplace.

  1. Credibility: If the familiar red, octagonal stop sign gets replaced by a piece of cardboard with hand-painted lettering, would you stop? Most likely, your action will be based on whether you believe the sign is legitimate.

    It’s difficult to expect everyone to follow instructions that look temporary or lack credibility. Getting rid of Post-It notes and hand-written signs are top priority! Even if the message conveys critical instructions and is exceptionally important, you are losing credibility with your target audience when the sign does not look valid. If the message is important, take the time to make it a legitimate visual control.

  2. Standards: Creating standards for signs and visuals is critical. Using color and color-coding to differentiate and instruct is a very useful method to help organize and emphasize your information. Adding photos, labels, graphics and other documents also make work instructions more effective. Setting standards ultimately ensures what is supposed to happen will happen.

  3. Placement: To increase the effectiveness of work instructions, signs and visual controls should be strategically placed at the point of use, and should emphasize critical actions required. In many organizations, work instructions are stored in a consolidated, central location. This creates wasted motion when information needs to be retrieved, and reduces quality when assumptions are made regarding a process.

    If instructions are not posted in places where the work happens, how can anyone expect that the standards will be met? When the message is in the right place at the right time, and is being viewed by the right people, you maximize effectiveness.

  4. Reinforcement: Signs should be kept simple and reinforce the desired outcome. Adding creative displays to your signs will keep your messages from “fading into the woodwork.” Don’t be afraid to step out of the normal jargon when communicating instructions and reminders. Be creative with your visual controls, and you may be surprised at how you can increase the effectiveness of your messages.

    When dealing with important control documents, a simple method to reinforce these procedures is to add information behind the detailed instructions. If the document is missing, or not in its proper place, then the end-user can quickly see the priority action to be done.

No doubt about it, signs are everywhere in our lives. For important messages that need to be seen and adhered to in the workplace, making them visual, compact, concise and highly recognizable is the key to action.

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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