Enhancing facility safety with signs and labels

How can visual communications markings (i.e., signs, labels, banners, tags, tapes, etc.) be used to enhance safety within a facility?

Answered by Lindsay Millett, senior safety specialist, National Marker Co., Slatersville, RI.

In 2008, the top 10 marking violations cited by OSHA resulted in fines totaling in excess of $1 million. The significance of this staggering statistic only underscores the importance of developing, implementing and sustaining a comprehensive safety program throughout a facility, including the effective use of visual communications tools – signs, labels, banners, tags, tapes, etc. Creating a safe work environment through the installation of well-placed signs and markings can save lives and prevent injuries.

Visual communications tools are used throughout the world in both internal and external environments – in manufacturing plants, office buildings, distribution centers, utility plants, etc. A good way of determining whether a facility is in compliance with OSHA requirements is to perform an annual facility audit. The audit can serve as an opportunity to identify those areas where specific signs and markings may not be required but should be installed.

Here are a few simple things you may wish to consider as you perform your facility audit:

  • Signs and markings should be easily understandable and include the appropriate graphics to convey the desired message. OSHA regulation 1910.1200(f)(9) declares, "Employers having employees who speak other languages may add the information in their language to the material presented, as long as the information is presented in English, as well." When there is a segment of the workforce whose primary language is not English, strong consideration should be given to the placement of bilingual signs and markings throughout the facility.
  • Signs and markings should be clearly visible. OSHA regulation 1926.200(a) states that "Signs and symbols shall be visible at all times when work is being performed." Thus, care should be taken to ensure signs and markings are not hidden or obscured, and that the message they seek to convey is readily apparent from the distance at which the sign or marking might reasonably be read.
  • Provide information regarding the operation of dangerous equipment or handling of chemicals. Employees should be provided with as much information as possible before operating or handling dangerous equipment or chemicals. Markings alerting employees to potential hazards and the need for personal protective equipment may be of particular significance.
The failure to properly communicate the existence of hazards was listed as the third most frequently cited marking violation in 2008. The use of signs and labels to alert employees to the potential dangers of certain kinds of equipment and the safety measures required to safely operate machinery is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to remind employees about the need to adhere to safety protocols.

Tapes, lockout/tagout tags, and photoluminescent signs and markings can be used to identify areas that present unique safety challenges. The placement of various kinds of safety signs and markings should also be considered in areas designated for a specific use. For instance, anti-slip markings might be appropriate along the leading edge of stairs or where surfaces are slippery.

Egress pathways or exit routes are areas that must be clearly defined and marked as well.

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