Health and safety signs

words: Simon Bloxham

A general aim for all premise managers is to ensure that their organisation has the most appropriate environment for employees and visitors.

One element of this is to ensure that the building and site both meet health and safety requirements, including displaying the correct signage.

Signs are an essential requirement in order to comply with specific legislation, as well as to prevent accidents or to help protect or offer guidance to those in the vicinity, whether they are members of staff or the general public.

The first step towards understanding what signage is required is to undertake a risk assessment to identify potential hazards and the risks they may pose to people working at or visiting the site.

Legal requirements

According to the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996, employers are required to use safety signs where there is considered to be a significant risk to health and safety which has not been avoided or controlled via alternative methods. It is important to note, however, that safety signs are not a suitable substitute for implementing other methods of risk mitigation, such as installing appropriate engineering controls or safe systems of work.

All workplaces must display ‘no smoking’ signage on premises and within company vehicles, as failing to do so could result in the business being fined up to £1,000 if signage isn’t displayed, and potentially up to £2,500 for failure to stop people from smoking.

In addition to conventional visual signage, the regulations also include illuminated signs, acoustic alarms, hand signals or verbal instructions.

Once the relevant signage is in place, there is a legal duty for organisations to maintain safety signs and ultimately ensure that employees receive adequate instruction and training into what the safety signs mean. Also added to this is the requirement for every employer to display the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Health and Safety Law’ poster.


It is important to ensure that regular checks are undertaken to confirm that signage is appropriate and gives suitable guidance and warnings to employees and visitors.

Permanent signs must be used when notifying people of prohibitions, warnings and mandatory requirements, and also for locating and identifying emergency escape routes and first-aid facilities. Frequent audits should take place to ensure these are still clearly visible.

Do not overlook the importance of displaying temporary signage when ad hoc activities are occurring, which may present a new risk in the surroundings. For example, where cleaning is underway and signs regarding slippery floors are required. Document risk assessments, outlining the actions taken to manage the risk, and include a summary of training provided, safe working practices employed, protective equipment available and signage used.

Sign styles

In order to simplify health and safety signage, a colour-coded system is in use:

RED – prohibiting behaviour or actions that are likely to create a risk to safety.

YELLOW OR AMBER – Provides an instantly recognisable warning of a risk, such as hazardous or flammable substances. Hazard symbols are often regulated by law and directed by standards organisations.

BLUE – mandatory signage, which instructs, advises and informs staff and visitors of an action that must be carried out in order to secure a safer working environment.

GREEN – safe condition signage, including fire exits, refuge points, first aid or other emergency assistance equipment Help is at hand – you can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business by calling 08456 344 164.

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