Take signs seriously

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business

A general aim for all managers of premises is to ensure that the organisation they work for has the most appropriate environment for its employees and any visitors to the site.

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

Signs are an essential requirement in order to comply with specific legislation, as well as 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 dangers they may pose to employees or visitors.

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.

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 in what the safety signs mean and the measures that must be followed as a result.

Added to this is the requirement for every employer to display the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Health and Safety Law’ poster or provide each member of staff with a copy of the approved leaflet.


It is important to ensure that regular checks are undertaken to ensure 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 s i g nage when ad hoc activities are occurring which may present a new risk in the surroundings. For example, where cleaning is under way and signs regarding slippery floors are required, or there are temporary ladders or trailing cables, which need to be negotiated safely.

Ultimately, most risks can be reduced and controlled by taking steps at the outset. Documenting risk assessments, outlining the actions taken to manage the risk, including a summary of training provided, safe working practices employed, protective equipment available and signage used, will work towards ensuring premises comply with the wide-ranging health and safety regulations.

Sign styles

In order to simplify health and safety signage, a colour-coded system has been introduced:

Red signs prohibit behaviour or actions likely to create a risk to safety.

Yellow or amber warning signage 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 includes fire exits, refuge points, first aid or other emergency assistance equipment.

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