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One of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways to make your warehouse or manufacturing facility safer is to post appropriate signage that keeps workers informed of safety procedures.
According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplace fatalities have decreased by more than 65% since 1970, and occupational injuries and workplace-related illnesses have declined by 67%. Most of this is due to regulations and safety programs that are mandated in work environments, including the use of proper signage and safety labeling.
More Federal and Local Regulations
Over the past several decades, OSHA as well as state and federal agencies have set stricter requirements for the types of safety signage that must be posted in warehouses, distribution facilities and other workplaces. OSHA provides a lot of information on federal requirements, but local laws also must be followed.
For example, fire officials are charged with determining maximum capacity, as well as making sure exits are clearly marked, directions to storm shelters are posted, and that fire extinguishers, eyewash stations and other safety equipment are both present and clearly identified.
Know Your Local Laws
According to Paul Burgess, regulatory specialist for Labelmaster — a company that makes safety labels and related products — for companies that operate facilities in multiple locations, keeping up with the local requirements can sometimes be a headache.
“It is important for managers to know the regulations (that apply to) the dirt under their feet,” Burgess told the website DC Velocity. “People think they have their ducks in a row, but then are surprised when the local inspectors show up and (tell them) they are not compliant.”
A lot of information about fire, electrical and building safety — including hazard marking and signage — can be found on the National Fire Protection Association’s website. That’s because most fire departments use standardized codes developed by the NFPA as the basis for their own local codes.
But there still can be jurisdictional difference, so it’s important that you always check with your local fire department to see how closely it follows the standard guidelines and to find out what other local codes may be in effect.
Types of Safety Signs
Signs posted in a company’s facilities tend to fall into three basic categories:
- Danger Signs — These warn of conditions that can cause serious harm or even death, such as exposure to high-voltage electricity.
- Caution Signs — These warn against other possible threats, such as a hot surface or a conveyor that could start without warning.
- Safety Instruction Signs — These provide directions on where people should go in case of an emergency or the proper use of a piece of equipment.
Other signs might identify areas in which potentially dangerous chemicals or fuels are in use, or could indicate “no smoking” areas, low clearances or zones where forklifts are prohibited from entering.
Symbols, Not Words
While some signs still use English to warn of dangers, an increasing number of safety signs rely on symbols. That’s because research indicates that people respond faster to graphics — also called “pictograms” — than they do to text-based signs. Pictograms also can be more easily seen from a distance, long before text can be read.
All facilities should have somebody such as a safety manager who is responsible for understanding what signs and labels are needed to make a workplace safe, as well as boost productivity and efficiency. Good signage and labeling not only promotes safe practices, but also instills habits that can assure a company’s most important assets — its workers — are protected.