Special Topics in Safety Management

Safety Color Coding: Brilliant!

All employees need to know the meaning of the different colors you use on safety signs and tags around your facility. Colors indicate at a glance the nature of hazards and levels of danger.

Color coding is a brilliant safety idea because workers can tell at a glance—almost without thinking—that they’re facing a hazard and how bad that hazard is.

That’s why OSHA requires color coding. Two sections of the OSHA General Industry Standards (29 CFR 1910) cover the requirements for color coding.

Physical Hazards

Section 1910.144 states which colors must be used to mark physical hazards.

Red must be used for:

  • Fire-protection equipment (identification of)
  • Buttons or switches used for emergency stopping of machinery    
  • Stop bars on hazardous machines such as rubber mills, flatwork ironers, wire blocks, etc.
  • Portable containers of flammable liquids with a flash point at or below 80o F (excluding shipping containers); there should be additional, clearly visible identification such as a yellow band around the container or the name of the contents stenciled or painted in yellow
  • Lights at barricades and temporary obstructions as specified in the ANSI Safety Code for Building Instruction

Yellow is the basic color used for:

  • indicating and urging caution, and
  • designating physical hazards, such as striking against, stumbling, tripping, falling, and getting “caught in between”

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Accident Prevention Signs and Tags

Section 1910.145 covers signs for various purposes (e.g., danger, caution, safety instruction) and the design and wording of such signs. It also spells out requirements for accident prevention tags and slow-moving vehicle emblems.

Although red is generally associated with danger in nearly everyone’s mind, the warnings indicated by other colors may not be so obvious to all workers. That’s why training them in such use is important. Here is the most usual “code”:

  • Red = Danger. OSHA recommends using red, or predominantly red, for danger signs or tags, with lettering or symbols in a contrasting color (usually white against the red background). Red is also used for fire apparatus and equipment, safety containers for flammables, and safety devices such as switches for emergency stopping of machinery, stop bars, and buttons.
  • Yellow = Caution. These signs and tags are all yellow, or predominantly yellow, with lettering or symbols in a contrasting color (usually black). Yellow is often used for physical dangers such as slipping, tripping, falling, striking against, and pinch points.
  • Orange = Warning. These orange, or predominantly orange, signs and tags generally have black lettering or symbols. Orange is often used for potentially dangerous parts of machinery or equipment that may cut, crush, shock, or otherwise injure a person.
  • Fluorescent Orange/Orange-Red = Biological Hazard. These signs and tags have lettering or symbols in a contrasting color (usually black). This color designates infectious agents and wastes that pose a risk of death, injury, or illness.
  • Green = Safety Instructions. These signs usually have white lettering against the green background. Some part of the sign may also contain black lettering against a white background. Green is used to designate first-aid equipment, emergency eyewash stations, and so forth.
  • Fluorescent Yellow-Orange: This color is used, with a dark red reflective border, on slow-moving vehicle triangles.

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All employees should be trained to understand the color-coding system. Color coding on safety signs and tags should certainly be among the elements covered in safety orientation so that new workers become thoroughly familiar with the system during their first few days on the job.

Tomorrow, we’ll focus on other OSHA requirements for workplace safety signs and tags.

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