Special Topics in Safety Management

Signs and Tags: Color Coding for Safety

Employees need to know what the different colors you use on safety signs and tags mean in terms of the hazards and levels of danger they may face.

Your color-coding system should be among the important elements covered in safety training and orientation programs. All employees who face physical or health hazards on the job must be thoroughly familiar with the system so that they can avoid accidents.

Two sections of 29 CFR Part 1910 cover OSHA’s requirements for color coding.

Marking Physical Hazards

1910.144 states which colors must be used for specific safety purposes.

Red must be used for marking:

  • Fire-protection equipment
  • 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 for designating physical hazards such as striking against, stumbling, tripping, falling, and "caught in between."

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Accident Prevention Signs and Tags

1910.145 covers signs for various purposes—danger, caution, safety instruction—and the design and wording of such signs, as well as accident prevention tags and slow-moving vehicle emblems.

Although red is generally associated with danger in nearly everyone’s mind, the warning intended by the use of other colors may not be obvious to all workers, which is why training on your color coding system is so important. Here is the most usual "code":

Red = Danger. OSHA recommends danger signs or tags be red or predominantly red, with lettering or symbols in a contrasting color (usually white against the red background). Red warns employees of a hazard that could cause serious injury or death.

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 signs that indicate physical dangers that could cause serious injuries such as slipping, tripping, falling, striking against, and pinch hazards.

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.

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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 = Slow-Moving Vehicles. This color is used, with a dark red reflective border, on slow-moving vehicle triangles.

Tomorrow we’ll review basic specifications for safety signs and tags in the workplace.

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