Special Topics in Safety Management

How Does OSHA’s New Signage Rules Affect Your Workplace?

In September, OSHA issued a direct final rule revising requirements for workplace safety signs. Find out what the changes mean to you.

The goal of the new rule is to create a single, national uniform system of hazard recognition. OSHA believes that such consistency will create more effective communication, which in turn, should help achieve the objective of fewer workplace accidents.

The new signage rule incorporates into OSHA’s general industry and constructions standards the latest versions of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards on specifications for accident prevention signs and tags, ANSI Z535.1-2006 (R2011), Z535.2-2011 and Z535.5-2011.

The purpose of OSHA’s update is to advance workplace safety by allowing employers to use the latest ANSI Z535 standards for signage and tags. Signs and tags designed to meet the new standards:

  • Provide the information employees need to make safe decisions
  • Emphasize legibility, hazard avoidance, and hazard consequences
  • Make use of research on effective warnings and modern risk assessment methodologies
  • Communicate safety to non-English speaking workers with multiple languages and graphical symbol panels
  • Meet current legal criteria for “adequate warnings”

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What’s New?

According to OSHA, the new ANSI Z535.1-2011 Standard for Safety Colors and ANSI Z535.2-2011 Standard for Environmental and Facility Safety Signs offer:

  • Better definition for the content of a safety sign
  • Improved safety sign formats
  • Differentiation between varying degrees of risk/hazard severity
  • Consistency leading to improved comprehension

With an emphasis on tested symbols and the ability to handle complex messages, the ANSI designs have many advantages in an increasingly complex workplace.

Cultural Diversity a Big Issue

One of the reasons for the new signage requirements is growing cultural diversity in the United States. As the population becomes more diverse, there has been a rise in non-native English speakers, which makes communication more challenging.

Under federal law employers are required to provide information to employees about health and safety at the workplace in a manner the employee understands. a

The ANSI Z535 series signage addresses this concern with appropriate symbols and signal words identifying the potential hazard and how to avoid the hazard. These safety signs:

  • Are clear and consistent
  • Have standard symbols that convey the intended message
  • Use simple, everyday language and signal words

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Literacy Also a Concern

Another concern is literacy. Studies show that:

  • 30 million adults in the United States cannot read.
  • 14 percent read at or below a 5th grade level.
  • 29 percent read at the 8th grade level.

It is the illiterate workers who are most likely to work in environments with a greater risk of injury or illness. New safety sign designs make it easier for this group to recognize the symbol or the simple signal word and avoid the hazard.