According to OSHA, more than six million people work at roughly 250,000 construction sites throughout the United States on any given day. These employees routinely face numerous hazards, including heights, electrocution, falling objects, and more.
It’s important for employers to warn workers about these hazards and encourage safe practices at all times. One easy, efficient way to improve safety is to post construction labels and signage around the jobsite.
Here’s a look at what OSHA recommends for safety signage, various types of signs and labels, and how to keep workers safe.
Construction Site Hazards
First things first: You should know which hazards are present on your jobsite so you can help workers avoid, mitigate, or otherwise plan for those hazards. Here’s a quick breakdown of common construction site hazards so you can better prepare potentially life-saving visual communication.
- Falls: Falls accounted for an astounding 40% of all construction industry deaths in 2014. Signs may advise workers to wear fall protection, stay clear of exposed areas at height, and more.
- Electrocutions: Visual communication can warn workers of power lines, provide instruction for operating electric tools, and more.
- Caught-in/between: This occurs when workers are caught in machinery or between moving objects. Visual communication can warn employees to keep back, point out alternate routes around the jobsite, and provide information about when the holes may be filled in.
- PPE: Disaster can strike when employees don’t wear hard hats, gloves, safety vests, or other valuable pieces of equipment. Safety signs can alert users to the need for PPE, explain where on a jobsite it’s required, and show where PPE is located.
OSHA and ANSI Standards
OSHA’s standard for construction signs, signals, and barricades—29 CFR §1926.200—explains the agency’s requirements for safety signage. It explains that signs should be visible whenever work is performed; it also includes requirements for “Danger” signs, “Caution” signs, and other important visual communication around a jobsite.
Broadly speaking, OSHA suggests that construction labels and signage should conform to the ANSI Z535 standard. The standard dictates all aspects of sign design, including:
- Sign and label colors
- Signal words (such as “Danger,” “Warning,” and “Caution”)
- Letter style and size
- Sign and label placement
ANSI updated the standard most recently in 2011, and employers should abide by the new standard whenever possible. Updating old ANSI signs is voluntary for now, but updated signs may minimize confusion.
Here are the types of visual communication singled out in OSHA’s standard for construction signs, signals, and barricades —and how they should look.
“Danger” signs must only be used when immediate hazards exist and should have the following characteristics:
- The upper panel should have a red background
- A black outline should border the sign
- The lower panel should have a white background; any additional symbols or wording should be in black
OSHA also allows for “Danger” signs that follow the ANSI Z53.1-1968 standard (which lacked the triangular safety symbol, but included the word “DANGER” set against a red oval); however, this standard is outdated, and employers should conform to the current ANSI Z535 standard whenever possible.
“Warning” Signs and Labels
OSHA’s standard for construction signs, signals, and barricades outlines requirements for “Danger” and “Caution” signs. However, the standard does not include a provision for “Warning” signs, typically used in general industry for hazards that may result in death or serious injury.
“Caution” signs should be used to warn about potential hazards and to warn against unsafe practices. They should feature the following characteristics:
- Signs should have a yellow background, with a black upper panel and border
- The word “Caution” should be in yellow lettering against the black panel
- The lower yellow panel should be reserved for additional symbols or words, both in black
OSHA allows for “Caution” signs that follow the ANSI Z53.1-1967 standard; however, this standard is outdated, and employers should conform to the current ANSI Z535 standard, whenever possible.
OSHA maintains in 29 CFR §1926.200(d) that “Exit” signs and labels should have the following attributes:
- The word “Exit” should be in legible red letters and 6" or taller
- The main lines of the letters in the word “Exit” must be at least 3/4" wide
- The sign must be printed on a white background
Safety Instruction Signs and Labels
Safety instruction signs and labels typically communicate general instructions and suggestions for keeping the workplace safe. These signs might remind employees to use proper lifting techniques, encourage best practices around machinery with moving parts, and ask workers to put tools away when done.
OSHA, in 29 CFR §1926.200(e), outlines the following requirements for safety instruction signs and labels:
- Signs must be white, with a green upper panel
- White letters within the green upper panel should convey the sign’s general message (e.g. "Safety First")
- Any additional wording should be printed in black letters on the white background
Directional Signs and Labels
Directional signs are useful for helping employees find their way around a jobsite. OSHA, in 29 CFR §1926.200(f), lays out the following requirements for directional signs and labels:
- Signs must be white, with a black panel and white directional symbol
- Additional wording on the sign must be in black lettering on the white background
Construction Labels and Signage Resources from Graphic Products
Graphic Products’ free Best Practice Guide to OSHA Safety Signs covers best practices for labeling in accordance with OSHA and ANSI requirements and standards. The guide breaks down relevant requirements, provides an outline for how (and where) to post signs, and offers resources for getting started.