Understanding Safety Colors

6 min read

There have been many dramatic improvements to workplace safety that have taken place over the past several generations. One of the biggest things that has improved safety is the use of visual communication techniques. These strategies allow a company to convey important information visually so that employees can take action more quickly and easily to avoid accidents or injuries.

One great example of visual communication in the workplace is seen with the usage of safety colors. Understanding safety colors will help you to discover why this strategy is so effective and also what colors are typically used in what situations. If your organization is looking to make improvements when it comes to safety, this is a great place to start.

Why Safety Colors are Effective

There are many different ways that a company can use colors to improve safety, but one has to first understand why this is such an effective strategy. There are quite a few different reasons why using colors to convey safety information is so effective. Every facility is going to benefit in different ways, but all of the following reasons should provide you with a good place to start.

  • Easy to See at a Distance – When looking at something from a significant distance it is much easier to tell what color something is than what words are printed on it. This means people can see a warning color across a facility so they know what precautions to take well before they can read the words on a safety sign.
  • Almost Universal Meanings – Over the years, certain colors have become almost universally associated with specific meanings. Red, for example, indicates that there is some sort of danger, or it is associated with fire, in almost every country in the world.
  • Helps with Contract – Another great benefit of using colors for safety signs and labels is that the color will help to improve contract. This means in addition to the immediate message that the color sends, it will also make it easier to read any text or symbols.
  • Great in Loud Environments – Manufacturing facilities, mining operations, and anywhere that has heavy equipment running can get very loud. This makes it nearly impossible to communicate verbally, which can create many dangers. Using visual communication strategies, such as safety colors, will help make it possible to alert people to hazards.

Of course, there are many other important reasons why safety colors are so effective in the workplace. Learning more about how you can make use of colors to improve safety will help you to create an effective plan of action for introducing a safety color strategy.

Colors with Different Meanings

When working on a strategy for how to use various colors in your safety program, it is important to remember that the same color may have a different meaning depending on how it is used. For example, When you use red on some types of signs, it may just indicate danger is present in the area. This bold color will grab your attention to the sign so people can take the proper precautions. When using red on chemical container labels, however, it may mean that the chemical in question is a fire hazard.

This is why part of any color-coding safety system in your facility has to be providing training to the employees. Without proper training on the meanings of the different colors in each situation, the plan will not be as effective as it should be.

Examples of Common Safety Color Standards

There are many different examples of how and where colors are used within a facility. While most facilities can come up with their own safety color standards, it is much more common to follow the industry standard options. There are a number of safety standards that are followed for different things in the workplace. Implementing one or more of the following options will help you to determine exactly what each color should mean in any given situation.

  • ANSI Color Codes – The American National Standards Institute provides companies with a variety of different types of safety codes. While this is not a government organization, ANSI is one of the most respected places that puts out safety focused standards for a variety of industries.
  • OSHA Color Codes – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a government organization within the United States. They issue various safety focused regulations that companies need to follow. In many cases, a part of that will cover what color required safety signs or labels need to be.
  • Globally Harmonized System of Chemical Labeling – When it comes to labeling containers, the Globally Harmonized System of Chemical Labeling, or GHS, is by far the most common set of standards used. This system will have a variety of requirements in place for what colors should be used based on the dangers associated with a given chemical.
  • National Fire Protection Association – The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, issues a number of different types of recommendations on how to reduce the risk of fires in the workplace, and how to contain them should they occur. While this is a non-profit organization without any enforcement power, they are still one of the most popular systems out there. Part of their recommendations includes what colors to use in certain situations.

These are just four of the largest and most commonly used color safety standards out there today. There are many other groups and government agencies that may issues requirements or recommendations when it comes to how to use colors to help improve safety in an organization. In addition, individual companies will often come up with their own color systems to use in their facility. As long as they do not contradict any of the other required programs that apply to them, this is not a problem at all.

Colors on Safety Signs and Labels

One of the most common places where different colors are used to try to improve the safety in a facility is with safety signs and labels. These signs and labels come in many different sizes and shapes to help provide information and keep people safe in a variety of different situations.

Many safety signs are designed specifically to comply with requirements from OSHA or other agencies. Others, however, can be custom made or printed to meet your needs based on a given situation. No matter what type of sign you have, it is important to make sure that you are using the right colors to convey the desired message. While there are situations where the following guidelines do not apply, they are generally the standard for safety signs for the most commonly used colors:

  • Red on Signs – Red on signs generally either indicates that there is a fire hazard or that there is a hazardous situation in the area.
  • Yellow on Signs – In most cases, yellow on safety signs is used to tell people to use caution in an area. Yellow signs are for areas that are less dangerous than the red signed area.
  • Green on Signs – When green is used on a safety sign it is typically to let people know that an area is safe or that a nearby danger zone has ended.
  • Black and White – Black and white signs are typically there to give instructions to the people in the area. These instructions are intended to keep people safe.
  • Blue on Safety Signs – Blue is not often used on safety signs, but when it is it is typically in order to inform people about a machine or area that the sign is on.

There are many other colors used on safety signs, and many different situations when they are used. When creating your overall safety strategy for your facility, the most important thing is to choose your colors carefully and make sure everyone knows what they mean.

Providing Visual Communication Training

As mentioned above, no matter how good your strategy for using colors to improve safety is, it will not be effective if you do not provide those who work in your facility with the proper training. It is absolutely critical that everyone who works in the area understands what the various colors mean in a given situation.

This is important because if there is an emergency or a serious hazard, the safety of the people in the building depends on them being able to react properly to the situation. If they do not know what a specific color means, they will not know how to react safely. In most cases, there is not time to stop and look up what various colors or signs mean, so training everyone before there is an emergency is necessary.

Fortunately, most companies will not have a lot of trouble providing this type of training. In almost all situations, the colors that are used to alert people to a hazard are going to be quite intuitive with only a little bit of training. It is generally best to give this type of training during any new employee orientation. After that, giving employees annual refresher training to keep the information fresh in their minds will help to optimize the safety in your facility.

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