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BusinessGuard Blog Article: Safety Signs in the Workplace

Safety signs and labels help you, as an employer, meet health and safety requirements and educate, inform and protect individuals on your premises. In a diverse workplace signs overcome language barriers and ensure everyone receives and understands the same safety messages, so it is important that they are used correctly.

What are my responsibilities?

As an employer, it is your duty to provide safety signs if there is a significant risk that cannot be avoided or controlled in any other way, such as using safe systems of work. You do not need to provide safety signs if they don’t help reduce the risk or if the risk isn’t significant; however, certain fire safety signs must be displayed according to separate legislation.

You should put the appropriate signs in place to warn of danger and make sure that staff are aware of their meaning. Although most safety signs are self-explanatory, employees (particularly new, young, or inexperienced ones) may be unfamiliar with them. It’s important that the meaning of any sign is clearly explained, and that employees are aware of the consequences of not following the warning or instruction given by the sign. If you have visually impaired staff you may need to provide alternative ways to communicate, such as audible instructions during a fire evacuation.

To meet your duties, damaged or missing signs should be replaced immediately – although it is important to remember that safety signs are not a substitute for other means of controlling risk.

Does the shape or colour of a sign tell you anything?

A sign’s shape and colour gives you important information about its purpose:


Prohibition signs give information about dangerous behaviour that is banned, or prohibited. They are round, with a black pictogram on a white background or red edging with a red diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right; the red part must take up at least 35% of the area of the sign. Examples include ‘No Smoking’. 


A warning sign tells you to be careful, to take precautions and warns about hazards. It is triangular in shape, with a black pictogram on a yellow (or amber) background and with black edging; the yellow/amber part must take up at least 50% of the area of the sign. Examples include ‘Wet Floor’.


A mandatory sign tells you about a specific behaviour or action that must be done. They are always round, with a white pictogram on a blue background; the blue part must take up at least 50% of the area of the sign. Examples include ‘PPE’.


Emergency signs depict areas of safety such as fire exits. They are rectangular or square in shape with a white pictogram on a green background; at least 50% of the area of the sign must be green. Examples include ‘Fire Exit’ and ‘Fire Assembly Point’.

Fire action notices are red, either square or rectangular, and have a white symbol (with or without additional text) in the middle. Examples include ‘Fire Alarm Call Point’ and fire extinguisher signs.

Chemical Identification

These are specified by the GHS, or the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. Signs are a red diamond with black pictograms on a white background and identify the classification of a chemical as toxic, corrosive, etc. Examples include a skull and crossbones for acute toxicity and a gas cylinder indicating gases under pressure.

White is NOT a safety colour but is used for pictograms or other symbols on blue and green signs, in alternating red and white stripes to show obstacles or dangerous locations, and in continuous lines showing traffic routes.

Black is NOT a safety colour but is used for pictograms or other symbols on yellow/amber signs and (except for fire signs) red signs, and in alternating yellow and black stripes to show obstacles or dangerous locations.

Need some new or replacement signs and not sure where to start? HAE EHA Direct offers a range of safety signage and labels, to find out more call 0121 380 4620 or send us an email.

When and where should I use signs?

Your risk assessments should pinpoint where you need to place signage. The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 make it clear that safety signs are not a substitute for other means of controlling risks; they are to warn of any remaining significant risks or to instruct employees on the measures they should take in relation to these risks. Don’t overuse signage as it starts to lose its effectiveness. Be clear and concise in the visual messages you are portraying.

If you need help on any health and safety matter contact your designated HAE EHA BusinessGuard Safety Advisor; if you don’t currently use our Health & Safety services, call 0121 380 4612 or email and one of the team will be happy to help.

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This article, and the HAE EHA BusinessGuard service is provided by Stallard Kane, a specialist risk management service provider offering expert advice and solutions in Health and Safety, HR, Risk Solutions and Training. This article is for general guidance only and aims to provide general information on a relevant topic in a concise form. This article should not be regarded as advice in relation to a particular circumstance. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific advice.

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