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10 Safety Signs to Identify on a Plant Walkthrough

Tom Campbell, Global Portfolio Manager, Safety & Compliance, Brady Americas

Safety signs are a primary way to communicate important warnings and messages to your employees, on-site contractors, and other visitors. To make sure your facility has the right safety signs placed in all necessary locations, it’s important to conduct visual plant walkthroughs on a regular basis. A good methodology to facilitate these walkthroughs is to reference a safety signage checklist that you’ve developed from your various safety policies and procedures. Many organizations conduct these walkthroughs on their own, while others hire an independent consultant or auditor. Either way, this type of audit is an essential part of maintaining a safe workplace.

Safety_Signs_LOSHA 1910.145, Specifications for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags, provides standards and specifications to provide clear and concise messages. Other OSHA regulations then apply these sign standards to the specific safety topics that each addresses.

Effective plant walkthroughs can ensure that your facility has the necessary warning signs to keep your plant safe and visual. Keep the following 10 types of signs in mind when you are conducting this walkthrough. This list will help ensure that your facility has the most relevant safety signs displayed in their proper locations and that they are meeting OSHA regulations and clearly communicating the intended messages.

1. Exit/ Evacuation signs: OSHA requires visible emergency response exit and evacuation routes. Any doorway or passage along egress routes that could be confused for an exit must indicate its actual use. Every authorized exit sign must be either constantly illuminated by a reliable light source, or be sufficiently self-luminating by use of photoluminescent (glow-in-the-dark) materials and be of distinctive color.

Furthermore, these signs should be placed in every location where the direction of travel may not be obvious. Each sign must have the word “Exit” in plainly legible letters not less than 6 inches high or less than 3/4 of an inch wide. Examples:

  • Exit sign (text only): leads employees to safety in case of an emergency.
  • Exit sign (with arrow): should be placed as guide to nearest exit location.

2. Fire signs: OSHA requires signs that indicate the location of fire extinguishers and fire hose cabinets so they are readily accessible in case of an emergency. Walkthroughs can be used to ensure that all necessary signs are present and can be conspicuously identified. Examples:

  • Fire extinguisher: identifies portable extinguishers.
  • Fire alarm: identifies areas where fire alarms are present.
  • Fire evacuation: guides individuals to use stairways or other routes during fire.

3. Electrical Arc Flash Hazard signs: OSHA requires signs that indicate high voltage areas in order to provide sufficient access and working space be maintained around energized electric equipment. Examples:

  • Danger: High Voltage: identifies high voltage areas.
  • Danger: Battery Charging Area: identifies areas in which batteries are charging.

A newly revised NFPA standard, NFPA 70E-2012, mandates that arc flash labels be placed on all electrical equipment, including switchboards, panel boards, meter socket enclosures, and motor control centers, that would require maintenance while energized. These labels must contain:

    1) Nominal System Voltage 
    2) Arc Flash Boundary 
    3) One of the following: 
            a. Available incident energy and corresponding working distance 
            b. Minimum arc rating of clothing 
            c. Required level of PPE.

4. First Aid signs: OSHA requires that first aid supplies be identified and readily available at all times in case of a medical emergency. Examples:

  • Eye wash: identifies areas that offer first aid solutions for instances when eyes may be contaminated by foreign materials or substances
  • Safety showers: identifies areas that offer first aid solutions for instances when the body comes in contact with hazardous chemicals
  • AED: identifies the location of Automated External Defibrillator in case of an emergency situation.
  • First aid stations: indicates stations that provide care or treatments before regular medical aid can be obtained

5. Flammable/Combustible signs: OSHA requires conspicuous warning labels be placed on containers and areas that contain flammable or combustible liquids, vapors or materials. Examples:

  • Danger - No Smoking, No Open Flames, No Sparks: identifies areas where precautions should be taken against ignition of flammable vapors and hydrogen gas.
  • Flammable: Keep Fire Away: identifies areas that could result in materials combusting due to flammable reaction.

6. Personal Protection signs: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be provided and used when in the presence of a hazard capable of causing injury or impairment through physical contact, absorption, or inhalation. PPE signs, symbols, and accident prevention tags serve as a reminder of the requirements. Examples:

  • PPE signs: include reminders about appropriate and required eye protection, hearing protection, foot protection, and head protections. These reminders include messages about wearing a hardhat, face shields, eye protection, respirators, and more.

7. Hazardous Areas signs: OSHA requires “Caution” accident prevention signage to warn against potential hazards and unsafe practices. Hazardous signs instruct employees of area protocol. Examples:

  • Biohazard signs: used to identify equipment, rooms, and materials which contain, or are contaminated with, hazardous agents.
  • Caution or Danger-Hot: helps identify areas subject to extreme heat and danger
  • Hazardous waste storage signs: identify areas that require caution due to the storage of hazardous waste.
  • Radiation signs: offer messages for radiation danger, microwave warning signs, and other radioactive warning messages. OSHA 1910.97(a)(3)(i), requires radiation areas to have radiation warning messages with pictogram symbol of a red isosceles triangle above an inverted black isosceles triangle, separated and outlined by an aluminum color border. The warning message should appear in the upper triangle.

8. Confined Spaces signs: warn employees of areas that require authorized permits or specific instructions for entering into a potentially hazardous confined space. Examples:

  • Danger - Confined Space: helps identify confined workspace areas. These confined space signs include warnings for authorized or permit entry areas. Confined space signs can also indicate specific instructions to employees for space entry.

9. Machines and Equipment signs: alert to dangers in operating areas and machine use in order to warn and protect employees from hazards that could cause personal injury or equipment failure. Examples:

  • Operation warnings: includes warnings of automatic start-ups, emergency shutdowns, and machine guard requirements
  • Pinch signs: identify areas that require hands to be clear of in-use equipment in order to avoid pinching, or worse.

10. Slips, Trips, and Falls signs: identify areas where there is a general need for instructions and suggestions to maintain safety in a facility’s aisles, passageways, stairways, and balconies. Examples:

  • Caution-Slippery Floor: helps warn of areas where individuals could easily slip or fall due to slippery or wet surfaces
  • Watch your step: indicates areas that may have uneven or irregular floors

Other facility areas where signage notifications are either required or commonly identified according to industry best practices include utility and production feed pipes, shock hazard locations, lockout/tagout, and employee right-to-know signs.

Plant walkthroughs can help make sure that all areas in your facility provide proper signage to communicate messages for emergency situations and to avoid accidents. Signs may not need to be placed directly on the hazard -- rather, in adjacent locations that are most visible to those in proximity. This helps individuals identify key signal words (danger, caution, warning, notice, and biological hazard) and corresponding safety symbols before they approach the hazardous area.

To determine if your facility has proper signage and warning devices, you should either develop your comprehensive checklists and follow-through with qualified company personnel, or utilize a third party expert consultant to conduct your facility signage walkthroughs. As the result of their extensive experience conducting audits of this nature with other clients, this expert may well be able to identify additional safety signage and labeling needs that you would not have considered. Ultimately, do whatever it takes to ensure that your facility is prepared for future OSHA audits and, above all else, provides for a safe working environment for your employees. 

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