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Make Safety Your Business

OSHA Safety Guide
Free OSHA Best Practices Guide

Written by Jack Rubinger

If safety is your business, you probably obsess about attending to every detail related to your plant – from the dripping water cooler in the break room to the welder who refuses to wear his protective goggles.

Hearing that more than 4,000 fatal work injuries were reported in the U.S. in 2010 (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), is disappointing. After all, your company is ahead of the curve. You conduct weekly safety committee meetings. You’ve never had a surprise visit from OSHA.

So maybe this article isn’t for you. But if you walk into your building and feel that things aren’t quite as safe and secure as they can be, then read on, because having a passion for safety is just the beginning.

You need the right tools to create a safe environment and signs and labels can help make a safe environment a reality. There’s a lot to learn about creating effective signs and labels and knowing where signs and labels can make the most impact.

Safety Sign Best Practices Guide

A complete reference guide to OSHA Sign Making

One indispensable tool for any safety manager is a thermal transfer printer for generating safety signs and labels. With a thermal transfer printer, you can print on polyesters, polyimides, reflective films and vinyls which are all UV, water, chemical and abrasion resistant. Inkjet printers, by comparison, are limited to what they can print on. Where safety is critical, thermal printers generally make labels with crisp, clear text and images – improving the readability of the label.

The DuraLabel thermal transfer printer makes creating a custom sign or label straightforward. Coupled with word processing software, OSHA-compliant templates and extensive fonts, you may select layout, text and symbol, printer speed and quantity of labels.


The battery-powered DuraLabel Toro 4-inch printer is a huge innovation, offering complete stand-alone portability for use in remote locations. For maximum visibility, 9-inch printers can create huge signs and labels -- particularly impactful when communication must be visible at enormous distances such as Boeing’s manufacturing site, which encompasses more than 4.3 million square feet and the Hershey, Pennsylvania manufacturing plant, which covers 2 million square feet of manufacturing space. In other cases, signs should be easy to read in bright sunshine. It all depends on the application.

So, you’re armed with a thermal transfer printer and you’re ready to make your site super safe.

Before getting started, conduct a facility audit and survey your facility’s danger zones as if you’re preparing for a surprise visit from OSHA.

  • Enlist a safety team. Push your managers and machine operators to gain a broad perspective on warehouse, assembly and other manufacturing equipment and operations.
  • Lay out facility drawings in computer-aided drafting (CAD) software so your floor plan can be easily shared and revised with input from team members.
  • If your facility has a mezzanine level, take a view from above for a better perspective.
  • Identify each area’s function, installations and equipment.
  • List signage required for each area.

Now, check locations where proper signs and labels should be placed:

  • Machinery and production areas
  • Staging areas for raw and packing materials, shelving, and aisles for product inventory and fulfillment
  • Front office areas including exits and entrances
  • Outdoors areas for electrical panels, facility identification, traffic flow

Consider these labels and signs:

  • Pipe markers
  • Equipment marking
  • Tank and vessel signs
  • Right-To-Know labels
  • Lockout/tagout labels and tags
  • Floor marking
  • Electrical marking (arc flash, general warning signs)
  • Exit and evacuation escapes and doors
  • Hazardous waste
  • Fire protection
  • Rack and bin labeling
  • Machine troubleshooting processes
  • Start-up and shutdown procedures
  • Assembly line operations and procedures

facility labelingPrinter Supplies

We talked about the thermal transfer printer, where and when signs and labels make sense, and touched on the kinds of supplies available. There’s much more.

The printer ribbon ink and supply isas important as the printer itself. Choose the wrong ribbon and your message won’t adhere to the supply. Choose the wrong supply and your label or sign will fade, erode or dissolve from chemical exposure. To get even more detailed, consider the supply’s topcoat – the printable surface of a supply. This surface may be a polish, matte or satin coating. Special topcoats have been specifically engineered to improve the bond between the ribbon and the supply for greater printability, chemical and abrasion resistance.

Printer supplies must perform under the most demanding climate and environmental conditions and deliver lasting performance on surfaces such as oily drums, electrical panels and on freezing pipes. Outdoor labels must stand up to the punishment created by UV light which can cause fading over time. Using the right materials is crucial for safety labels to deliver their message over extended periods.

Just as you don’t take shortcuts with safety, don’t take shortcuts when making safety signs and labels. Consult with your printer supplier to be sure the supply you are using is appropriate.

Three key industrial safety labeling applications are arc flash, confined space and machine guarding. Each is deadly.

Arc Flash

Arc flash is an electrical explosion that results from a low impedance connection to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system. Besides generating enough heat to melt most anything within the vicinity, arc flashes create waves of pressure that radiate outward, propelling any substance in its trajectory. These pressure waves quite often turn loose objects into shrapnel, which could severely injure anyone nearby. 

IEEE 1584 provides empirical formulas for determining arcing fault current, flash protection boundaries, and incident energy that help in determining the type of personal protective equipment (PPE)you'll need and the types of labels required.

Arc flash labels warn employees, contractors, vendors, inspectors and visitors to stay away from equipment that presents an arc flash danger.

Confined Space

Many workplaces contain spaces considered "confined" such as underground vaults, tanks and storage bins. A confined space has limited entry access and is not intended for continuous occupancy. Confined spaces are treacherous. Deaths from confined space incidents consistently make OSHA’s top 10 list.

 “We have a water treatment plant that processes all the water that the paint department disposes,” said Alan Flores Saldivar, Wolseley Industrial Group. “When conducting maintenance, our people discovered the walls of the pit they were going to clean were covered with paint that produces a lot of static. Being a confined space, they needed special equipment and chemicals like chlorine and acids to clean the space. It was suggested that this confined space should be properly identified and labeled with every risk.”

Machine Guarding

Moving machine parts cause severe workplace injuries such as crushed fingers or hands, amputations, burns or blindness. Safeguards are essential for protecting workers from these preventable injuries. Any machine part, function or process that may cause injury must be guarded and labeled.


Despite best intentions, we all make mistakes. Enlist an impartial party to review safety sign placement.

 “One facility forgot to relocate exit signs following a renovation. Exits either literally led you around in circles or pointed you to a brick wall from two different sides,” said Smith. “Fire extinguisher location signs often are blocked or not visible. Sometimes fire extinguishers are placed in locations approved by a regulatory jurisdiction, but can’t be found because cubicles hide them,” said Smith.

Keep safety active by tracking near misses, first aid administered and injuries on a CAD layout to determine if additional signs are needed in a given area. Use that information to make changes to prevent these incidents from reoccurring. If an associate sees an unsafe situation, it is their responsibility to make management aware of it so corrective actions can be made.

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The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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