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OSHA Warning Labels

OSHA Best Practices Guide
OSHA Safety Signs Best Practices Guides

Written by Steve Hudgik

OSHA Requirements For Warning Labels

OSHA has a lot of requirements for warning labels and signs. What are those requirements?

To begin, from OSHA's perspective is there a difference between a label and a sign? No, there is not. Whether you use a sign or a label, they, both must meet the same design requirements, and either one satisfies the OSHA requirements.

OSHA Warning Labels Vs. Signs - The Definition

The difference between a label and a sign is that a label is attached to an object and provides information about that object. A sign is posted in an area and provides information about that area. However, the way people use these terms in everyday speech does not always conform to these definitions. But, whether the term "warning label" or "warning sign" is used, the requirements are the same.

OSHA Warning Label And Sign Use Requirements

Confined Space Warning Labels: OSHA 1915.15 requires "warning labels and signs" to warn about the hazards of confined and enclosed spaces. In this case the OSHA standard uses both terms because warning labels may be used on individual confined spaces and signs used to identify an area containing multiple confined spaces.

Electric Power Generation Warning Signs: OSHA 1910.269 specifies that warning signs be at the entrances to rooms and to identify spaces that have electrical hazards. This conforms with the standard definition of a sign.

Overhead Cranes: OSHA 1910.179 specifies that warning signs be placed on out-of-order cranes. In this case although the warning is attached to an object, in conformity with common use OSHA does not call it a warning label. However, other warnings attached to the crane - such as one indicating the capacity limit - are called warning labels.

OSHA Standards For OSHA Warning Labels

If the terms label and sign can are used interchangeably, that eliminates a concern with being in compliance with OSHA standards. But, another question is, what are the standards for warning label and sign design? This is where OSHA information gets confusing.

For example, OSHA 1910.145 provides the OSHA specifications for accident prevention signs and tags. It describes danger and caution signs, but does not mention warning labels or signs. Does this mean OSHA has no specifications for warning labels? No. In the same standard the following specification for warning tags is provided:

1910.145(f)(7) - Warning tags. Warning tags may be used to represent a hazard level between "Caution" and "Danger," instead of the required "Caution" tag, provided that they have a signal word of "Warning," an appropriate major message, and otherwise meet the general tag criteria of paragraph (f)(4) of this section.

You can assume that warning labels and signs, although not specifically mentioned, should conform with these OSHA requirements for tags.

OSHA Technical Manual

In Section III, Chapter 6 of the OSHA Technical Manual, Appendix III:6-4 discusses warning signs used with lasers. Under the heading of warning signs it shows yellow caution signs, black and white danger signs, and blue and white notice signs. This is confusing and an actual warning label or sign is not shown. These three types of safety signs are all classified as "warning signs."

What we are seeing is that sometimes the word "warning" can mean a specific type of sign and sometimes it can refer to a class of signs or labels. When reading the OSHA standards related to warning labels and signs, be aware that you need to interpret them using common sense. For example, just because OSHA does not specifically have a standard for warning labels, does not mean warning labels are not used.

Safety Sign Best Practices Guide

A complete reference guide to OSHA Sign Making

ANSI Z535 Warning Label (And Sign) Standards

The standards for warning labels and signs are published in ANSI Z535. It states that warning labels warn warn against a potential hazards that, if not avoided, may result in serious injury or death. Warning labels are not used for property damage hazards unless personal injury risk also exists. Warning labels must have the word "WARNING" at the top of the sign in black letters on a rectangular orange background. The safety alert symbol must precede "WARNING." The base of the symbol must be on the same horizontal line as the base of "WARNING." The safety alert symbol must be as high as or higher than "WARNING."

ANSI Z535 also allows for an alternative warning label design. Warning labels may have "WARNING" in black letters within a safety orange truncated diamond of a black rectangular background. Locate this distinctive panel in the uppermost portion of the sign.

For both warning label designs the message panel must be in black letters on a white background or white letters on a black background. The message may, as an alternative, be black letters on a safety orange background.

What's The Best Way To Make Warning Labels?

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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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