Safety Label Communication
Written by Steve Hudgik
Safety labels communicate many crucial messages; read on for a summary of safety signage's various functions
Safety for the public and the worker is the goal. And when it comes to communicating hazards or risks that could compromise safety, safety labels have a critical part to play. What kinds of messages do safety labels convey? How can their messages contribute to the goal of a safe environment for everyone?
Safety labels alert on-site personnel and visitors to potential hazards.
In the most general sense, safety labels serve as a visual warning to any person entering the proximity of a hazard of potential health and safety risks. Almost everyone is familiar with some common formats for safety labels, which often include one or more of the following elements:
- A header strip in a bold color, such as yellow, orange or red
- A cautionary word, such as “DANGER, “CAUTION” or “WARNING”
- An attention-grabbing symbol, such as an exclamation point
When well designed, safety labels communicate the danger that a particular area, piece of equipment or practice may pose. These labels also clearly identify the course of action necessary to limit or eliminate the risk, which can include anything from exiting the space to simply striving for heightened awareness. In many cases, the label is a last line of defense between the person entering the area of the hazard and the hazard itself.
Safety labels grant or deny authorization to enter a hazardous space.
Hazardous spaces pose various risks to personnel. Atmospheric toxins often present in confined spaces can prove fatal if inhaled. Heavy equipment and falling objects at busy construction sites require vigilance and protection. Energized equipment in arc flash zones carries the potential to emit catastrophic electrical explosions.
Only individuals with the proper training, certifications and personal protective equipment should enter these areas. Safety labels with messages such as “Authorized Personnel Only,” “Appropriate PPE Required,” or even the simple phrase “Danger: Keep Out” provide a strong and clear visual cue alerting passersby and would-be entrants to potential hazards.
Safety labels list personal protective equipment required for certain activities or in specified areas.
Extreme temperatures, noise, airborne pathogens, flying objects, sharp edges and other environmental factors pose serious health and safety hazards. Occupational safety best practices help managers and workers identify which personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary in environments with these hazards. Types of PPE include ear, head, eye, foot, hand and arm, body and respiratory protection, with each category represented by a universally understood symbol.
Safety labels play an important role to ensure the proper use of PPE. Even the most vigilant and thoroughly trained workers can greatly benefit from visual reminders at the boundaries of spaces requiring PPE. Safety labels prove especially important in circumstances where the hazard is less obvious or invisible. For example, the need to wear shoes on the factory floor is relatively intuitive, whereas toxic particles carried in the air and requiring a respirator pose a much less obvious (but no less dangerous) risk. Safety labels alert anyone entering the proximity of a PPE-regulated hazard of potential risks and the PPE needed to avoid them.
Safety labels identify exits and other wayfinding points.
Natural disasters, explosions, fires and other large scale safety mishaps sometimes require just one vital action: Get out. When exiting the facility or locating an important location within the facility is what needs to happen, safety labels serve as wayfinding tools to facilitate mass evacuation or relocation. Doors that lead outdoors can be clearly identified as exits, and simple graphics on safety labels such as arrows direct individuals to safe zones.
While a worker or regular visitor to a facility may already be familiar with exits and emergency procedures, safety labels that identify exits and other directional information are still crucial for visitors and emergency personnel such as fire fighters. In an ideal world, the facility’s frequent occupants have had ample time to rehearse evacuation procedures and know exactly what to do when the need to evacuate is realized. If adequate safety labels and wayfinding signage are in place, however, even a less well prepared group of people will be able to navigate the affected workplace safely and quickly based solely upon the accessibility of clear, universal visual cues.
Safety labels locate important emergency management equipment.
In the event of an emergency, access to certain equipment can prevent death or serious injury. Consider the effectiveness of a fire extinguisher in limiting the damage and growth of a rapidly spreading electrical fire, or the eye tissue saved by immediate treatment at an eyewash station upon exposure to dangerous chemicals.
Safety labels placed near important lifesaving equipment such as defibrillators, eyewash stations, and fire axes, hoses and extinguishers make it possible to spot and utilize this equipment quickly and effectively. These safety labels can also outline guidelines for proper usage, serving as a reminder of proper emergency procedures in the heat of the moment.
Labels and signage have the power to identify risks in an extremely simple, universal way. Proper usage of safety labels in any situation where there is a possible hazard is a huge piece of the prevention puzzle, keeping everyone from routine visitors to first timers aware of existing dangers and saving lives.