While signage is distinctly an administrative control sitting toward the bottom of the ‘hierarchy of controls’, there are many instances where practicality comes into play and for various reasons this is best level of control that can be applied.

On a grander scale this can be seen in warnings to instruct international tourists to swim between the red & yellow flags, or the classic ‘mind the gap’ campaign from the London’s Underground, and there is no doubt that some of these everyday warnings verge on the obvious – like the warnings on take-away coffee cups.

Despite its ‘obviousness’, such signage is here to stay, and has permeated almost every piece of plant, equipment, electrical appliance, etc. in every home and workplace.

As risk and safety professionals we should be looking to eliminate or at the very least engineer out the risk exposure, but this would translate to hi-tech interlocks on almost every bit of equipment owned (like the bonnet of your car to prevent access while the engine is running). In the real world this is often not practical, cost efficient or ‘do-able’, so we accept some of the risk and address our responsibility through the use of lower order controls.

If we are going to use signage we need to ensure that it is able to be universally understood. AS 1319:1994 – Safety Signs for the Occupational Environment provides a good range of established signs that are recognised by industry, but there is no Australian Standard for safety labels for machinery, so it is vitally important to ensure any message – visual or written – is understood by every worker, and this may present difficulties given the multi-cultural workforce in Australia.

The big challenge is to ensure that any installed signage actually works.

Follow these tips to make sure the safety signs you use are effective:

  1. Use simple, short, sharp language that can easily be understood by all workers, including people who don’t speak English as a first language.
  2. Use colours, symbols and diagrams that can easily be understood, especially from a distance. Refer to AS 1319:1994 – Safety Signs for the Occupational Environment for guidance on colours and symbols.
  3. Consult with the workers and test what the proposed sign means to them.
  4. Communicate with the workers to ensure they are aware of the proposed sign.
  5. Locate the new sign close to the relevant risk exposure.
  6. If necessary include discussion within Employee, contractor & visitor inductions.
  7. Actively monitor to ensure it is effective.

QRMC has undertaken projects to review the effectiveness of signage control strategies within particular high-risk workplaces and have assisted clients with design and implementation strategies to gain the biggest impact for their signage.

Please contact QRMC for more information.