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Not Sure What you Need? UK Health and Safety Signage Guide

What do I need to know?

identified all the risks and hazards

Are you confident that you have identified all the risks and hazards in your workplace?

As an employer, do you worry that you have missed opportunities to make people aware of existing or possible dangers?

Health and safety signage can help.

As an employer you must provide safety signs if there is a significant risk that you haven’t been able to avoid or control in any other way, through safe working practices or process controls, for example.

Wherever people are employed, you must:

  • regulate road traffic and use road traffic signs
  • maintain any safety signs you have in place
  • explain signs to your employees and tell them what they need to do when they see them.

What happens if I don’t provide the right health and safety signage?

Health and safety signage in the UK is covered by the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996. These regulations describe how you should design and use health and safety signs.

Anywhere people are employed will be covered by the Regulations, but you don’t have to provide safety signs if they won’t help to reduce a risk or if the risk isn't significant. It’s your responsibility to understand risks in the workplace and how to manage them.

Signs and signals can’t be used as a substitute for properly controlled health and safety risks. They are used to remind employees of the risks and what they should do to keep themselves safe.

If you don’t provide adequate signage you could be subject to enforcement action including significant penalties from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and enforcement agencies. Action can be taken against companies, managers and people who are designated as ‘responsible persons’.

More importantly, your employees could be at risk or injured.

Furthermore, staff can sometimes become ‘blind’ to hazards in the workplace over time, so it is important to consider How Effective Are Your Safety Signs?

What you will learn by reading this guide

In this guide you will find out more about the types of health and safety signage, when and where they should be used.

You will find out which important questions you need to ask yourself to choose the right health and safety signage for your business.

  • You will be able to download a free easy-to-use checklist and assess for yourself what signs you should put in place.

If you’re unsure, you should take the advice of a qualified health and safety professional.

What is health and safety signage?

Safety signs are an effective way of communicating important messages pictorially, and the History of Safety Signs is both ancient and fascinating.

Keeping people safe at work is important for all employers. You can reduce risks at work for your employees and visitors by using health and safety signs effectively. You also can highlight potential dangers and give information and directions about how to take protective action.

personal protective equipment

Safety signs are found almost everywhere; in schools, hospitals, offices, shopping centres, hotels, conference facilities and construction sites. They can be used to show the way to emergency exits, first aid facilities or firefighting equipment. They can also be used to show where access is restricted and where personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn.

Some fire safety signs might be required in other regulations.

Health and safety signs and signals can be:

  • on boards
  • in different colours
  • illuminated
  • audible
  • given through hand and arm signals

There are different types of signage including:

  • Warning – highlighting hazards or dangers.
  • Prohibition – preventing behaviour or actions that could be dangerous or increase the danger.
  • Mandatory – showing required behaviour or actions such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), including eye protection.
  • Emergency exit and escape routes – showing people how to leave safely in an emergency.
  • Fire safety – fire exit and fire alarm signs.
  • First aid – showing where first aid kits, eyewash or first aid stations can be found.
  • Coronavirus and Social Distancing Signs - Safety information, social distancing floor signs and handwashing reminders

Posters and leaflets about UK health and safety law should also be displayed prominently.

It is important to keep your signage up to date to meet new laws too, for example, you may need vaping and Electronic Cigarette Safety Signs

People are severely injured and even die in the workplace every year, so having the right types of signage in your workplace is important for all employers.

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Health and Safety Signs and Signals Regulations

These Regulations implement the EC Safety Signs Directive 92/58/EEC on providing and using health and safety signs. Although the UK has now left the EU the transition period will continue until December 2020 and businesses must still make appropriate arrangements until further information is available.

The Regulations apply anywhere people are employed, covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Signs and labels concerning the supply of substances, products and equipment or the transport of dangerous goods are covered by different regulations.

To decide when and where to use safety signs, you should take account of the results of your risk assessment made under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the Management Regulations).

Once you have identified hazards, risks and control measures to reduce or remove the risks, signage and signals can be used to minimise any remaining significant ‘residual’ risk.

BS 5499 safety signs - In addition to the Regulations, British Standard (BS5499) covers all safety warning signs, including fire safety signs, and is compatible with International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) signs.

ISO 7010 safety signs - This ISO document describes safety signs for accident prevention, fire protection, health hazard information and emergency evacuation. It includes originals that can be scaled in size and reproduced for use in the workplace. It covers everything from warnings around deep water, electricity or barbed wire to instructions such as ‘do not walk here’ or ‘do not use lifts in the event of a fire’.

Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Sites) Regulations 1990

Dangerous Substances Regulations 1990

There is some overlap between signs for stores containing dangerous substances in these Regulations and the requirements of the Notification and Marking of Sites (NAMOS) Regulations.

Site entrances to most stores containing 25 tonnes or more of dangerous substances must be marked under the NAMOS Regulations. This provides important information for fire and emergency services attending an incident, while the Regulations provide information for employees.

The signs to be used in both cases are very similar and signs complying with the NAMOS Regulations, on sites where they apply, will usually also satisfy the requirements of the Regulations.

Health and safety signs - their colours and meanings

Under the Regulations, signs in certain colours have specific meanings. They provide information or an instruction about safety or health at work. They could be signboards, in specific colours, an illuminated, photoluminescent sign, acoustic signal, a verbal communication or hand signals.

Signboards

Instructions are provided using a combination of shape, colour and a symbol or pictogram. They must be well lit so that they can be clearly seen. Many signboards also have text such as ‘Fire Exit’, for example.

Yellow safety signs

Yellow or amber signs provide a warning and make people aware that they must take precautions or care in their environment. They are often used to warn about hazardous chemicals. Typically, they are triangular, and more than half of the sign must be yellow or amber with a thick black edge and a clear pictogram of the hazard.

Red warning (prohibition) signs

Where certain types of behaviour are likely to cause a risk to health and safety red prohibition signs show what or who is not allowed. They usually show a black safety symbol in a red circle with a diagonal cross through it and have an instruction such as ‘No’ or ‘Do Not’.

Blue and white mandatory signs

Blue and white signs are known as mandatory signs because they show a required action or behaviour, such as wearing safety glasses or high visibility clothing. They are circular and more than half of the background must be blue with a white pictogram, showing what action is needed.

Green emergency signs

Green signs highlight safety, showing exit routes, first aid areas or stations. They are rectangular with white images that clearly show which direction to go or the safety facilities provided. For clarity text is often included.

For a summary, watch this short video.

Health and safety signs and meanings

In addition, signs can be provided showing fire exits, fire alarms and where first aid kits, eyewash or first aid stations can be found.

Fire safety signs

This includes signs for fire assembly points, fire extinguishers, fire alarms and fire doors. Used with fire exit signs they are an important part of your fire risk assessment and safety system.

They can be used to remind your employees to leave fire escapes unlocked and unobstructed, to avoid using lifts in an emergency and to go to the right place if the building is evacuated.

Photoluminescent Signs can be particularly important in the event of poor visibility caused by power failure or smoke from a fire.

First aid signs

Well-positioned first-aid signs help people to find essential equipment if urgent medical attention is needed, such as automated external defibrillators (AEDs), as well as first aider signs so that trained employees can be found quickly.

Colour Meaning Information or required action
Yellow safety signsYellow safety signs

Prohibition, danger warning or alarm

Dangerous nehaviour; stop; shutdown; emergency cut-out devices; evacuate

Red safety signsRed safety signs Warning Be careful; take precautions; examine
BlueBlue Mandatory Specific behaviour such as wearing protective equipment
Green safety signsGreen safety signs Emergency escape, first-aid sign
or
No danger
Doors; exits; escape routes; equipment and facilities
or
Return to normal

Dangerous goods being transported by road or rail

The Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (Classification, Packaging and Labelling) Regulations cover the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous goods being transported by road or rail. Dangerous substances are divided into nine groups, with an explanation of their hazards and signage that should be used during transport. Design and use of appropriate signage for each class is described in detail.

Signage for dangerous goods being transported by road or rail

Signage for dangerous goods Back to index

An easy guide - using health and safety signs

Are you unsure about which types of signs to use, where, when and how?

You can use our simple checklist to review your health and safety signage. Here’s an easy summary.

Free checklist download

Minimum requirements - Schedule 1 of the Regulations covers the minimum requirements for safety signs and signals at work when you need to provide a message or information.

Additional measures - If you have any employees whose hearing or sight is impaired, even if this is because they are wearing personal protective equipment, you will need additional measures to make sure they can see or hear a warning sign or signal, for example by increasing the brightness or volume of the sign or signal.

Multiple signs or signals - In some cases, more than one type of sign might be needed. For example, an illuminated warning sign highlighting a specific risk might be combined with an audible alarm meaning ‘general danger’, or hand signals given along with verbal instructions.

Using signs on containers and pipes - containers, tanks and the visible pipes for hazardous chemicals in the workplace should generally be clearly labelled with the pictograms from Annex V of the CLP Regulation or from the signs and signals Regulations. Additional information about the type of risk might also be needed. If containers are being moved or transported additional EU signs might also be needed.

There are some exceptions when:

  • a pipe is short and connected to a clearly signed container
  • the contents of containers change regularly, although you must still make sure your employees understand the possible hazards with suitable process instruction sheets or training, for example.

The best place for the signs or labels is where employees are likely to be exposed, for example at sampling or filling points, drain valves, and flanged joints. BS 1710:2014 Specification for identification of pipelines and services provides information about the colour of pipes.

Braille safety signs - for visually impaired people braille and tactile safety signs including information signs, prohibition signs and hazard signs, are important to keep people safe and informed when they are on your premises.

Illuminated signs – made of transparent or translucent materials that are illuminated from inside or behind, these signs give the appearance of a luminous surface and are often used for emergency exit signs.

Verbal signals – spoken messages, either human or electronic, can be automatically generated or recorded. They are often used to give directions or warn about hazards such as ‘mind the gap’ at railway and underground stations. They must be clear, simple and easy to hear and understand.

Seton offer a new motion sensor configurable sign - Find out more here

Audible signs – these are sound messages, alarms and alerts that don’t use a human or artificial voice, such as a fire alarm.

Hand signals – sometimes used in noisy environments, movements and positions of arms or hands can give recognised guidance signals in hazardous or dangerous situations.

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Maintaining health and safety signs

Your safety signs must be properly maintained so that they provide information clearly and effectively. This might include routinely cleaning signboards, regularly checking illuminated signs and testing acoustic signals. You should take into account where your signs will be positioned, including whether they will be displayed indoors or outdoors. Our Signs Materials & Finishes Guide will help you select the most appropriate material for your safety signs.

Your signs must still serve their purpose, even if there is a power failure, so they might need emergency lighting or to be made of a photoluminescent material.

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Health and safety signs – specific risks and signs

Electrical - Electrical accidents can be very serious. The risks include fires, serious injuries and even fatalities. Signs about electrical risks, often using the easily recognisable lightning symbol, at appropriate locations can be used to warn of potential dangers. There are many different locations where this could be needed, so signs suitable for indoor and outdoor use, as well as tough industrial environments might be required.

Hot work and weldingHot work increases the risk of fire and requires adequate controls. BS9999:2017 on Fire Safety says that hot work should only be undertaken when a suitable alternative isn’t available. In many cases, where fumes, sparks and flames are likely, a permit to work will be needed along with appropriate signs.

Machinery – There are risks when using mechanical equipment, especially for cutting, grinding and drilling. PPE and protective guards are often required. Clear, simple information placed nearby can remind your employees about their responsibilities, including switching equipment off when not in use.

Hazardous substances - Hazard pictograms alert your employees to the presence of hazardous materials. The CLP hazard pictograms are very similar to those used in older labelling systems and given in the shape of a diamond with a red border and white background. The pictograms show how the chemicals could cause harm to people or the environment. One or more pictograms might be used to label a single chemical.

Construction sites – The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) makes sure that people working on construction sites have training and qualifications for their job. To complete the certification process people must be aware of the types of health and safety signage needed on site.

Warehouse – See our Guide to Warehouse Safety Signage for more information on what safety signs you need to be safe and compliant in a warehouse environment.

Gas and explosives – Signs should permanently mark areas, rooms and enclosures that are used to store explosive substances or for areas where an explosive atmosphere could exist.

AsbestosAsbestos can be a risk indoors or outdoors in almost any workplace. Inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to serious illness and even death. To comply with legislation any possible hazards should be highlighted with asbestos warning signs.

Protective equipment – When personal protective equipment (PPE) or safety clothing needs to be worn mandatory safety clothing signs will make sure everyone is aware of what they need to do. They will help you to comply with health and safety regulations.

Vehicle movement – In warehouses and distribution centres, for example, vehicle movements must be managed to minimise risk. This includes areas that are restricted for pedestrians or vehicles, requiring signs to indicate when they are ‘Not Allowed’ and where there is ‘Danger’, as well as mandatory signs concerning PPE and recognised Banksmen’s signals.

Pedestrians – Pedestrians must be protected inside your premises and outdoors. By providing signs that clearly highlight the safest routes for pedestrians you can help to prevent accidents, avoid confusion and keep people on foot safely away from vehicles and machinery.

Overhead risks – Your risk assessment will identify what you will need to do to comply with health and safety regulations, including overhead risks such as unstable structures, cranes and power cables, for example, which should be clearly signed.

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Summary of the key points in this guide

  1. Health and safety signs are an important part of your health and safety provision at work and can help to reduce accidents in the workplace.
  2. You should use health and safety signs where your health and safety risk assessment has shown that a significant risk still remains after all other measures have been put in place.
  3. You aren’t required to use health and safety signs if they won’t help to reduce risks.
  4. The Signs and Signals Regulations apply to all places where people work.
  5. There are four specific types of sign for warnings, prohibitions, mandatory safety information (such as wearing PPE or high visibility clothing) and for emergency or safety information (such as the route to a fire exit or the nearest first aid kit) as well as verbal and audible signs and hand signals.
  6. Specific signs are needed when hazardous substances are being transported by road or rail.
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Health and safety signage – frequently asked questions

What signs do I need for my business?

The type and number of signs you will need to comply with health and safety regulations will depend on the hazards you have identified in your health and safety risk assessment.

Where should health and safety signs be placed?

Signs should be displayed so that anyone approaching a potential hazard from any direction can clearly see the warning. Your safety messages can include graphics on walls and floors.

How big should my health and safety signs be?

Safety signs should be large enough to be read from the position where they will normally be viewed. You will need to consider how far away someone might be when they need to know about a hazard and, if necessary, to prevent them from entering an area where there is a risk, such as a loading bay, for example.

What are health and safety signs made of?

The best material for your safety signs will depend on whether they will be used indoors, outdoors or in harsh environments. Materials can include acrylic, aluminium, plastic, fabric, vinyl and wood.