Legal Article - Health & Safety

Health and Safety Signs and Symbols

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act there is a general duty to provide safety signs where necessary to reduce a risk to people’s health and safety. This is reinforced by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Under these Regulations a risk assessment is necessary to identify workplace hazards, the degree of associated risk, and the necessary control measures needed to reduce the risk.

If the degree of risk remaining is sufficient to warrant warning employees and informing them of the control measures needed, the new Regulations require employers to provide safety signs, although it is made clear that signs may not be used as a substitute for other more effective control measures.

Similarly, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations require dangerous locations and traffic routes to be adequately marked and the Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Sites) Regulations 1990 require stores containing 25 tonnes or more of dangerous substances to be identified by appropriate warning signs.

The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 replace the 1980 Safety Signs Regulations. The latter required safety signs to conform to the British Standard on safety signs (BS 5378).

The new Regulations do not require existing UK safety signs that conform to the British Standard to be changed significantly. They do require, however, an extension in the use of signs, extend the definition of signs to a wider range of types of signals and specify the types of sign required at the workplace.

The Regulations define a “safety sign” as referring to a specific object, activity or situation and providing information or instructions about health and safety at work by means of a signboard, a safety colour, an illuminated sign, an acoustic signal, a verbal communication or a hand signal.

Safety signs must be provided in situations where risks cannot be avoided or adequately reduced in other ways.

Employers must provide employees with information on measures that need to be taken in connection with safety signs, and give training and instruction on the signs’ meanings and actions required in response.

The types of signs required at the workplace are as follows:

Prohibitory Signs: round, black pictogram on white background, red edging and diagonal line (e.g. No Smoking; Not Drinkable)

Warning Signs: triangular, black pictogram on a yellow background with black edging (e.g. Explosive Material; Toxic Material)

Mandatory Signs: round, white pictogram on blue background (e.g. Eye Protection to be worn; Safety Helmet must be worn)

Emergency Escape or First Aid Signs: rectangular or square, white pictogram on a green background (e.g. Safety Shower Location; First Aid Box)

Fire-Fighting Signs: rectangular or square, white pictogram on a red background (e.g. Fire Extinguisher; Fire Ladder).

Information Signs: (e.g. Assembly point)

Published: 23 Mar 2011

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