Wording your safety signs
The language used around the workplace can vary wildly. However, when it comes to your safety signs the same wording will come up over and over again. The language isn't usually standardised, but certain words are often chosen over others. Surely as long as the same message is conveyed, any wording is fine?
Actually, the language used on the signs is very important. Ideally, when deciding on the wording of your warning signs you want to strike a balance between informing your employees of any danger and taking away from the message of the sign itself.
This is more complicated than it looks, but it can be done more easily if you understand the logic behind the language used on safety signage. Here is our guide to this aspect of the field:
Have a look at the images used on your signs. Most of them will be simple pictograms, even though a more detailed, accurate picture of a danger could easily be drawn. The official guidelines from the Health and Safety Executive say: "Pictograms used in signs need to be as simple as possible containing only necessary detail." But why is this?
Put simply, if an image is too complicated it takes the brain longer to work out exactly what it is. The pictograms convey the information in a manner that does not require any interpretation. This is exactly the approach you should take with the text on your signs.
Picture two doors, each with a notice above them. One says: "In case of fire, walk calmly and carefully through this door," while the other simply reads: "Fire exit." If a fire broke out, which do you think people would go to? Most would agree that the simple one is the obvious choice.
Keep your wording short and sweet. Use as few words as possible so that the message you're trying to convey doesn't get confused. Also, bear in mind that many people do not speak English as their first language, so are more likely to understand one-word signs than ones with full sentences to work through.
The HSE guidelines state: "It may sometimes be useful to supplement a safety sign with text to aid understanding." This should tell you everything you need to know about how to phrase the writing on your signs; it needs to stay on message and complement the image, not replace it.
This means if you have a safety sign warning employees about machinery with moving parts, the text should read something along the lines of "warning: moving parts". Anything else is extraneous, taking away from the message of the sign.
For this reason, the HSE says a supplementary sign with text on it should be "the same as the colour used on the safety sign it is supplementing". This is another way of remaining on-message as much as possible, as it is clear the signs mean the same thing.
Look at what the sign is telling your employees. Is it a blue, 'mandatory' sign telling people about a practice that needs to be observed? If so, the text needs to convey exactly this. An example would be: "Face protection must be worn." This tells you exactly what must be done, backing up the images on the sign.
Another thing you need to bear in mind is that you need your signs to be understood as clearly as possible. The HSE guidelines say: "Signboards are only effective if they can be seen and understood. If too many signs... are placed together there is a danger of confusion or of important information being overlooked."
How does this apply to your wording? Well, if you have more than one sign in close proximity, you will probably want to keep the text for each one minimal. The more words you use, the larger the sign and the more cluttered the wall appears. This takes away from the overall message of the signs.
If you can manage to keep the language you use on your safety signage short, sweet, clear and understandable then you should have no problem making your employees understand the dangers of your workplace.
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