Changing Signs: The Evolution of Safety Signs in the Workplace

by Bronson Motor Speedway | Tuesday, Nov 8, 2016 | 1178 views

Workplace Safety Safety signs are one of the oldest types of safety equipment used in worksites across the globe. They began to be used at the start of the 20th century and they continue to play an important role in preventing workplace accidents today. It is estimated that these signs save thousands of lives each year. When you look at the safety signs in your workplace, can you imagine the era when these signs developed?

The Early Days

Two key years, 1914 and 1941, changed the way people managed safety in the workplace. In 1914, the Workers Compensation Bureau in the United States (US) issued a Signs and Slogans pamphlet that advocated the use of safety signs in languages workers could understand. Although the pamphlet mentioned that safety signs were a workplace requirement, it did not give a standard guideline to follow. Thus, companies exercised their freedom to select the design, colours and text for each safety sign. This continued until 1941 when the American Standards Association (ASA) published ASA Z35.1. This documentation specified the standard formats for industrial accident-prevention signs such as danger signs, caution signs and exit signs.

Further Standardisation Throughout 1970s and 1980s

During the 1970s and 1980s, due to the growth in global trade and the influx of workers from abroad, the US courts established a legal framework to set out the responsibilities of companies to warn workers of dangers, and their liabilities should there be insufficient warning signs in the workplace. The ASA continued to develop their specifications, adding graphics and symbols to safety signs to break language and literacy barriers among the workforce. At the end of the 1980s, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, formerly ASA) further evaluated the standards and revised inconsistencies in the graphics, text and colour of signs and labels.

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Globalisation Improves Everything

As part of globalisation efforts, ANSI released Z535.4 to harmonise their signage formats with those of the International Organization for Standardization. This created a more rigorous level of best safety practices for safety labels and signs. Workplaces across the world then adopted the new standards and could convey universal safety messages to millions of people.

Safety signs have truly made the workplace a safer place.

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