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Signing off

Kevin Rowe, Managing Director of SafetyBuyer.com describes the most common mistakes made when placing safety signs

In a busy workplace, employees come into contact with many potential risks on a daily basis. In certain sectors where workers have to handle hazardous materials, that risk is greatly increased.

For these workplaces, incorporating safety signs into the work environment is a proven way to minimise risks and keep employees safe at work. Moreover, it is a requirement of UK business owners to provide sufficient warnings of potential risks to their employees, as outlined in the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996(i).

The regulations state that:

  • Employers must take into account the results of their risk assessments before deciding when and where to use safety signs.
  • Safety signs must be provided and maintained in circumstances where there is a significant risk to health and safety that has not been removed or controlled by other methods.
  • Safety signs must not be used as a substitute for other means of controlling risks to employees.
  • Safety signs are not needed when no significant risks are present, with the exception of certain fire safety signs that are required under all circumstances.
  • Companies must ensure that their employees are aware of and understand the meaning of safety signs.

The regulations provide the groundwork for employers to make sure that no injuries occur due to negligence. However, there are a number of mistakes that FMs and business owners can make regarding the placement of their safety signage that can cause problems and leave staff members at risk.

FINDING YOUR PLACE
One of the most frequent errors made when implementing safety signs in a workplace is simply placing the signage in the wrong place. This can seem quite insignificant, but the placement of a sign can have a dramatic impact on its usefulness and effectiveness – for example, placing a sign above head height means that workers won’t see
it unless they are specifically looking for it.

Other issues regarding the placement of a sign can arise when the warning is placed too far from the intended hazard – meaning that workers don’t associate the sign with the hazard it relates to. Alternatively, having the warnings too close to a hazard can have a similar effect, as workers are unable to read the notice until they are already in danger.

To avoid these types of issues, signs should be placed in highly visible areas, ideally at eye level, and should not be obscured by other objects. Additionally, if a safety notice is required in a poorly lit location, it’s crucial that the signage is illuminated to make sure it isn’t missed by those working in the area.

LESS IS MORE
Although it seems counter-intuitive, using too many safety signs can be almost as bad for health and safety as not having the necessary notices at all. The first and most obvious reason is that employees will likely to be overwhelmed by the number of notices and may struggle to find the information that is relevant to their needs – or worse, the sheer number of notices may cause workers to ignore the information entirely.

In certain industries, employees will come into contact with a number of unavoidable hazards on a regular basis. In these types of workplaces, where a number of warning signs are required, the best approach is to ensure that the most essential warnings take priority, while warnings that relate to specific equipment or areas of the workplace are placed in those relevant locations.

Site-wide safety information can be placed at a few central locations to ensure that employees have all of the relevant information, without needing to cover the entire workplace with signage that will draw the eye away from the most important notices.

MAINTAINING STANDARDS
Once you have determined the best locations for signage to be placed, it is important to avoid another common mistake – failing to keep the notices well maintained.

In many workplaces across the country you can find broken, faded or corroded safety signs that not only affect the cleanliness of the workplace, but also make the notices difficult or impossible to read, severely compromising the usefulness of the warning.

As well as keeping permanent signage well maintained from a fixture standpoint, it’s also important to regularly review the notices and ensure that the information on it remains relevant and correct. This is particularly important if circumstances change in the workplace.

For example, this may be necessary when a piece of equipment has been replaced, the workplace has been renovated and emergency exit routes have changed; additionally, when certain members of staff have moved on, safety notices may need to be updated to reflect who the current first aider or health and safety liaison is. In all of these cases, the safety signs should be updated to reflect the new information and all employees should be notified of the changes.

KEEP IT CLEAR
The final – and arguably the most important – step is to ensure that all signage features clear messaging and that employees can quickly understand the meaning behind the notice.

Although safety signs are mostly a visual tool, it can often be difficult to decipher what the notice is warning against without the complementary text. Additionally, if a sign has too much text, workers may have trouble understanding it.

An ideal safety sign should make it clear what the warning is and state in simple terms the precise nature of the hazard and the action that should be taken to avoid it. By placing well-designed signage in the right places, your business will be able to achieve significant improvements to health and safety.

(i) www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1996/341/contents/made

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