Do Your Health and Safety Signs Meet Regulations?

If you run a business, you have an obligation to use health and safety signs, where necessary, to keep employees safe whilst on your premises. In this post, we’ll look at what your responsibilities are and show you how to use signs to stay compliant with EU directives and UK law.

When do you need a health and safety sign?

Current regulations require employers to make sure that health and safety signs are in place and maintained in situations where there is “a significant risk to health and safety that has not been removed or controlled by other methods.” At the same time, a sign is only required when it has the potential to reduce the risk.

How to find out if a sign is needed?

In order to work out if safety signs are needed, you will first need to carry out a risk assessment. This is required under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The outcome of the risk assessment will identify any hazards, the risks associated with them and the control measures which must be implemented to protect people.

If, after those control measures have been put in place, there are still significant risks that employees need to be aware of, signs must be used to warn them. Do note, however, that a sign cannot be used as a replacement for a safety control.

Fire signs

Some fire signs are operated under separate legislation, so, even if they are not needed for health and safety hazards, they may still be required for other purposes, for example, showing the nearest evacuation exits or the location of fire alarms and extinguishers. Check with your local fire service that you are following procedures correctly.

What is a safety sign?

A health and safety sign is a sign that provides information or instructions about health or safety. Varieties of signs include a signboard (e.g. a sign on a wall), an acoustic signal (fire alarm), a colour (red for danger) or an illuminated sign. They also include verbal instructions and hand signals.

A signboard is one of the most common forms of health and safety sign. It provides information by using colours, shapes, symbols and pictures and, in many instances, is accompanied by text. Signboards are used for a variety of purposes, these include:

  • prohibition signs, e.g. no entry
  • warning signs, e.g. danger: slippery surface
  • mandatory signs, e.g. eye protection must be worn
  • emergency signs, e.g. emergency exit


How signs should be used

Signs should be placed where they are most appropriate and where they are easily visible, for example, at the entrance to a room where there is a hazard or near a hazardous piece of machinery. If an employee’s vision is restricted because of their work or protective clothing, additional measures need to be implemented, such as adding a warning sound or by illuminating the sign.
To ensure that all signs are clear and legible and that people can quickly learn their meaning, regulations now require businesses to use standardised signs that are common across the EU. Although there might be slight differences in design, the intention is that whichever EU country they are used in, all EU nationals will know what the signs mean, even if the text underneath is written in a foreign language. This means that companies can no longer place homemade signs on their premises unless they conform with EU regulations.

Sign Maintenance

Under EU regulations, employers have a duty to ensure that all health and safety signs are properly maintained so that they can continue to carry out their function. For signboards, this means they need to be routinely cleaned to prevent their instructions being covered by dirt or dust and that they are not covered or hidden behind by pieces of equipment left by employees.
At the same time, signs need to continue protecting employees in the event of a power failure, for this reason, either emergency lighting should be installed or the signs need to be made from phosphorescent material. This requirement does not apply if a power failure removes the hazard.

What makes a good signboard?

In order to fulfil their function and adequately protect employees, signboards should be appropriately large and clear enough to be seen and understood. The size needed will depend on the distance over which the sign needs to be viewed.

As most signboards are needed on a permanent basis, they need to be durable and long-lasting. They should be able to withstand occasional bangs and scrapes and resist fading in sunlight. In addition, they need to be securely positioned so that they do not become loose or displaced.

Summing up

If you are an employer, hopefully, this post will have given you a better understanding of your obligations when it comes to using health and safety signs in your workplace. You should know what those regulations are, what kinds of signs you need to use and how to use and maintain them.

If you require signage that will help you comply with regulations, check out our range of health and safety signs. We provide signs in a vast range of sizes, materials and messages for use in businesses, construction sites, schools and public buildings. We also provide information signs for everything from washroom hygiene to dog walking and smoking.

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