30th Sep, 2020 Read time 7 minutes

Creating the right statements in your health and safety signs

Article Summary

This article produced by the HSE Network looks at the different rules you have to follow when implementing health and safety signs. Some of the key takeaways include:

  • The need for signs to be updated with the latest legislation
  • The difference between a precautionary or hazard statement
  • Where you should position health and safety signs


When you are developing the health and safety management strategy within your organisation it is easy to get bogged down in the details of the policies you implement, without a focus on the physical manifestations of your safety mantra. Signs whilst viewed by some as ineffective, help to support good behavioural safety practices through influencing the unconscious behaviours of those in the workplace.

With that said, there are some rules of best practice to follow when it comes to creating safety signs and statements that are fit for purpose whilst also legally compliant and effective. Here we have a look at the different methods to follow when creating health and safety signs for your workplace.


1. Do you need a precautionary or hazard statement?

The CLP regulations stipulate two types of statements that can be used in health and safety signage, precautionary and hazard. Before we look at the statements it is worth noting that whilst the UK is leaving the EU currently the health and safety responsibility of employers has not changed in regard to regulations during the transition period.

Precautionary signs encourage the worker to take some mitigating steps to keep them and others safe; this can include the wearing of PPE, discouragement of eating or drinking near the effected area or maximum capacity limits for equipment. Hazard statements are used to describe the nature of the hazard and the effects it could have on the body; these may include ‘toxic if swallowed’ ‘causes serious burns’ or ‘can lead to blindness’.

Getting a good mix of these statements on your signs will help you cover different bases when it comes to health and safety. Naturally many will choose to implement generic health and safety signs and whilst this may be acceptable for a lot of organisation, the more tailored and bespoke you can make the message, the more likely it is to be heard and followed.


2. What should I avoid when developing health and safety signs?

When it comes to what to avoid, in general, you should avoid clashes with the current legislation and best practice. That is to say for COSHH signs, you should avoid using terms like ‘non-toxic’ or ‘safe’ on labels of substances that are classified as hazardous. In general, statements that are inconsistent with the classification of the substance should be avoided.


You may also be tempted to make your own health and safety signs. The governing bodies advise against this. Whilst it many ways it will be better than having no sign at all, they may easily deteriorate and if not produced correctly they may prove illegible to the workers who they are targeted at.


And brand and product names that may be shown on the health and safety signs should also be treated in the same approach. If the word ‘eco’ features on a brand it should not feature on the health and safety sign of a hazardous substance.

There are also a number of biocides that cannot appear on health and safety hazard labels in relations to the European Biocidal Products Regulation (EC) No 528/2012.


3. Where should I put my health and safety signs?

The location of your health and safety signs can have a big impact on their effectiveness in conveying the right message. The location will vary on several factors including:

  • The type of workplace
  • The type of hazard
  • The severity of a potential hazard
  • The layout of the workspace

Despite the potential differences, there are several different rules of best practice to follow. Try to put the sign in an area where it is likely to get a lot of views and clearly demonstrates the danger to the potential hazard in the area. This should also allow for enough time for the individual to prepare for the hazard If need be.

Naturally, walls make a good position for health and safety signs to be displayed on. They are out of the way and can be easily maintained. Equally Safety signs can also be present on the necessary equipment which may present a hazard.

It is also worth stating that in some instances more than one health and safety signs may be needed. This could be the case for example if there is a respiratory hazard combined with stairways. If these examples are present in your workplace, make sure to position both health and safety signs in visible areas that illustrate the dangers.


4. Do health and safety signs work?

Health and safety signs are important for compliance however they also need to have the ability to influence behaviour if they are to be truly effective. Health and safety policies require a lot of training; however, a well-positioned and designed sign can provide an instant example of what a worker should do to work safely.

This positively influences behaviour and can guide workers to safe methods of working as well as ways to avoid hazards. Their benefits have been well documented however they are not a silver bullet and should not be viewed as a way to replace good safety procedures and training.


What do I need to do to maintain the signs?

Ensuring the health hand safety signs in your organisation are well maintained will ensure they are always clearly visible for employees and contribute to the overall safety of your workplace. To maintain your health and safety signs, make sure they are regularly cleaned. In addition to this safety, signs should also be replaced when they have damaged through wear and tear.

Whilst you do need to keep the signs in good condition, maintaining them requires more than just keeping them usable in the workplace. You should also work out if the signs are up to date and have not been changed in legislation. For example, as part of maintenance, many employers had to change the COSHH symbols from the old ones to the new ones to ensure they had the right health and safety signs. This is vitally important from a compliance point of view.


Develop an understanding of the kind of health and safety signs you need to introduce

As we have hopefully shown, the design and wording of health and safety sign can have a big impact n its effectiveness in the workplace. If you would like to know more about health and safety signs, we have also looked at the meaning of the various COSHH symbols and the use of other health and safety signs in the workplace. Developing a good understanding of the signs at all levels of the workplace will encourage more workers to follow their recommendations.


About the Author:

This article has been produced by the HSE Network following the correct information from the HSE Executive on health and safety signs and what you need to do when implementing them in your workplace.

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