Safety signs – not just for decoration

Safety signs – not just for decoration

Did you know that there are over 150 safety signs in South Africa; each symbolising a warning, or a safety feature? Are you sure that your business has the correct signs displayed? THATO TINTE explores.

We see them every day and make use of them regularly. Graphic signs and visual symbols are all around us, helping us make sense of our world.

The safety signs in the workplace each have a specific meaning and function to help us to avoid potential workplace hazards. In order for us to take heed of the warnings, it is important to be able to differentiate them and identify their different functions.

To be compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers are legally required to display certain safety signs on their premises. Morne’ Louw, sales manager – South Africa, at Grafo Wiremakers Africa, which is owned by Brady Corporation, says that safety signs are divided into five categories: warning, prohibition, mandatory, and emergency and fire-equipment signs.

It’s important that signs conform to the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).

Warning signs convey messages of danger or safety risks. These include signs warning of slippery walking surfaces or high-voltage alerts.

Prohibition signs are the “don’t” signs which forbid behaviour or action. These include signs prohibiting smoking, fire/open flames or the use of cellphones.

Louw says that mandatory signs are standardised and regulated by law. They include road signs, safety signs and emergency signs. These are the “do” signs which convey information and specify instructions to be followed.

Brady Corporation says these signs indicate that a particular course of action must be taken. Failing to display mandatory signs at your workplace is a legal offence.

Safety signs – not just for decoration

Other mandatory signs include; caution signs, hazardous chemical signs, safety directions, notice signs, electrical power signs and signs of restricted areas. All the respective hazards found in your workplace must have their relevant signage.

Emergency signs are “general information” signs designed to direct or guide. Emergency signs can direct people out of dangerous situations or simply give general information about one’s surroundings.

These include emergency exits directing to escape routes, ladies’/men’s toilets or signs indicating location of first-aid equipment. Fire-equipment signs and fire-action signage are included in this category.

Louw says it is not a legal requirement to have “glow-in-the-dark” signs. “While these may be required in some municipalities, there are benefits far beyond compliance with local fire codes,” he adds.

Whether glowing or not, it is vital that signs are clear, visible, unobstructed and easy to understand. To ensure visibility, it is recommended that safety signs are placed above eye level and that the bottom of the sign is two metres above floor level.

Although signs should not be placed on moving objects such as doors or elevators, Louw says the more signs you have, the better – safety signs, warning signs, pipe markers, floor marking and even product identification. “These are always needed in any facility,” he says.

Safety signs promote a safe work environment and help minimise injuries. Employers must fully comply with regulations applicable to signs to highlight the importance of safety precautions among employees.

Safety signs – not just for decoration

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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