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How to Craft an Effective Safety Sign Message

The ANSI Z535 Standard for Environmental and Facility Safety Signs states, (as recommended practice) that the wording used on your safety-related hazard alerting sign should contain 3 elements:

1) A hazard description/ID statement. Simply put, this is what the hazard is. Examples: High voltage inside, Rotating blades, Buried cable, Explosive gas, Slip hazard.

2) An avoidance statement (or ‘action’ statement). A statement that instructs the reader on actions necessary to avoid the hazard. Examples: Keep out!, Do not climb, Keep away, No open flames, Call before digging.

3) A consequence statement. This is a statement that informs the viewer of the possible consequences if the warning is ignored. Examples: Will cause serious burns or death, May result is serious cuts or loss of fingers, May cause dizziness and difficulty breathing.

The word message should be written in headline style, and all elements of the message should be worded in clear, simple, and direct language, without unnecessary words such as pronouns (ex: “this”, “that”, “they”), articles (ex: “a”, “the”, “an”), and other non-essential words.

Elements of the word message should be separated by white space. These design recommendations make the word message less cluttered, easier to read, and able to be more quickly comprehended by the reader.

Contrast and consider these two messages that convey the same information. Which is easier to read and more quickly comprehended?

Consider the Target Audience

The content and layout design of every safety sign must be evaluated on its own terms. Fortunately ANSI Z535 allows flexibility to adapt these rules where special conditions exist.

Your target audience is the people that the safety warning sign is intended to inform and protect, and those people that would be expected to encounter the hazard being signed.

But the message you craft may be affected by factors such as the target audience’s prior experience and knowledge with the hazard, training, and level of access to the hazard.

For example your audience might be the general public that lives and works and plays where the hazard is present, but otherwise is not experienced with or required to know much about it.

On the other hand the hazard being signed might be equipment inside a securely locked cabinet or fenced enclosure, that can only be accessed by trained employees required to service the equipment and who have extensive training and experience with the potential hazards it presents.

But how might this affect your message?

Content Omission

Space on a sign is limited. If it is necessary that a word message contains a large amount of information, the message and other graphics might appear cluttered and become difficult to read, and the text and other graphics might have to become reduced in size such that they can’t be read from a safe distance from the actual hazard.

In these cases it might be considered to omit some of the elements of the word message (hazard ID, avoidance, consequence statements).

A factor to consider might include whether some parts of the message can be understood from a representational symbol included on the sign.

Or for instance the consequence statement might be omitted where only trained workers will encounter the hazard, are already well informed of what will happen if they ignore the warning, and the space on the sign might need to contain other more critical information they need such as operational controls necessary for safe operation of hazardous equipment. 

Ordering of Content

Information considered to be the most important should come first. Where fast reaction time is critical, the actions necessary to avoid the hazard should be ordered first.

Where avoidance reaction time is less critical, or there are other barrier controls such as locked equipment cabinet doors or fenced enclosures preventing interaction with the hazard, the hazard description/ID will be the most important information to place first.

The consequence statement is best understood when it is placed after the hazard description statement, and most always is last.

Necessary emergency and contact information should be placed after the hazard description, avoidance action, and consequence statements.

The Electromark Advantage

Still unsure how to craft and format your safety sign message? Electromark’s experienced customer service and graphic art design teams can help you design a safety sign message that considers the circumstances of your application.

Electromark has designed thousands of signs used by other utilities in similar applications that can be utilized as a template and modified for your unique situation.

To learn more,  call our customer service team or contact your Electromark Rep. Group agent today!

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Brandon Furber View All

I have been in my present role as Technical Sales and Application Engineer with Electromark for 9+ years, and with the company for 14 years. My earlier experience with the company was with our printing and other manufacturing operations. My knowledge with Electromark and the industries it serves includes materials, products, process capabilities, weathering durability, regulations, and standards. See my Linkedin profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/brandon-furber-0036644a/

With over 40 years of experience, Electromark specializes in identification and safety marking solutions for the electrical utility industry, other service utilities, and the outdoor industrial workplace. Our products are engineered for the harsh, outdoor environment.

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