Efficient, simple and clear communication is key in an increasingly diverse workforce. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of employee safety. The standardized use of color can instruct and warn workers through the use of safety symbols. The American National Standard Institute has issued a standard, ANSI Z545.1, that addresses this issue and assigns meaning to the use of specific colored safety symbols in the workplace.
The colors red, yellow and orange are most commonly used in safety symbols in industrial environments. These colors are used to designate and warn of various levels of hazards associated with working conditions or potential actions taken by a worker. Red is most commonly paired with white and black in safety symbols and safety signs found in the workplace. This color combination is used to identify the highest level of hazard, danger signifying an imminent or immediate hazard. In the workplace this color is also meant to indicate a stop action such as the emergency shutoff of machinery. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires symbols and signage for fire equipment such as fire extinguishers to be red.
Orange and Yellow
Orange is usually paired with black for use with safety symbols in an industrial setting. This color combination indicates a lesser hazard than red indicates and is used as a warning for dangerous machinery and energized equipment that could potentially cause injury.
Yellow is most often paired with black to indicate a level of caution for hazards that if not avoided could cause minor to moderate injury. These hazards include such dangers as striking or being struck by an object, tripping, slipping, falling or being caught in or between machinery. Although black and white are officially designated for pedestrian walkways in an industrial setting, sometimes yellow is used instead as a caution, especially in areas where there is a fall or traffic hazard.
Green is universally used in industrial symbols and signs to denote safety. This color is typically used to denote the location of emergency equipment such as first aid kits, and other safety equipment such as emergency eye-wash stations and deluge showers. Recently green has been used more often to mark emergency exits over the traditional red signs.
Blue, Black and White
Industry uses blue and white or black and white signs to post informational notices, give direction or mark traffic aisles and boundaries. Blue can additionally be used to warn workers to not use equipment that is currently undergoing repair such as in the use of lock-out tag-out cards.