Why We Love Compliant Safety Signage (And You Should, Too!)
Compliance to the Australian Standard is the key to the most effective workplace safety signage.
We are lucky enough to live in one of the best countries in the world with a high liveability ranking and one of the best track records for workplace safety. We have government agencies dedicated to work safety, and employers that are responsible for our health and wellbeing. In a 2002 comparison of established market economies, Australia had the 7th lowest workplace fatality rate, and since then the introduction of the National OHS Strategy’s framework for improving Australia’s work health and safety performance has caused our rates of workplace injury and fatalities to plummet.
These Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) targets and strategies are clearly working to keep Australians from harm on the job. One of the tactics that has led to this decline in work-related injuries is the use of compliant safety signs. By placing safety signs in appropriate areas you can prevent injuries and reduce risks. Safety signs are a simple and effective way to create awareness of hazards, provide direction for what action to take and minimise liability exposure.
What is a compliant safety sign?
A compliant safety sign is one that meets specifications outlined in Australian Standard AS1319:1994 Safety Signs for the Occupational Environment. There are many different ways that the same safety message can be conveyed. Instead of “Danger" you could say “Warning", and instead of the colour yellow for a hazardous area you could use red. You could even write your safety message in a hot pink curly font surrounded by glitter. But having a consistent set of designs makes it easier for people comprehend, learn and respond appropriately. This is why AS1319 was created.
Effective communication is critical when it comes to safety, so safety signs must be clear and concise. The AS1319:1994 was developed to specify “requirements for the design and use of safety signs intended for use in the occupational environment to regulate and control safety related behaviour, to warn of hazards and to provide emergency information including fire protection information". Like all Australian Standards, it sets out specifications to ensure that compliant safety signs are fit for their purpose and consistently perform in the way intended.
The design of compliant safety signs
Design is the first key to effective safety signage. The sign must present the message in a way that is quickly and easily understood, that highlights the seriousness of the message, and that compels the reader to obey. There are several basic design principles that do this and help to reduce confusion and ambiguity:
- Simple, consistent language
- Logical and limited use of colour
- Legible typography (fonts)
- A layout that guides readers through a logical hierarchy of information
- Not overcrowding or cluttering the space
- Icons and symbols that are universally and easily understood
AS1319 outlines the exact design for each type of safety sign, including colours, shapes, symbols, wording, and even the size of the sign.
The consistency of compliant safety signs
Once you have this sort of uniformity in the form of a standard it creates familiarity as we’re repeatedly exposed to a consistent message. For instance, when you’re out on the road there are many different signs that you need to take in and respond to appropriately, like speed zones and stop signs. In Australia we have a consistent set of designs for these signs and with time and repetition we become so familiar with them that our brains process and respond to them without conscious thought. Our unconscious mind knows the meaning assigned to the colour and symbols and manages our response to it. This is called automaticity. Just like road signs create automaticity, having a consistent set of compliant safety signs is fundamental to the development of automaticity.
Automaticity makes safety signs most effective
The advantage of automaticity is that we are trained to respond to something out of habit with a faster reaction time than if we had to think it through consciously. Obviously this is especially important for safety signs. In risky situations it’s often critical that we make decisions quickly and react appropriately. A split second can be all it takes to save a life. If we are repeatedly exposed to a consistent message and design it enters our subconscious and prepares us to respond without hesitation to a hazardous situation. Familiarity with well-designed, consistent safety signs primes us to respond with automaticity.
Like other Australians, you would immediately know your life was at risk if you saw a white sign with a red oval containing the word DANGER. This is thanks to AS1319:1994. Having a universally and instantly understood sign like this makes people more likely to comply with the message. This sort of effective communication is most critical when it comes to safety, and we shouldn’t muck around with possibly confusing messages or half-hearted attempts at warnings. The effectiveness of safety signage is dependent on how well it communicates its message, and this could be the difference between life and death. By using compliant safety signs in your workplace you are providing safety messages that workers would already recognise and will notice and react to quickly and appropriately, reducing risks and saving lives. Find compliant safety signs here.