The term safety colors is used to describe the standard use of colors for safety purposes in the workplace. There are many standards in place concerning safety colors from a variety of organizations including OSHA, ANSI, and others. Depending on the situation, each color is assigned a different meaning, which allows people to immediately determine what type of safety hazard is in the area, even if they are too far away to read any actual writing.
While there are many organizations and agencies that assign safety colors different meanings, a lot of them have significant overlap. This is done intentionally to help ensure standards apply across as wide a range of situations as possible.
OSHA Safety Colors
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a number recommendations about colors that should be used to improve safety. Looking at the different sets of guidelines they provide can help facilities learn how to properly use safety colors, which will not only improve workplace safety, but will also help them stay in compliance with OSHA guidelines.
OSHA Recommended Color Coding
The first set of safety colors issued by OSHA covers the broad categories of hazards that exist in facilities, and how people should be warned about them. There are four main types of warning language used for this set of standards:
- Danger - To alert people to a danger (which is used when there is an immediate risk), OSHA says signs and other safety signals should be red or predominantly red. Any lettering or symbols need to be a contrasting color to ensure maximum visibility.
- Warning - The warning category is for when there is a risk, but it is not as severe or immediate as when danger is used. The safety color associated with warning is orange or predominantly orange. As with the red, any lettering or symbols should be a contrasting color.
- Caution - This category is for alerting people to a potential risk, and the color used is yellow or predominantly yellow.
- Biological Hazard - Biohazard dangers have gotten their own category because of the unique risks they present. When issuing a safety alert about biohazards, the color to use is fluorescent orange or orange-red.
OSHA Safety Color Code for Marking Physical Hazards
OSHA has laid out safety color codes that should be used when there are physical hazards in a facility. There are just two colors covered for physical hazards:
- Red - Red should be used when there is a fire-related hazard in an area. This includes areas near open flames as well as flammable materials that could ignite or explode. Red can also be used to alert people to stop, which is essential for indoor or outdoor driving and other situations.
- Yellow - Yellow is used for hazards related to striking, falling, slipping, tripping, pinch points, and other similar hazards that are common in many manufacturing or warehouse facilities.
The colors in this category overlap those in the other category. In most situations, however, it is possible to have them apply properly in both situations. A fire risk, for example, will be red both because it is a fire hazard and because it represents a significant danger to the facility and all employees.
ANSI Safety Colors
Another major organization that provides safety color recommendations is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI is not a governmental organization and therefore has no enforcement abilities like OSHA does. Despite this fact, however, ANSI's standard is generally followed throughout the country and even in many places around the world.
This is because the ANSI standards, including those that apply to safety colors, are recognized as among the best in the world. In fact, many of OSHA's color standards are drawn from the ANSI system.
ANSI Safety Color Categories
The following are the higher-level categories for safety colors issued by the ANSI Z535.1 code.
- Red - The color red is used on any safety signs, labels, or other objects to signify danger or to alert people that they need to stop.
- Orange - The color orange is used to alert people to the fact that there are dangerous parts of a machine or equipment. The danger could be from crushing, cutting, shocking or otherwise harming people or the facility. This is most commonly used on labels that are applied to machinery, but could also be used on signs and other objects.
- Yellow - Anywhere that caution needs to be used, the color yellow should be primary on the signs or labels alerting people to this fact. Similar to OSHA, this includes risks of tripping, falling, getting burned, being caught in a pinch point, experiencing hearing damage, and almost any other common hazard that may be present.
- Green - Green is used to alert people to the presence of an emergency egress. This is important for helping people escape from an area if they need to. Another place where green is used according to ANSI is to identify where first aid and other types of safety equipment are kept.
- Blue - Blue is used on signs and labels that provide information about a particular item or area. This information doesn't necessarily have to be safety related.
- Black & White - Black & white signs or labels are used for guiding traffic or telling people which direction to go. These colors can also be for housekeeping information in the facility. While not specifically safety related, having this type of signage can directly improve the safety of the facility.
- Purple - Purple was being reserved by ANSI for future use, but it has become a de facto standard for radiation hazards through popular use.
- Gray - Gray is reserved for future use by ANSI.
ANSI Pipe Color Markings
Another area where ANSI has used colors to improve safety is pipe markings. Pipes contain a wide range of liquids and gases, which are used throughout a facility. One big safety hazard related to pipes is that it is difficult or impossible to know exactly what is in them, unless they are labeled.
Since pipes are quite small in some cases, it can be difficult to read labels on pipes from a distance. This is why safety colors are so important. ANSI has established the following safety colors specifically for pipe labels:
- Yellow - This is for flammable liquids or gases.
- Brown - Brown is used for any combustible liquids or gases.
- Orange - The orange labels are for toxic and/or corrosive solutions.
- Red - Red is for fire-quenching liquids or solutions.
- Green - Water is in green pipes. Note that this can be water used for coolant, waste, or other things, so it is not necessarily potable.
- Blue - Blue is used for compressed air.
These safety colors for pipe markings are important to remember, especially if an industrial label maker is used to create labels in the facility.
Where Can Safety Colors Be Used?
A facility can use safety colors anywhere they are necessary. In most cases, however, there are common ways these colors are used across multiple facilities, and even in multiple industries. One of the best ways to ensure a facility gets the best benefits from safety colors is to learn from the proven strategies of other companies. The following are some great ways to apply safety colors in any facility.
How to Add Safety Colors
Once a safety manager knows which colors to use where, it is important to learn the best ways to actually add those colors to an area. There are quite a few options, and the best solution depends on the situation. Taking the time to evaluate a facility and choose the best method ensures these safety colors are easily visible and that they stay in place for a long period of time.
- Labels - Safety labels are very common in most facilities. These labels can be ordered pre-printed or custom made in a facility with an industrial label printer. One important thing to remember when creating custom labels is to ensure the proper shade of a color is used so people aren't confused about the safety message being conveyed.
- Signs - Safety signs are found in virtually every facility. These signs can be made by applying labels to sign backings or by ordering custom signs that are on metal or other materials. Signs are typically larger than labels and are easier to see from most places in the facility.
- Floor Marking Tape - By using colored floor marking tape a facility can quickly convey a lot of information. Areas where there are fire hazards, for example, may be marked with red floor marking tape. This is an easy and affordable way to convey a clear message throughout a facility.
- Floor Marking Paint - Similar to floor marking tape, this paint can come in any color and will convey a clear message.
- Posters - Putting up posters in the facility is another way to convey a safety message. Some facilities even put up posters that identify the specific colors used and what they mean as a reminder to employees.
Using Colors for Visibility
It is clear that safety colors are widely used in facilities and that their use is often mandated by industry regulations. Just because companies are often told how and when to use safety colors, however, does not mean they can't come up with their own uses. Many facilities have found that the proper use of color can help dramatically improve the visibility of signs.
Conveying information to people using visual communications is very important in the often-loud environments of the workplace. While normal black text on white background is fine for some situations, others can benefit from color to add different levels of contrast and improve visibility.
It is even possible to get glow-in-the-dark printed signs that will be visible during a power outage. Taking the time to figure out which color combinations are the most visible in a facility is worth the effort. Make sure to avoid using the reserved colors listed above for anything other than their designated uses, though.
Safety Color Training
One of the biggest benefits of following standards when it comes to safety colors is that people will often know what the colors mean, even without training. A new employee who joins a facility from another company may already know what colors mean in which situation, which can help keep them safe during their initial weeks on the job.
Just because almost all facilities follow these standards, however, does not mean that a company is able to skip or delay training. All new employees should be given detailed training about what the safety colors are and what they mean in all the situations that apply to the facility. This should be done within the first few days of employment.
Even seasoned employees should be trained on safety colors. All employees should be updated whenever there is a change in the colors used or where they are used. This can be done through a formal training session or just a meeting with a supervisor.
No matter how it is done, it is the employer's responsibility to ensure all employees are up to date with the latest safety colors. This will not only keep the employees and facility safe, but it will also help avoid any risk of being out of compliance with OSHA regulations.