We associate specific colors with specific uses. For instance, when you think of a red sign, the first thing that likely comes to mind is a ‘stop’ sign or a ‘no entry’ sign. Therefore, various organizations have established standards for the appropriate use of safety colors to make visual communication consistent in workplaces. Coding colors in this way is a unique safety measure because through these colors, workers can instantly understand that they are facing a hazard and gauge its severity. For instance, a label on an elevator filler weight with a red color code and the wording ‘Not suitable for lifting by a single person’ would be highly effective in conveying the degree of danger. Safety color standards used worldwide are determined by organizations such as OSHA and ANSI. While many organizations or agencies establish standards for safety colors, these standards largely overlap. To learn more about safety colors, continue reading our article where we also discuss the differences between OSHA safety colors and ANSI safety signs.

What are OSHA Safety Colors?

In order to protect employees from potential hazards in the workplace, it is necessary to use safety signs that comply with OSHA regulations in various areas. OSHA establishes various requirements regarding the use of safety colors that should be utilized to enhance workplace safety and reduce accidents.

OSHA color codes, as defined in section 29 CFR 1910.144 (Safety Color Code for Marking Physical Hazards), determine the following colors and their uses:

Red: Used for identifying fire protection equipment and devices, danger signs, flammable liquid containers, lights on barricades, and emergency stop buttons/switches/handles.

Yellow: Indicates the need for caution. Used to mark specific physical hazards such as falling, tripping, stumbling, impact, collision, and pinch points.

Where Should Safety Colors Be Used?

In a facility, in order to protect employees, OSHA safety colors should be used wherever deemed necessary or mandated by law. In this context, it is important for OSHA safety colors to be employed with a common understanding across different facilities and industries. One of the methods that ensures a facility derives the best outcomes from safety measures and markings is to implement strategies that other facilities have employed and succeeded with. Below, various methods are discussed on how OSHA safety colors can be utilized more effectively in any facility.

Implementing Safety Colors in Facilities

In a facility, it is important not only to learn which colors should be used where for safety purposes based on standards and regulations, but also to understand how this should be carried out within a procedural framework.

Enhancing visual communication for workplace safety can be achieved through various methods, but the best approach is the one that suits the unique conditions of each facility. For this reason, the initial step involves a thorough and meticulous analysis of the facility from a safety standpoint, followed by implementing a method aligned with the outcomes of this evaluation. This ensures that the use of OSHA safety colors is not only effective but also remains in place for an extended period.

Ensuring the Visibility of Safety Colors

Industry regulations mandate the use of OSHA safety colors in facilities, resulting in their widespread utilization. While facilities are knowledgeable about how these colors and markings should be employed within general guidelines, they often fail to develop a tailored usage. Yet, proper color utilization significantly enhances the visibility of markings.

Considering that work environments are typically noisy, conveying necessary information and warnings through visual means gains paramount importance. While text written in black on a white background might be legible, using different color tones and contrasts to enhance visibility and impact becomes crucial.

Ensuring Employees Understand the Meanings of Safety Colors

Adhering to standards regarding OSHA safety colors enables individuals to understand the meanings of these colors even without formal training. Whether a newcomer to the job or an employee present for training purposes, they will comprehend the significance of standard safety colors and act accordingly, even if they are unfamiliar with the environment.

However, the presence of standard regulations does not impede facilities from providing education to their employees. Starting from the first days of employment, all new employees should receive training on the meanings of safety colors and markings used throughout the facility premises. This process should also involve existing employees, and any updates in this regard must be promptly communicated to the workforce.

Basic OSHA Safety Color-Coding

In the first set of safety colors defined by OSHA, a broad category of hazards existing in facilities and how employees should be alerted about them are specified. This set of standards employs four primary warning languages:

1. Danger

Immediate hazardous situation. If the hazardous situation is not avoided, death or serious injury to the employee may occur.

OSHA recommends using red or predominantly red for danger signs or tags and suggests that lettering or symbols should be in a contrasting color, such as white against the red background.

2. Warning

Potentially hazardous situation. If the hazardous situation is not avoided, death or serious injury could occur.

These signs and tags, typically orange or predominantly orange, generally feature black lettering or symbols. Orange is frequently employed for machine or equipment components that pose potential risks of cutting, crushing, squeezing, or otherwise injuring a person.

3. Caution

Potentially hazardous situation. If the hazardous situation is not avoided, minor or moderate injury could occur.

These signs and tags are usually entirely yellow or predominantly yellow and have lettering or symbols in contrasting colors, usually black.

4. Biological Hazards

Biological hazards have their own category due to their unique risks. The color used for safety alerts related to biological hazards is fluorescent orange or orange red. These signs and tags typically feature lettering or symbols in contrasting colors and indicate infectious agents and wastes carrying risks of death, injury, or illness.

OSHA Safety Colors for Marking Physical Hazards

OSHA mandates the implementation of the 1910.144 – Safety Color Code for marking physical hazards. Within these standards, two colors are defined for physical hazards:

Red – Red color should be used in areas where fire hazards are present. These areas include locations near open flames and combustible materials with the risk of ignition or explosion. Red is also used for safety devices such as fire apparatus and equipment, fire alarm boxes, fire exit signs, and emergency stop buttons.

Red color can also be used to indicate the need for people to stop.

Yellow – The color yellow is used to draw attention to physical hazards like slipping, tripping, falling, pinching, striking, and impact, which are common in many facilities including manufacturing or storage facilities.

Similarly, yellow is used for construction equipment, safety guardrails, transportation equipment, piping systems containing hazardous materials, waste containers, and unprotected areas.

OSHA vs. ANSI Safety Colors

The goals of OSHA and ANSI designed signs are essentially the same: to alert workers about potential hazards in the workplace. There are various factors that should be considered before choosing between OSHA and ANSI standards, and in many cases, an ANSI formatted sign will comply with OSHA standards.

To understand the difference between OSHA’s and ANSI’s safety sign standards, it’s important to know the distinction between these two organizations. OSHA, as a federal government agency, establishes and enforces mandatory standards for health and safety in workplaces. On the other hand, ANSI is a non-profit organization that develops consensus-based standards to ensure consumer, worker, and environmental safety. ANSI standards are typically voluntary, but OSHA can make its standards mandatory.

ANSI Safety Color Meanings

In essence, most of OSHA safety colors standards are built upon the foundation of the ANSI system. ANSI safety color codes, which define potential hazards and safety equipment, are outlined in the ANSI Z535.1 standard. Each color or color combination has its own distinct usage purpose.

Here’s a brief overview of commonly used ANSI colors, and their meanings:

1. Red

Universally recognized, the color red is used to identify the most serious hazards, signaling danger,

or instructing individuals to stop. Safety signs that adhere to the ANSI Z535 standard use red for “Danger” signs and labels.

2. Orange

The color orange alerts people to dangerous areas on a machine or equipment where crushing, cutting, electrical shock, and other physical harm could occur. These warning signs are commonly used on labels related to machinery.

3. Yellow

Similar to OSHA’s safety color standards, ANSI also uses yellow to indicate hazards that could lead to injuries if not avoided. These hazards include risks like tripping, falling, burning, pinching, and the potential for hearing damage.

4. Green

Green color is designated for general safety signs. In addition to indicating emergency evacuation points, it also guides employees to leave the area during emergencies. ANSI uses the green color to indicate the location of first aid and other safety equipment.

5. Blue

Blue is used to provide information unrelated to personal injuries and other hazards. This information doesn’t necessarily have to be safety related.

Okan Ergin

Okan Ergin

Okan Ergin has been working as the General Coordinator at Ergin Makina since 2005.