The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is responsible for creating some of the most widely adopted standards in the country. ANSI doesn’t have strong enforcement options since it is not a governmental institution, but despite that, most companies follow ANSI standards because they are so highly respected and known for helping ensure safety.

One of the most essential sets of standards is the ANSI Z535 series. This is a set of standards for safety signs. The standards go over many essential components of these signs including their design, evaluation, use, colors, symbols, and more. Safety signs are one of the most important aspects of any visual safety program, which is why having a good understanding of these standards is so critical.

What Is ANSI Z535?

The ANSI Z535 standards are broken down into six parts numbered Z535.1 through Z535.6. This makes it easier for facilities to reference the exact portion of the standards they need at any given time. This also helps ensure the standards are easier to understand and not overwhelming for those in the facility.

ANSI Z535.1 | Safety Colors

ANSI Z535.1 sets the standards for the colors used on safety signs. It provides readers with detailed definitions for the signs, the color standards that should be used, the tolerances for the colors, and more. Whenever creating or buying safety signs, it is a good idea to double check to make sure the colors are in line with the colors listed in this section.

ANSI Z535.2 | Environmental and Facility Safety Signs

When making safety signs that are used for facilities and out in the environment, all signs must follow a uniform look and style. This helps people recognize the size, shape, symbols, lettering, and other components of a safety sign, even from a distance. Following these standards can make safety signs much more effective.

ANSI Z535.3 | Criteria for Safety Symbols

Safety symbols are one of the most important aspects of any good safety sign. Symbols are used in many industries and typically have the same or similar meanings. This is critical for safety because it makes it easier to convey a specific safety message to as many people as possible. Even those who can’t read or don’t know the language can quickly understand the meaning of these safety symbols.

ANSI Z535.4 | Product Safety Signs and Labels

When using safety signs on products or labels, this is the section of the Z535 set of standards needed. It covers a variety of types of signs that are used in these situations, and thanks to a recent update to the standards, it also has definitions that are easier to understand.

ANSI Z535.5 | Safety Tags and Barricade Tapes (for Temporary Hazards

Temporary hazards such as spilled water or other risks have their own set of standards from ANSI because they are unique. Putting up safety signs, temporary barriers, or other types of visual safety items to alert people to a temporary hazard is covered in this section.

ANSI Z535.6 | Product Safety Information in Product Manuals, Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials

Creating product safety manuals, giving employees safety instructions about when and where to use signs, and other extra material should follow the ANSI standards covered in this last section of the Z535 standards.

Updated Z535 Standards

ANSI Do Not Block Sign

Most facilities have been using safety signs, labels, and other items for years and likely have great results thanks to the standards set by ANSI. For those businesses that have been open for more than a few years, it is quite possible that they are using the older ANSI Z35.1-1968 and/or ANSI Z53.1-1967 standards.

These are the older standards that were used by OSHA for quite some time, but are now being phased out. While it is not strictly required that a facility update all its safety signs to the new standards (put in place in 2011 and 2013 primarily), it is a good idea. Even if a facility does not do one large overhaul, it can slowly transition into the updated standards as older signs wear out or need to be replaced.

One of the biggest differences between the old and new safety sign standards is the amount of text on a sign and the clarity. Having slightly more text allows safety signs to convey information much more clearly, which makes them far more useful to the average employee. Whenever dealing with visual safety standards, clarity is critical.

Understanding that both the older versions and the newer are acceptable for OSHA compliance is also very important.

OSHA Safety Sign Guide

A Guide to OSHA Safety Signs

This Guide to OSHA Safety Signs walks you through the recent updates to OSHA and ANSI sign requirements. You’ll learn the required components of OSHA safety signs, including tips for formatting and posting your signs.

Get Free OSHA Safety Sign Guide

Safety Sign Components

Safety signs that follow the ANSI Z535 standards have four main components. They are the safety alert symbol, the signal words, the symbols, and the word message. Whether creating a custom safety sign for a facility or ordering pre-printed signs, it is a good idea to have a strong understanding of what each of these components are.

Safety Alert Symbol

Just about everyone is familiar with the safety alert symbol. It is a triangle with an exclamation point in the middle. The triangle is often black with the white exclamation point, but that is not always the case. People can recognize this item no matter what industry they work in, which is why it is such an important part of safety signs.

Signal Words

The signal words are the large, bold words that draw people’s attention to the top of the sign. These words are not chosen randomly for a sign, however. Each one is used in specific situations.

  • DANGER – Danger (written in white, surrounded by red) is used for situations where there is a specific hazard present that will cause a serious injury or even death if people don’t actively avoid it. The danger signal word should only be used in very serious situations.
  • WARNING – The word warning (written in black, surrounded by orange) is the right choice when there is a serious hazard that could result in injury or death.
  • CAUTION – Caution (written in black, surrounded by yellow) is used for hazardous situations that, if not avoided, might cause an injury that is classified as minor to moderate.
  • NOTICE – Notice (written in white, surrounded by blue) is used for signs that convey other information not related to safety. There is no hazard present.
  • SAFETY – Safety (written in white, surrounded by green) is an informational signal word that lets people know that there is helpful information on the sign—usually related to instructions or first aid—so they should read it.

Safety Symbols

Safety symbols are fairly simple images that people can see and understand, even from a distance. They are usually bold, black symbols with a white background. There are many standard symbols used in different industries. Providing employees with training on the specific symbols used in the facility will help them quickly learn their meaning.

Safety Words

Finally, the safety sign typically includes a written message that gives more details to the person viewing the sign. While there is no set length that the word message must be, it is generally a good idea to keep it as brief and concise as possible. Wording like “BRIGHT LIGHT – Wear Eye Protection” could be used on a sign.

When to Use ANSI Z535 Safety Signs & Labels

Ansi Safety Signs

Facilities that need to follow OSHA and other regulatory guidelines often have trouble determining when and where these signs are needed. This can be even more confusing when dealing with groups like ANSI, which technically doesn’t have enforcement powers like OSHA does.

For safety signs and labels, there are a number of mandatory regulations and many best practices that are recommended by not required. For facilities, the best way to handle this type of situation is to start by taking steps to ensure all the mandatory items are covered and then begin implementing other best practices as time and budget allow.

This is a good idea not only because will it help improve the overall safety of the facility, but it is also a great way to prepare for the future. OSHA often takes good practices and turns them into mandatory regulations down the road. When facilities implement these best practices now, they are ahead of the curve for when OSHA does make some type of requirement.

A good example of this is the ANSI Z535 standards. While OSHA certainly accepts them as fulfilling regulatory requirements, they don’t yet mandate that companies transition to this standard. Most safety experts agree, however, that this is something that will happen in the coming years.


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