Understanding the ISO 7010 Standard for Safety Signs

Safety signs are essential component of maintaining a safe and healthy environment for employees and anyone unfamiliar with your facility.

The primary purpose of safety signs is to communicate important hazard information immediately, but they play a much more important role in supplementing safety training, highlighting safe exit routes, indicating safety equipment like first aid stations, and enforcing the company’s safety policies.

One of the reasons safety signs are so crucial in the workplace is their capability of conveying information with just a glance. For a facility with employees who may not speak English as a first language, or in noisy workplaces where verbal warnings might be missed, the importance of safety signs cannot be overstated.

What is ISO 7010?

ISO safety signs being used at a construction site
ISO safety signs

ISO 7010 is the technical standard from the International Organization for Standardization that establishes a system for safety messaging, guiding the use of graphical symbols on safety signs, labels, and tags. The standard was most recently revised by ISO subcommittee ISO/TC 145/SX2 in August 2019 to incorporate recent amendment and add new symbols, many of which relate to emergency planning and water safety.

Regardless of language or environmental factors, you can safeguard employees by using signs with internationally agreed and globally used symbols and colors. With this in mind, ISO developed ISO 7010 to establish a coherent set of graphical symbols to help overcome communication barriers in the workplace. ISO 7010 standardizes symbols, ensuring there is only one symbol for each meaning to avoid confusion across industries.

“International standardization of safety signs means everyone speaks the same language when it comes to safety. This provides a simple solution for everyone, both in workplaces and public areas like airports where many nationalities converge,” said Mr. Jan-Bernd Stell, the Chair of the ISO Subcommittee in a press release.

The shapes and colors referenced in this standard are from ISO 3864, the standard establishing an international system for identification and colors and design principles for safety signs and safety markings. Where ISO 3864 specifies design and color standards for safety signs and markings in workplaces and public facilities, ISO 7010 assigns safety signs for the purposes of hazard information, fire protection, accident prevention, and emergency evacuation.

ISO 7010:2019 establishes five combinations of shape and color dependent on the type of information presented:

Sign TypeMeaningColor(s)ShapeExample
Prohibition SignActions or behavior prohibited due to risk of personal injury or threat to life.Red ring + bar with black symbol on white backgroundCircle w/ diagonal lineForklifts Prohibited Floor Sign
Mandatory SignMandatory action that must be taken to avoid the present hazard.Blue w/ white symbolCircleSafety Glasses Required - Floor Sign
Warning SignSpecifies hazards associated with a particular task, location, or equipment.Yellow w/ black border + black symbolEquilateral triangle w/ rounded cornersBlasting Die Cut Label
Safe Condition SignUsed for safety equipment, emergency exits, and assembly points.Green w/ white symbolSquare or rectangular.First Aid Symbol Label
Fire Safety SignIndicates fire prevention and protection equipment.Red w/ white symbol; always includes the flames symbol in whiteSquareFire Safety Sign

Safety Signs + ISO

The library if ISO 7010 symbols is meant to provide comprehensive safety information with as little text as possible, meaning they can be used as standalone safety labels. While symbol-only formats have been gaining traction, ISO formatting standards also establishes the use of graphical symbols in combination with a signal word to create an ANSI Z535-style label or sign. ANSI Z535, the standard here in the United States for communicating safety and accident prevention information, also corresponds with the ISO 3864 standard.Caution Testing in Progress ANSI safety sign

Although ANSI Z535 standards are not required by law, voluntarily adhering to them can safeguard your workplace and ensure your workplace will be in compliance with OSHA’s baseline regulations. As you can see in the example label on the right, the ANSI caution label includes a hazard message and the mandatory symbol for eye and ear protection. ANSI signs and labels usually include more specific details about the nature of the hazard, potential risks, and safety instructions.

Choosing the Right Safety Sign

The first step in selecting the right safety signs for your workplace is by conducting an inspection. Take a walk around your facility and look for areas that will need a safety sign—make sure you’re finding spots that are highly visible. Note the location, the appropriate kind of sign needed, what symbol(s) to include, and how many signs you will need in that particular location. For example, you could post a sign warning workers of a pinch point on a machine while also posting a mandatory sign requiring operators to wear safety gloves.

Following international technical standards, like ISO 7010, is key to having an effective safety signage program. From notifying people of tripping hazards and PPE requirements to explaining arc flash and chemical hazards, safety signs play a key role in keeping people safety on the job.

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