The goal of a safety sign is to alert someone, typically an employee, to a policy or procedure quickly, giving them enough time to react and stay safe. With internationally agreed upon standards in place, people can recognize and understand these safety messages much quicker.

ISO 3864—a series developed by the International Organization for Standardization—specifies international standards for safety signs, labels, and markings in workplaces and public facilities. Among a number of design elements, the standard identifies the purpose, colors, hazard severity panel, signal words, and layouts for product safety labels and signs.

ISO safety construction sign

ISO 3864 can be broken down into the following four components:

  • ISO 3864-1:2011 Part 1: Design Principles for Safety Signs and Safety Markings
  • ISO 3864-2:2016 Part 2: Design Principles for Product Safety Labels
  • ISO 3864-3:2012 Part 3: Design Principles for Graphical Symbols for use in Safety Signs
  • ISO 3864-4:2011 Part 4: Colorimetric and Photometric Properties of Safety Sign Materials

ISO 3864-1, Part 1

This specific standard applies to most safety signs, detailing best practices for the design of safety identification in public spaces and workplaces. ISO 3864-1 describes how appropriate symbols can be used with supplemental text to communicate several hazards in one sign, how to use safety markings for the purpose of accident prevention, fire protection, health hazard information, and emergency evacuation. Additionally, this part of ISO 3864 establishes basic principles to follow when developing standards containing safety standards.

ISO 3864-2, Part 2

The purpose of ISO 3864-2 is essentially to supplement ISO 3864-1 by focusing on specific design principles for product safety labels on any manufactured product, including equipment used in industrial workplaces.

An important element of ISO 3864-2 is the incorporation of a hazard severity panel. This panel is formatted at the top of the label, with or without a general warning symbol, defines the level of risk through color:

  • Danger: Red; A hazard with a high risk of injury or death if not avoided.
  • Warning: Orange; A hazard with a medium risk of injury or death if not avoided.
  • Caution: Yellow; A hazard with a low risk of minor or moderate injury if not avoided.

International Standards for Safety SignsSite Safety Mandatory PPE safety sign

ISO 7010 is the international technical standard that prescribes safety signs for the purposes of hazard information, fire protection, accident prevention, and emergency evacuation. It relies on the design principles, color standards, and graphical symbols defined in ISO 3864. The harmonization of international standards means everyone can understand safety in workplaces and public areas regardless of language or other environmental conditions.

The International Organization for Standardization developed ISO 7010 with the standards from ISO 3864 to ensure safety information is communicated with as little words as possible to achieve understanding—effectively preventing accidents and injury.

ISO 3864 & ANSI Z535

While the ISO 3864 defines the international guidelines for safety signs, labels and markings, the United States turns to the ANSI Z535 series of standards for presenting safety and accident prevention information.

However, there are some differences. Unlike the ANSI Z535.4 standard for example, ISO requires the use of all safety symbols to be used with an ISO-colored surround shape. This means any symbol displayed on a safety label must be surrounded by a blue circle for mandatory actions, a yellow equilateral triangle for symbols alerting to hazards, a green square or rectangle for safe condition symbols, a white circle with a red diagonal line for prohibited actions, and a red square for fire safety symbols.

By adopting basic international principles for safety signs, it will take workers less time to read and understand the message, which is extremely important in a hazardous or emergency situation. Additionally, ISO 3864, ANSI Z535 and ISO 7010 may not be a legal requirement for employers, but adhering to these standards means your safety sign program is in compliance with OSHA regulations.

Strategically developing a safety sign plan for your workplace might seem like a tall order, but we offer a wide selection of resources—from free guides to in-depth articles—and have sign experts ready to answer your questions. Our line of LabelTac® can make any sign project simple and give you the opportunity to design custom, professional-grade labels. Ready to get started? We’re here to help!

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