Workplace safety sign standards continue to evolve

Safety signs warn workers in Minnesota and around the country about hazards such as slippery surfaces, dangerous machines and toxic substances. While most workers appreciate the warnings, they generally pay little attention to the design of safety signs. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration take warning signs very seriously, and the agency regularly publishes materials urging employers to replace older signs with newer designs that meet the latest standards.

These standards are set by the American National Standards Institute, and the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit released its latest Z535 safety sign guidelines in 1991. The Z535 standards call for vivid colors, warnings in multiple languages and graphics that convey the nature of the hazard. OSHA has been promoting signs that meet these standards since 2013.

Early safety signs were little more than arrows with the word danger written on them, and the traditional oval signs that can still be seen in many American workplaces are only slightly more useful. Signs meeting the Z535 standards are preferred because distinctive colors draw the eye and warnings in languages other than English can be read and understood by more workers. Powerful graphics that can be easily understood even by workers who cannot read are perhaps the most distinctive feature of the newer workplace safety signs.

Workers who suffer serious injuries after ignoring warning signs may be seen as reckless, but their negligent behavior will not usually prevent them from qualifying for workers' compensation benefits. Fault is not generally taken into consideration when workers' compensation claims are evaluated, but that does not mean that employers are powerless in these situations. Attorneys with experience in this area may argue on behalf of their clients during workers' compensation hearings when their employers accuse them of malingering or claim that their injuries or illnesses are not job-related.

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