Communicating safety through signs

ISO 7010 is now finally published and is being implemented as best practice throughout the world. It will communicate the safety message using graphical symbols that transcends the barriers to good safety management created by different languages and are universally understood.
The International Standard Technical Committee (TC145) is responsible for graphical symbols and has worked continuously for over 20 years to develop the very best safety signs to convey critical safety information.
The main categories of safety signs are in line with the needs of international requirement for occupational health and safety management and are incorporated in workplace safety legislation.

Worldwide, safety managers are required by their domestic legislation to ensure that all personnel are aware of hazards, the nature of the hazard and the measures to be taken for the collective protection of occupants within the working and public environment under their control.
Safety procedures, practice and policies will require building managers, property owners and estate managers to identify hazards and mark the location of emergency equipment and life safety appliances. Safety managers have an obligation to inform and educate all occupants about risk control, prohibit certain behaviour and give mandatory instruction to ensure collective protection.

ISO 7010 is soon to be adopted as a European norm and will be automatically adopted as the domestic standard within all member states of the European Union. All workplaces, including merchant and passenger vessels will be required to implement and display the new graphical symbols for safety communication. The objective is to ensure that only graphical symbols with the highest comprehension credentials are used and to ensure we are not playing ‘Pictionary’ with peoples lives.
A plethora of graphical symbols are currently being used without these credentials; they have little meaning and are untested in accordance with ISO 9186 to ensure comprehension. It is essential that if graphical symbols are to be effective, only standardised symbols should be used.
Whilst slight variation in public information symbols may cause, at worst, slight delay in finding a service, or cause embarrassment if you misinterpret the more abstract toilet sign, a mistake in the interpretation of escape route signs causing delay may ultimately lead to death.
Considerable confusion has been caused by the use of so called “Eurosymbols” for fire exit signs. Pure illustrations from way back in 1977 have been used, which have no comprehension credentials and fail the basic understanding that is a function of known and effective safety wayguidance convention.
Best practice International Standard ISO 7010 graphical symbols for escape route and ISO 16069 safety wayguidance convention ensure that an evacuee is progressed using a known convention through the escape route to a place of relative safety.


The risk assessment regime required to manage occupational health and safety will determine requirements for safety communication across areas of reflective management.
The areas are outlined in International obligations for employers under occupation health and safety legislation. These obligations start with the identification of hazard, the identification of safety equipment, including escape, and the identification of fire fighting equipment including alarms.
Employers are further required to locate hazard and safety equipment, including escape route and appropriate fire fighting equipment. Identification and location are the cornerstones of effective safety communication and are specific requirements of workplace legislation.
Following location and identification, a good communication strategy will include measures to reduce and control risk.
The control of risk will include the prohibition of behaviour or an activity that is likely to have an adverse effect on the risk matrix or may exacerbate the consequences of an incident.
The control of risk and the collective protection of building occupants will require employers, building managers and authority personnel to instigate and enforce mandatory measures to be taken.
Finally and probably most important is that safety signs, their meaning and the action to be taken or not taken following them are part of a formal training, instruction and education process for public buildings, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, and the workplace.

The Health and Safety Sign Association has announced that all members, listed on the HSSA website,, will implement the changes required by the adoption of ISO 7010 as a European standard. Members are required to withdraw all graphical symbol designed safety signs that do not conform within their standard product offering by January 2011.

• BS EN ISO 14001:2004 – Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use.
• BS ISO 16069:2004 – Graphical symbols and signs – Safety signs – Safety wayguidance systems (SWGS)
• BS ISO 17398:2004 – Safety colours and safety signs – Classification, performance and durability of safety signs.
• ISO 7010:2003 – Graphical symbols – Safety colours and safety signs – Safety signs used in workplace and public areas.
• ISO 9186:2001 – Graphical symbols. Test methods for judged comprehensibility and for comprehension.
• ISO 3864-1:2002 – Safety colours and safety signs – Part 1 safety signs in workplaces and public areas.
• ISO 3864-4:2009 – Graphical symbols – Safety colours and safety signs – Part 4 colorimetric and photometric
properties of safety sign materials.
• EC Safety Signs Directive (92/58/EEC).

Jim Creak is chairman of the Health and Safety Sign Association

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