OSHA Updates Standards for Safety Signage

By Geoffrey Peckham

For decades, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations for workplace safety signs were based on outdated formats that were not aligned with the latest safety communication standards and their state-of-the-art warnings technology. These sign and tag regulations had not been updated since their inception in 1971, which referenced the 1967 and 1968 versions of the United States of America Standards Institute (USASI) Z53 and Z35 standards.

However, in September 2013, new OSHA regulations went into effect. OSHA updated its regulations to incorporate the latest ANSI Z535 (2011) standards, effective September 11, 2013. This regulation change is an opportunity for organizations to rethink and elevate visual safety communication in the workplace.

OSHA’s new direct final rule updates its regulations to incorporate the most recent (2011) versions of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z535 standards. To avoid imposing additional costs on facility owners, the ANSI Z535-2011 references appear next to the 1967 USASI Z53 and 1968 USASI Z35 references. Employers are able to continue to use the same signs and tags they are using now to meet their OSHA compliance obligations and to use the newer designs to improve workplace safety.

What’s in a Sign?

The objective of OSHA’s update is to advance workplace safety by allowing employers to use the latest ANSI Z535 standards for signage, taking advantage of the improved safety communication technology of the newer standards. Signs and tags that are intelligently designed to meet the 2011 ANSI Z535 standards:

  • Provide the information viewers need to make safe decisions, such as the nature of the hazard, the consequence of interaction with the hazard, and how to avoid the hazard;
  • Embody human factors research on effective warnings and modern risk assessment methodologies;
  • Communicate safety to non-English speaking workers with multiple languages and graphical symbol panels; and
  • Meet current legal criteria for “adequate warnings” as defined by the past 30 years of U.S. case law.

(Best practice safety sign and tag designs ©2013 Clarion Safety Systems. All rights reserved.)

A Notable Change

In the past, OSHA had allowed the use of the latest ANSI Z535 standards because they shared the same basis document as OSHA’s past regulations. However, prior to the September 2013 regulation update, facility owners using ANSI Z535 signs or tags would run the risk of being cited for violating OSHA standards because the OSHA standards only reference the old 1967-1968 standards (called a “de minimus situation”). The new rule allows for the use of the latest ANSI Z535 signage without the barrier of a de minimus citation.

OSHA’s commitment to embrace the advances that have taken place in safety sign technology is a step forward in improving safety, reducing compliance uncertainty, and better protecting workers of all backgrounds. Organizations can now utilize the advances in warnings technology established in the latest ANSI Z535 standards for facility signs and tags — and be in compliance with OSHA. The goal is to more effectively reduce risk and protect people’s lives with best practice facility safety signs and tags.

For more information, Clarion Safety Systems has several educational resources available, including:

About the Author

Geoffrey Peckham is the CEO of Clarion Safety Systems, a designer and manufacturer of visual safety solutions that help customers worldwide to make products and premises safer, including safety signs, labels, tags and markings. He is chair of both the ANSI Z535 Committee and the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO Technical Committee 145 - Graphical Symbols, and is a member of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO Project Committee 283 - Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems. Peckham spearheaded the effort to update OSHA’s standards to align them with the latest advances in safety sign technology.