A Guide to Health and Safety Signs


We’ve all seen them. Health and safety signs are commonplace across the UK, especially around industrial workplaces. These signs ensure safe practice whilst working onsite, driving on roads etc. They are also designed to be independent of language. So what are the legal requirements surrounding these signs? What do these requirements include? And what standards do companies need to adhere to?

Legal Requirements

Although ensuring health and safety signs are in line with current regulations and standards can be tedious, there is no doubting the importance they offer. Health and safety signs are one of the main means of properly communicating health and safety information. They are also a legal requirement of employers, and so not maintaining enough specific and correct safety signs can lead to an employer getting in trouble with the law.

The legal requirements surrounding employer safety sign regulation are referenced by the Health and Safety regulations 1996. These regulations state that all employers need to provide and maintain relevant safety signs around their operations when work involves a significant risk to health and safety of employees and is not controlled/avoided via other means. As a result, almost all industrial workplaces require some form of health and safety signs to be implemented on site if they are to be in line with regulation.

These requirements cover all workplaces and activities. They even involve the use of road traffic signs to regulate road traffic around the site. Signs themselves may include some sort of text. However they cannot be solely text based. What’s more, employers must ensure proper maintenance of health and safety signs. This involves replacing any faded or defective signs. Although the health and safety sign regulations do include all aspects of the workplace, they do not cover signs and labels used when transporting dangerous goods.


Health and safety signs include a sign of specific shape and colour scheme. There are a few different classes of safety sign.


Meaning – Danger

Characteristics – Round, black picture on white background with red edging

Instructions in case of dangerous behaviour, telling you what to do in the case of emergencies such as operation shutdown or evacuations.


Meaning – Warning

Characteristics – Triangular in shape, black picture on a yellow background with black edging

This is a clear warning sign, ensuring people and workers stay alert to dangers around them. They may involve telling people to take precautions or to be more aware whilst working.



Meaning – Mandatory Action

Characteristics – Round, white shape on blue background.

These signs are there to ensure a worker or otherwise is following correct procedures, such as wearing protective equipment when working in hazardous areas.


Meaning – Emergency action

Characteristic – Rectangle/square with white shape on green background.

These signs usually mark emergency items or routes; i.e. foie escapes, first aid kits.

Red (firefighting)

Meaning – Denote firefighting equipment

Characteristic – Rectangle or square shape with white pictogram on red background.

These signs identify firefighting equipment for use in emergency situations.


The existing British Standard BS5378 and ISO 7010 cover the regulations regarding health and safety signs. Laws also cover sign illumination and the use of acoustic signals when necessary. These regulations change. For instance, alterations to parts of the British Standard BS5499 symbols are present British Standard BS5378. Although the general symbols and shapes used over the years has not altered significantly, some of the sign symbols have changed. The regulations therefore need to be thoroughly checked and re-checked every time a new standard is released, to ensure your company or workplace is not breaking the law.


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