Over many years of operation, the average workplace evolves too many signs. Visual clutter is the result. Visual clutter is a condition that causes signage to become ineffective and poor performing. This is a safety hazard to consider. When confronted with a hodge-podge of signs plastered at a room entrance, its effect is overwhelming and confusing. Most people won't take time to read all of the signs. Others will succumb to complacency if the signs were posted sometime during the Stone Age.

Exhibit 1. Consider the impact of visual clutter on workplace operations and safety. Even the chair is labeled "chair." (available in full paper)

What factors are driving the need for all these signs? Signage doesn't hit the radar screen for most people because they are not responsible for it. I have found in most companies there is no sign management program. Anybody who needs a sign posts it on a free-for-all, whatever-I-like basis. This approach does not enhance safety. The approach should be a coordinated and standardized effort within the workplace.

The purpose of a workplace safety sign is typically to comply with a regulatory requirement, guide behavior, and reinforce training. For example, OSHA requires we post signs to identify confined spaces. We also post signs to remind employees to wear personal protective equipment as they enter specific areas. However, safety signs must compete with other facility signage for visual awareness in the workplace. Other competing signs are ADA room signs, manufacturing process signs, security signs, exit routes, etc. There is also the problem of well-intentioned signs with messages such as "keep door shut" sprawling into the visual landscape.

Be aware, with each new sign posting you are contributing to visual clutter, unless you have a sign management program.

Assessing the Clutter

Okay, so the photo looks familiar and you don't have a sign management program. Where do you start? Begin by assessing your safety signs. Keep it simple. You should involve your safety committee in the assessment.

Create a simple spreadsheet to collect information and bring a digital camera. You will want to take pictures of door entrances, examples of signs in service, and sign messages for later analysis. It's easier to take a picture than to transcribe the messages of each sign. If you have a handheld device, you can eliminate the paper spreadsheet.

Start your assessment by walking your workplace. You will want to note the location of signage, the type, and assessment observations. Collecting accurate location information will be very useful later when it comes time to replace and install new signs. If you plan a well thought out assessment, you can use your spreadsheet to create a safety sign database.

The information you collect during the assessment will be useful later if you need to justify a signage upgrade or sign management program.

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