When it comes to understanding how standards work, there is nothing like a well-illustrated set of case studies to understand how theory gets put into practice…in this case, best practice. Over the years it has been a pleasure for me to be personally involved in writing and revising the primary U.S. and international standards related to safety signs. But just as rewarding is the time I've spent working closely with safety engineers to put into place what we call "visual safety systems." These systems are comprised of accident prevention safety signs, process identification and control signs, and product safety labels. Essentially, these systems are used by companies to improve safety and reduce risk for both their workplaces and products. The purpose of this presentation is to show how several new design options contained in the latest revisions to the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) Z535 standards can be put into practice. The new design options include internationally harmonized components and formats, giving those in charge of safety for products, facilities and public areas a new and better set of tools to communicate safety. But as with any system, there are choices that have to be made – and made wisely because people's lives are literally on the line. The three case studies shown here illustrate several of the key considerations that need to be factored in when using the latest ANSI Z535 standards to effectively accomplish the goal of reducing risk and protecting people.

Before we delve into the three case studies, it will be helpful to briefly discuss three topics:

  • -The history of safety sign design in the United States

  • -Recent efforts to harmonize ISO and ANSI safety sign standards, and

  • -How people interact with warnings

A Brief History of U.S. Safety Sign Standards

The ANSI Z535 standards are the primary standards in the United States for defining the proper content and layout of safety signs, labels and tags. The beginning of these standards can be traced to a 1914 booklet on accident prevention published by the Workers Compensation Service Bureau

  • (Exhibit in full paper)

placing signs in the workplace to identify potential hazards gained traction and in the late 1930's work began in the American Standard Association on a national standard for safety signs, a standard that was subsequently published in January 1941 by the ASA as the American Standard Z35.1 – Specifications for Industrial Accident Prevention Signs. The top row of signs shown in Exhibit 3 are examples of typical 1941 ASA Z35.1 safety signs. It was this standard's nearly identical 1968 version that OSHA used as a basis for their 1971 sign regulations.

It is important to understand that the two principle standards committees responsible for safety sign and marking standards in the United States, the Z35.1 committee for accident prevention signs and the Z53.1 safety color code committee were combined in 1979 to form the ANSI Z535 committee on safety signs and colors. The ANSI Z535 standards1, first published in 1991, replaced the Z35.

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