Caution, Warning and Danger Signs Explained

Safety Sign Meanings

Table of Contents
Safety Headers
Safety Symbols
Sign Legends
Types of Safety Signs
Caution Signs
Warning Signs
Danger Signs
Notice Signs
Instructional Signs
Alert Symbols

Workplace safety signage is required by law. All organizations, from international companies to small businesses, are legally responsible for knowing the risks, effectively communicating these risks with all employees, and complying with all safety regulations, specific to their industries, as set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is responsible for setting the standards and guidelines for proper workplace safety signage that is enforced by OSHA. There are three key standards that specify the design and content of safety signs.

It is also important to understand what social distancing signs mean to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Caution, Warning, & Danger Signs

Here are the brief meanings of these types of signs:

These signs all serve to remind everyone to take proper safety precautions to prevent injury or death in the appropriate degrees.

Safety Headers or Signal Words

A SAFETY HEADER or signal word, including danger, warning, caution, notice, or specific safety instructions, is determined by the degree of the potential hazard.

Safety Symbols

SAFETY SYMBOLS or pictograms effectively communicate across language barriers, providing visual alerts about hazards, precautions, or other necessary information.

Sign Legends

SIGN LEGENDS must accurately communicate the hazard the sign is warning of.

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Types of Safety Signs

There are a variety of workplace safety signs and they each signify different hazard levels. With this comes a variety of questions. What does a Caution sign mean? What is a Warning sign? What do Danger signs indicate? Below are brief descriptions of the different types of workplace safety signs and what they stand for.

Caution Signs

Watch for Forklifts Caution Sign
These signs warn of potential physical injuries caused by slips or falls, harmful substances, or other unsafe practices. All caution signs must have a bright yellow background and yellow letters against a black panel.

What Does Yellow Caution Tape Mean for OSHA?

Much like how Caution signs identify potentially dangerous areas, caution tape also marks areas to be wary of. It may be used to label areas that may be entered but only with caution, areas that are no longer safe to enter, or sensitive areas such as crime scenes.

Warning Signs

X-Ray Radiation Warning Sign

‘WARNING’ text must be printed in black letters on an orange background. These signs may also include a bright blue graphic depicting a safety precaution that should be taken in a specific area.

Danger Signs

High Voltage Danger Sign

These signs should only be posted in areas where there is potentially deadly harm from dangerous equipment or other environmental hazards, such as radiation, high voltage, or hazardous fumes, among others. Danger signs must be red, black, and white, and include ‘DANGER’ printed in white lettering on a red, oval shaped background. OSHA requires that all employees be made aware that danger signs indicate immediate danger and extreme caution must be used in the area at all times.

Is Danger or Warning More Severe?

It can be easy to lose track of the differences between Warning and Danger. What it boils down to is this; Warning signs indicate areas where severe injury or death MAY happen, whereas Danger signs indicate a zone where injury or death is VERY LIKELY to occur unless proper precautions are taken.

Notice Signs

Keep Area Clean Notice Sign

NOTICE SIGNS signify lower risk areas and can also promote safety in the workplace or other public areas.

These signs generally display rules such as ‘please wash hands’ or ‘keep this area clean’. Notice signs also are used for distinguishing areas designated as ‘employees only’ and other low risk designations. Notice signs are blue and white.

Safety Instruction Signs

SAFETY INSTRUCTION SIGNS are used to relay general instructions and suggestions as they relate to safety measures. Safety instruction signs must include a green panel with white letters and a white background. All letters printed on the white background must be black.

Safety Alert Symbol

Safety Alert SymbolsThe universal SAFETY ALERT SYMBOL is a yellow triangle, outlined in black, containing an exclamation point. This symbol is only used on caution, warning, and danger signs, labels, or tags. is your resource for ready made or design your own workplace safety signs. Our Customer Focus Team is here to answer your questions and help you determine proper signage needs for your organization.

For more information about workplace safety, please see our related blog posts:
The Importance of Understanding OSHA and Displaying Proper Signage for Workplace Safety
The Importance of OSHA Signs for Construction Sites
OSHA’s National Youth Safety Initiative

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