Safety Training

How to Comply with New OSHA Safety Signs Rules: 7 FAQs

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: December 5th, 2013
Topics: Illness Injury Prevention Program | Safety Training |

OSHA standards don’t change very often. One of the rare regulatory changes that actually did take place occurred on September 11, 2013 when revisions to OSHA safety sign requirements took effect. Here are 7 FAQs to help you get on top of the changes.

1. What Are OSHA Safety Sign Requirements?

Answer: OSHA rules require employers to use signs and tags to communicate certain safety information to workers. The OSHA Specifications for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags Standard (Section 1910.145 for General Industry, Section 1926.200 for Construction) set criteria such signs (and tags) must meet, including:

  • How signs are used and where they’re posted;
  • The color of the sign;
  • How the sign is designed; and
  • What information the sign must communicate (and, in some cases, how that information must be worded).

2. What Kinds of Safety Signs Does the Standard Cover?

Answer: The Standard applies to accident prevention signs that use signs or symbols to communicate dangers that could harm workers and/or the public or cause property damage. The Standard breaks these signs into 3 groups:

  • Danger signs indicating immediate dangers and the need for special precautions;
  • Caution signs to warn of potential hazards or caution against unsafe practices; and
  • Safety instruction signs used when needed to provide general instructions and suggestions about safety measures.

By contrast, the Standard does not apply to safety signs designed for streets, highways and railroads, nor to safety bulletin boards and safety posters.

3. When Did OSHA Change the Safety Sign Requirements?

Answer: OSHA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing the changes on June 13, 2013. The Final Rule officially took effect on September 11, 2013, 90 days after NPRM was published.

4. Why Did OSHA Change the Safety Sign Rules?

Answer: Like many other OSHA requirements, OSHA rules for safety signs are based on standards that are decades-old. Specifically, safety sign requirements incorporate voluntary national consensus standards published by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) in 1967.

In 2006, ANSI revised its safety sign standards to make them more attuned to 21st century workplace conditions—illiteracy, turnover, lack of English fluency in the workforce, including among the workers who rely most on safety signs for protection. The new ANSI Z535.2 standard is designed to make safety signs clearer, more instinctive and thus more capable of delivering more information upon a glance. After studying the issue for 4 years, OSHA concluded that complying with the new ANSI standard would result in better safety signs. So it changed its signs requirements to incorporate the new standard.

5. What Changes to Safety Sign Rules Did OSHA Make?

Answer: In a nutshell, danger, caution and safety instruction signs must now meet the design, color and wording requirements of either the old ANSI standard (i.e., the ones contained in the current OSHA Standard) or the requirements of the new ANSI Z535.1-2006.

The bad news: You must actually buy copies of the standards to see exactly what they require. (Check out ANSI’s e-Standards Store, 25 W 43rd Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10036; 212-642-4980;

The good news: While we can’t provide a detail-by-detail description, we can give you a basic overview of the differences between the old and new ANSI standards: Untitled Docum

Sign Element

Old Standard

New Standard


Lists only a signal word, such as “Danger,” “Warning,” “Notice,” etc.

Contains not just the signal word but a triangle with an exclamation point to provide emphasis


Only rarely includes symbols or images

Contains a large image or symbol at the center of the sign

Safety Message

Includes no or tersely worded safety instructions.

Includes a column listing detailed safety instructions.

Example: High voltage sign.


OSHA safety sign changes and how to comply with them


OSHA safety sign changes and how to comply with them

6. Do You Have to Take Down and Replace Your Current Signs?

Answer: No. Remember that you can comply with the OSHA sign requirements by following either the old or new version of the required signs, i.e., signs that meet either the old or new ANSI standards.

Bottom Line: As long as your current signs comply with OSHA, you don’t have to do anything to comply with the new sign rules.

7. Are There Any Other Changes?

Answer: Yes—4 of them, in fact:

  1. Safety Tags: The same rules pertaining to safety signs also apply to so called “accident prevention tags,” i.e., devices typically made of card, paper, pasteboard or plastic used to identify a hazardous condition and offer safety instructions.
  1. Nonionizing Radiation Warnings: In addition to safety signs and tags required by Section 1910.145, the new ANSI requirements apply to nonionizing radiation warning signs and tags required (under Section 1910.97(a)(3)).
  1. Pulp, Paper and Board Mill Warning Signs: Another OSHA standard that incorporates the new ANSI sign standard requirements is the Pulp, Paper and Board Mill standard—specifically the overhead conveyor warning signs employers are required to post under Section 1910.261(c)(16) of the standard.
  1. Construction Accident Prevention Signs and Tags: Last but not least, the ANSI changes also apply to safety signs and tags required at construction projects under the Accident prevention signs and tags standard of the OSHA Construction Standards (Section 1926.200).

For More Help Complying with OSHA Safety Sign Rules