Colors are massive part of our environment, helping us analyze surroundings and distinguish objects. We know plants are green and the sky is blue. Whereas frogs, for example, are green or blue.
In this case, blue warns of poison. In food, unusual colors indicate rottenness and warn us to not eat it.
Different cultures regard colors inversely. For example, Argentina and China consider the color red to bring luck. In Germany and Nigeria it represents the opposite.
Country flag colors signify characteristics, usually referring to the country's history, people and wealth.
Marketers are particularly interested in color psychology, helping them understand how consumers perceive colors and their associations. Brand logos visualize company values with colors. For example, red in a logo implies boldness and dynamism. Green reflects nature, sustainability and harmony.
In safety, certain colors catch our attention, therefore safety sign colors are chosen for a reason.
Contrasting colors grab readers’ attention. Safety sign colors direct people’s attention towards essential information. Unnoticeable safety signs yield dangerous results.
ISO standardized the colors and basic shapes of safety signs, making them recognizable worldwide. OSHA also created guidance on approved safety sign formats. Since the introduction of safety signs and signals regulation in 1992, fatal injuries decreased by 50%.
Universal safety signs overcome language barriers and local regulations. Safety signs catch attention, with colors playing a significant role. Let’s look at four common safety sign colors and the psychology behind them.
Safety sign colors
As a very distinctive color, red stands out. June McLeod, Color Psychology Consultant, said: "It takes 2/100ths of a second to register red, yet 25/100ths of a second to register 3 words of a text."
Red transcends language barriers. You're not fluent in every language, but you know what a red safety sign stands for: “hey, this area is risky. Use caution or avoid it entirely.” If you do not understand the writing on the sign, you understand the warning. Red catches our attention, explaining why it communicates danger and caution.
Yellow is another distinct color. Humans draw to yellow, thus it instructs and provides important information.
For example, free-standing yellow signs warn about slippery floors. The yellow triangle with a black frame and a lightning strike is a common sign. Yellow couples with black, a contrasting color.
Green mirrors positive energy, harmony and nature. In safety signs, green juxtaposed with white signifies emergency exits, first aid and safety equipment. Hence, we associate green and “no danger”.
Moreover, we associate green with permission to “GO”. Traffic lights demonstrate our reaction to green, amber and red.
Blue is considered mentally soothing and represents peace. In a company logo, blue is associated with trust and dependability. In fact, blue is a popular branding color, think Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn logos. Color psychology helps us understand how our brain processes different colors. Blue, for instance, connects with trust and authority.
In safety, blue indicates mandatory orders and safety information. For example, “safety equipment must be worn” or “parking prohibited in front of the fire exit”.
However, color is just one safety sign characteristic.
Safety sign standards
When choosing workplace safety signs, check your local regulations. Many regulations standardize safety signs' worldwide appearance. In the UK,
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) set rules for safety signs and signals, stating shape, size, color and material. The below table shows HSE's color definitions:
In the USA, OSHA issues corresponding standards. On the other hand, ISO sets worldwide safety sign standards. For example, ISO 7010 regulates safety sign standards across Europe, adopted by EU law in 2013. ISO 7010 regulated symbols are accessible regardless of native language, literacy level and age. For safety sign colors, refer to ISO 3864.
How should I choose safety signs?
It's important to follow the regulations dedicated to safety sign colors and shapes. Arguably, safety sign location is equally important - signs are useless if not seen. Finally, signs must be understood by all. Issue staff training on safety signs, especially if they differ from the international standards.