Safety Signs, Symbols and Colour Codes – a simple guide

The use of symbols and graphical images is a simple safety system used to convey safety messages at a glance.

Colours and symbols appropriately used can provide ever-present information and warnings of hazards which are essential to safety at work, and in some instances may be independent of language

The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 require employers to provide and maintain safety signs where there is significant risk to health and safety that has not been avoided or controlled by other means (e.g. safe systems of work) provided that the use of a sign can help reduce the risk.  All workplaces and activities where people are employed are covered (with exceptions relating to the transport and supply & marketing of dangerous substances, products and equipment). They also require, where necessary, the use of road traffic signs in workplaces to regulate road traffic. Employers must also ensure that all employees receive appropriate information, instruction and training regarding safety signs.  Although most signs are self-explanatory, some employees (particularly young or new workers) may be unfamiliar with the signs used.


A safety and/or health sign is ‘information or instruction about health and safety at work on a signboard, a colour, an illuminated sign or acoustic signal, a verbal communication or hand signal.’  These terms are all detailed in guidance to the regulations.

A signboard is a combination of shape, colour and symbol or pictogram made visible by adequate lighting and which may have supplementary text.

Signboards, including fire safety signs, are designed as follows:-

Colour Meaning or Purpose Instruction & Information Intrinsic Features Example
RED Prohibition/Danger alarm Dangerous behaviour; stop; shutdown; emergency cut-out devices; evacuate Round shape; black pictogram on white background; red edging and diagonal line; red part to be at least 35% of the area of the sign  prohibition safety signs
YELLOW or AMBER Warning Be careful; take precautions; examine Triangular shape; black pictogram on yellow background with black edging; yellow part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign  hazard safety signs
BLUE Mandatory Specific behaviour or action e.g. wear personal protective equipment Round shape; white pictogram on blue background; blue part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign  
GREEN Emergency escape; first aid. No danger Doors; exits; escape routes equipment and facilities Return to normal Rectangular or square shape; white pictogram on green background; green part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign  fire safety signs
RED (fire-fighting signs) Fire fighting equipment Identification & location Rectangular or square shape; white pictogram on red background; red part to be at least 50% of the area of the sign  fire safety signs

Where the marking of dangerous locations is deemed necessary (e.g. highlighting the edge of a raised platform or area or restricted heights) yellow & black or red & white stripes may be used.

Hazard tapeHazard tape



Traffic routes should take the form of continuous lines, preferably yellow or white.

Advice on fire safety signs can be obtained from your local fire authority. In general, where signs comply with the appropriate current standard (ISO 7010) they will not require changes for the Regulations.


Most firms already use safety signs to warn and instruct employees of risks to their health and safety. The signboards specified in the Regulations are already covered by the existing British Standard BS5378 and ISO 7010, replacing BS 5499 ‘Graphical Symbols and Signs’. Equally, the law already requires suitable illuminated signs and acoustic signals to be used where necessary. Although the regulations specify a code of hand signals for mechanical handling and directing vehicles, they permit other signals to be used where necessary e.g. BS7121 Code of Practice for the safe use of cranes.

 ISO 7010 has now been implemented

Large elements of the British Standard BS5499 symbols have now been changed. The new symbols based on the international standard ISO 7010 have been introduced. The basic principles of understanding safety symbols have remained the same i.e. colour and shape of out line symbol but some of the icons/symbols have changed.

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