The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) color coding system allows workers to tell from a distance when they face potential hazards and how serious those hazards are without having to think about it. OSHA also has colors for nonhazardous workplace elements such as first-aid stations and nonworking equipment. These color codes increase worker safety and help businesses remain compliant with OSHA regulations.
Safety Colors in the Workplace
OSHA section 1910.144(3)-,Yellow.,and%20%22caught%20in%20between.%22) and section 1910.145 cover safety signs that tell workers if they face immediate danger or need to take caution. They also show where nonworking and safety equipment is located in a facility. OSHA has adopted its specific color codes from those of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Safety colors describe how OSHA, ANSI and other organizations regulate signage in the workplace. Each color has a different meaning depending on the situation. The colors used in accident prevention signs allow workers entering an area to immediately determine the potential safety hazards they face without having to get too close to a sign in order to read it. While there are several organizations that use safety colors, their meanings and color codes often overlap. This helps to ensure uniformity in the messages across industries and situations.
OSHA Standard Safety Colors for Workplace Safety
There are two sets of OSHA safety colors. The first set covers generalized hazard categories that may exist in a business and the corresponding warnings. The second set marks potential physical hazards and notifications.
The warnings for general dangers and their associated colors are:
- Danger: The color red alerts workers to the immediate risk of a danger. The safety signals on this sign should be predominately red, with lettering and symbols in a contrasting color to ensure the most visibility possible. Some examples of using red as a safety color are in fire protection equipment and at barricades. Red also denotes "stop." An example of this is the traffic stop sign.
- Warning: Orange also marks danger, but the risk is not as significant or immediate as red signifies. A mostly orange sign also requires contrasting lettering for maximum visibility. Orange can be used to indicate that a substance is corrosive.
- Caution: A yellow sign represents caution, as it does in traffic lights.
- Biological Hazards: Because the risks from biohazards are so unique, they have their own category and are a mix of orange-red or fluorescent orange.
Physical Workplace Hazards and Other Colors
When there is a physical hazard in the workplace, OSHA signifies it with one of two colors:
- Red: Used in the instance of a fire-related danger. This can include areas with nearby open flames or safety cans or other portable containers of flammable liquids with a flashpoint below 80 degrees F.
- Yellow: Designates falling, slipping, tripping, pinch points and other similar dangers common to manufacturing or warehouses.
There are other standard colors that cover hazards or situations workers should be aware of:
- Purple, or a combination of purple and yellow: Indicates radiation hazard.
- Green: Points to the location of safety or protective equipment, such as a first-aid kit or an eyewash station.
- Black and white: Usually used in combination, and sometimes with patterns like stripes or checkers, guides traffic or otherwise cautions drivers.
- Blue: Indicates out-of-service equipment or machinery.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.