For most people, green means “go” and red means “stop”, but for workers in industrial fields, these colors (among others) have unique meanings that relate to safety. These “hazard” colors were not chosen to ‘lighten up’ the workplace; rather, their selection is based upon human psychology and how they work with the lighting within a building.
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have any set standards on color-coding, the organization does offer recommendations. In this blog, we’ll explore what each color in the workplace means and why it was chosen to represent specific safety hazards.
Yellow, red and orange are bold colors that are used to stimulate mental excitement; to motivate people, not relax them. These bright colors aren’t easily skimmed over and studies have shown that the color red can physically raise blood pressure. The spiked blood pressure causes the body release cortisol, which makes a person more alert for a short period of time. This phenomenon makes red and other warm, bold colors a great choice for identifying hazards though accident prevention tags.
RED: Standard 1910.145(f) App A of the OSHA Standards states that a “danger” hazard should be red or predominantly red, and that any lettering or symbols should be in a contrasting color. Red is generally used in industrial workplaces to identify danger, fire protection equipment and emergency stops on machines.
YELLOW: “Caution” hazards should be displayed in yellow, with lettering or symbols in a contrasting color. Applications for this color typically include hazards that could result in accidents from slipping, falling, or striking against something.
Yellow is also the standard hazard color for flammable liquid storage cabinets and materials handling equipment, like lift trucks or gantry cranes. Radiation hazard areas or containers are often marked with black and yellow stripes or checkerboard pattern.
ORANGE: The color orange is used to identify “warning” hazards, such as dangerous parts of machines, exposed edges of cutting devices, etc.
“Biological” hazards include anything that could pose a threat to human health, and should be labeled with fluorescent orange or orange-red.
Other colors that may be seen around an industrial workplace include:
BLUE: Blue is used to post non-safety related signs or bulletins. A blue flag can also be used to mark parked cars that are unloading.
GREEN: Green is used to designate the location of first aid and any other safety equipment besides fire safety.
BLACK + WHITE: The combination of black and white, either in stripes or a checkerboard pattern, is used for housekeeping and traffic markings. These stripes are typically seen in walkways to remind workers not to place objects in walkways, preventing tripping accidents.
Color codes can vary depending on the industry—be sure to consult your workplace safety materials for any variations in hazard color standards. For more workplace safety tips, follow U.S. Standard Products on social media!