Safety Sign Design BS5499

Safety Sign Design BS5499

Following on from “The Law of Safety Signs” this page is intended to give further details of the legislation and the actual legal specifications covering the design of UK safety signs.

The 1996 UK law brought into force the requirements from the EU “Council Directive 92/58/EEC of 24 June 1992 on the minimum requirements for the provision of safety and/or health signs at work”. Neither of these pieces of legislation contain much useful detail of the design requirements other than as follows…

Specific design requirements for each type of sign:

  • Prohibitory signs – Intrinsic features: 1) round shape, 2) black pictogram on white background, red edging and diagonal line (the red part to take up at least 35% of the area of the sign).
  • Warning signs – Intrinsic features: 1) triangular shape, 2) black pictogram on a yellow background with black edging (the yellow part to take up at least 50% of the area of the sign).
  • Mandatory signs – Intrinsic features: 1) round shape, 2) white pictogram on a blue background (the blue part to take up at least 50% of the area of the sign).
  • Emergency escape or first-aid signs (commonly known as safe condition signs) – Intrinsic features: 1) rectangular or square shape, 2) white pictogram on a green background (the green part to take up at least 50% of the area of the sign).
  • Fire-fighting signs – Intrinsic features: 1) rectangular or square shape, 2) white pictogram on a red background (the red part to take up at least 50% of the area of the sign).

Although you’d think common sense would dictate this, the law also mandates “the placing of too many signs too close together should be avoided” & “The effectiveness of a sign must not be adversely affected by poor design, insufficient number, incorrect positioning, poor state of repair or incorrect functioning of the signs”. It is also required that “signs and signalling devices must be cleaned, maintained, checked, repaired, and if necessary replaced on a regular basis to ensure that they retain their intrinsic and/or functional qualities”.

Although not specifically mentioned in either piece of UK or EU legislation, the British Standard, BS5499 was drawn up to give detailed design guidelines for safety signs expected to meet the legal requirements. These specifications (part 1 of BS5499) for geometric shapes colours and layouts are aligned with ISO 3864.

Quoting from the foreword of BS5499 part 1 which defines it’s purpose: “It is important that the graphical symbols used in safety signs are standardized to aid comprehension. Whilst education in the comprehension of signs is essential, incomprehension caused by the lack of standardization can lead to confusion and possible danger. International travel and mobility of labour increase the need for a standardized method for safety communication.”

In order to meet the specification – safety signs must be as simple as possible and as such must only convey one safety message:

  • A prohibition sign shall show only what or who is forbidden.
  • A mandatory sign shall show only what action is required.
  • A hazard sign shall show only the nature of the potential harm.
  • A safe condition sign shall show only the safety action or the location of the safety equipment or the safety facility or the escape route.
  • A fire equipment sign shall show only the location of the fire equipment or the type of fire equipment or how it should be used.
  • This doesn’t mean that ‘combination signs’ can’t be used – only that the different types of safety message must be separated on the signboard.
  • Coming next – the detailed requirements for symbols and text…