New European legislation governing workplace safety signs – ISO 70140

Photo by Jared Earle via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Photo by Jared Earle via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Under the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996, employers are required to provide specific safety signs whenever there is a risk that cannot be eradicated by other means.

This signage covers a broad range of purposes, including:

  • Hazard signs warning of potential risks to workers (e.g. fire risk, chemical hazards).
  • Mandatory signs showing actions that must be taken by people working in particular areas of the workplace (e.g. the need to wear eye, ear or hand protection, or personal protective equipment).
  • Prohibition signs showing what is prohibited in certain areas of the workplace in order to ensure personal safety (e.g. no smoking, no mobile phones).

In January 2013, ISO 70140 was written into European law, which means that the UK, as a European member state, will have to adhere to the new rulings when buying any new signage. The new standards, which will replace the existing BS 5499 legislation, and applies to all workplaces, sectors and locations. Health and safety guidance recommends that the two different types of signage should not be mixed in the workplace, although it’s clearly not feasible for all organisations to replace the entirety of their signage in one go.

Safety signage is one of the most important methods of preventing workplace accidents and it is best practice that the latest safety sign guidance is followed. The rationale behind the change is an increasingly mobile workforce within the European Union, and the presence of many workers who may still be learning the language of the country in which they are living. Having standardised signage across the European member states will make workplaces safer for all.

Employers must do all they can to ensure the health of the staff working in their organisations. This means warning staff about potential hazards to health, but also going one step further and trying to reduce risks in the workplace and assess the risks to individuals. Protecting the health of staff may require risk assessments, health screening and, potentially, making workplace adjustments for individuals based on their existing health conditions. For help with all of these matters, or for guidance on any employee health issues, call the free Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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