Fire safety signs are required in all workplaces and it is important to be understand their meaning. These signs have been standardized and divided into 5 categories according to the type of message they are intended to convey. Each category is assigned a specific format and set of colours. The categories are prohibition signs, warning signs, mandatory signs, safe condition signs, and exit signs. Understanding the criteria of each category will promote fire safety in any workplace.

Prohibition signs consist of a circular red band and single diagonal cross bar descending from left to right at an angle of 45 degrees. The background should be white with the pictogram indicating the nature of the command in black. They are used to convey a “Do Not” command. For example, a prohibition sign containing a pictogram of a burning cigarette indicates that smoking is not allowed in the area. In the workplace they should be used to reinforce instructions prohibiting dangerous activities and are required by the Health and Safety Regulations. Such instructions should also form part of the employees training.

Warning signs consist of a black band in the shape of an equilateral triangle. The background within the band should be yellow with the pictogram indicating the type of hazard in black positioned centrally on the sign. These signs should be used to make people aware of a nearby danger. For example, a flammable liquid store or a laboratory where radioactive substances are in use should have an appropriate warning sign near the entrance. These signs are required by the Health and Safety Regulations and in specific cases by the Dangerous Substances Regulations.

Signs indicating mandatory requirements consist of a blue circle with the pictogram or text in white positioned centrally. These signs should he used to indicate actions that must be carried out in order to comply with statutory requirements. For example, an area of a construction site where hard hats must be worn should have signs depicting a hard hat at the entry points, and a self-closing fire door that must be kept closed should be labelled with a “FIRE DOOR KEEP SHUT” sign.

Safe condition signs consist of a green rectangle or square with the pictogram or text in white positioned centrally. These signs should be used to indicate escape routes, emergency exits, first aid equipment, emergency showers and the like. For example, a door that needs to be pushed to open should be labelled with a “PUSH BAR TO OPEN” sign, and an emergency exit should be labelled with a pictogram of a person exiting through a door.

Every doorway or other exit providing access to a means of escape, other than exits in ordinary use, should be provided with an exit sign consisting of a green rectangle with the text “EXIT” in white often accompanied by a pictogram of a doorway and a person exiting. It should be noted that the regulations do not require safety signs to be used where there are no significant risks to the health and safety of employees. The issue which then requires to be resolved is whether it is necessary to indicate exits with signs. In arriving at a decision, the fundamental issue which will underpin the process is whether the risk of injury or death to employees from a fire, within a particular premises, is deemed to be significant enough to warrant the provision of signs indicating fire exit routes and final exits. If it is deemed that the risk is not significant then there is no need to install the signs.

Understanding and implementing fire safety signs is mandatory because it helps ensure the safety of employees. Each category is distinguishable and recognizable and conveys a different meaning. Knowing the difference could save lives.