By: Creative Safety Supply Team

January 5, 2017 

New safety initiatives can take a lot of time and energy, but sometimes the most effective initiatives are some of the simplest. Visual communication, the process of using signs, color-coding, and other visual cues to convey information, is a simple strategy that can have a significant impact on the safety of a workplace.

Visual communication gets people the information they need, when and where they need it. For example, a warning sign can communicate to employees that they are required to wear hearing protection when entering an area, preventing them from making a mistake and entering that area unprotected. Another example: glow-in-the-dark arrows on the floor point people to an emergency exit even when the power is out, so everyone can find their way during an emergency.

We see visual tools like these so often, most people probably don’t give them a second thought. They’re built into our daily lives at work, in public places, and in some cases even at home (think of the warning labels on products, appliances, and other items you use regularly). If you own a business or are in charge of safety or facility management for a business, it’s often your job to make sure these visuals exist and function as they should. In some cases, having visuals is required, while in other situations their presence is optional. But regardless of safety standards, using these visuals can impact how well a workplace operates.

If you’re looking for ways to improve workplace safety in the coming year, visual communication is a good place to start. Having effective visuals can make people more comfortable doing their jobs, and as an added bonus, well-made visuals often make a facility look more professional.

Here are three ways to focus on improving visual communication:

1. Assess OSHA compliance.

Some visual markings such as warning signs and labels are mandatory in the workplace. OSHA requires that safety hazards be marked with signs that have a Danger, Warning, or Caution header and contain relevant text and images to alert people to dangerous conditions. Businesses that handle hazardous chemicals must also comply with OSHA’s Creative Safety Supply requirements, which include chemical labels containing six specific elements.

Additionally, workplaces should comply with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines for pipe marking and OSHA guidelines for marking things like first aid stations, eyewash stations, and fire extinguishers.

Determining whether your business needs these signs and labels (or whether you already have them in place) is the first step to implementing or enhancing a visual communication system.

2. Add additional signage where it would be helpful.

Next, go beyond compliance and think about how visuals could improve the way people do their jobs, move through spaces, or visit your worksite. New employees or visitors especially need assistance to behave the way you would like them to. Using visuals to communicate information helps these people find answers to questions without needing to ask for assistance. This will likely make them feel more comfortable performing tasks and it will save everyone time. That benefits the company, too.

Common types of signs and labels to consider adding include:

  • Basic instructions: “No smoking,” “No cell phones,” “Visitors check in at reception,” Wait here until called forward,” etc.
  • Wayfinding: “Waiting area this way,” “Employee break area,” “Restrooms down the hall,” “Conference room through this door,” etc.
  • Organization: “Return tools here,” “Supply room,” “Waste materials,” aisle numbers, etc.

In addition to signs with text, other types of visual cues are also beneficial:

  • Diagrams illustrating how to perform tasks
  • Arrows or other shapes to show directional information
  • Color-colored storage areas or aisles

3. Don’t forget the floors.

When people think of visual cues, they usually first think of signs and labels on walls, doors, shelves, storage bins, and other locations at or near eye level. But the floors of a workplace are a great place to add visual communication, too. Think of the floors as a map that can guide people through your space.

Common visual tools used on floors include:

  • Floor marking tape, which can mark the edges of aisles and pathways, highlight the boundaries of work cells, and outline hazards. This tape comes in many varieties and colors—including hazard stripes—which allows for effective color-coding.
  • Floor signs, which can mark the locations of bins, pallets, trash cans, and anything else that regularly moves and must be returned to the same location. These signs are also useful for marking intersections, such as the places where forklifts and pedestrians cross paths.

By using these types of visual communication, a warehouse, manufacturing floor, office, or other work area can be transformed from a large open space into a space with clear pathways, directions, and work zones. These visuals will make people more comfortable and help keep everything organized. Both of those things contribute to making a facility safe and efficient.


Creative Safety Supply is an online retailer of industrial safety and lean manufacturing products for the workplace. The Oregon-based company helps businesses across many industries work safer and smarter.