Safety signs: what you need to know

It is very common to see signs in public spaces as well as in businesses. Safety signs are essential in gathering and public environments. But who decides on business signage in France? And more importantly, how do you know which sign to put up and where? 

What is corporate signage and what is it used for? 

Company signage concerns all the signs, floor markings, posters and informative stickers in a company. As with all matters concerning companies, signage is subject to restrictions and obligations by the state (prefectural orders) and international organisations (ISO: International Organisation for Standardisation).

By standardising company signage internationally, the standards ensure that signs are better understood by everyone, regardless of language, culture or location. As a result, accidents and other workplace injuries are reduced and the public is warned of dangers. 

The standards that we will analyse in this article concerning visual safety signs relate only to workplaces but also to public places, particularly establishments open to the public (ERP).

It should be noted that these standards do not apply to safety signs for rail, road, river and maritime traffic.

Signs used to identify and guide people around the organisation's premises are not subject to these rules. The manager is free to indicate his premises or not. However, for reasons of visibility and comfort, it is essential to use signage to find your way inside and outside your premises.

Standards governing signage 

There are several legal texts governing signage in public places and businesses. It would be long and tedious to explain each reference text, but in the following points we shall see the important information to be retained from these texts. Before starting signage in companies, it is important to consult the following legal texts or a signage professional: 

  • NF X 08-003: 1994 Graphic symbols and pictograms - Safety colours and signs 
  • NF ISO 3864-1: 2013 Graphic symbols - Safety colours and safety signs - Part 1: Design principles for safety signs and safety markings 
  • NF X 08-003, e.g. in articles CO 42, MS 72, PE 34, PS 24 ... It prohibits the use of standardised signs No. 50041, 50042 and 50044 in establishments open to the public. Graphic symbols and pictograms - Safety colours and visual safety signs : 
  • NF X 08-003-1 : 2006 Part 1 : Design principles 
  • NF X 08-003-3 : 2006 Part 3 : Standardised visual safety signs 
  • Amended order of 25 June 1980 approving the general provisions of the safety regulations against the risks of fire and panic in establishments open to the public (ÉRP) 

Article 4 of the decree of 4 November 1993 specifies that "The head of the establishment shall determine, after consultation with the health, safety and working conditions committee or, failing that, with the staff representatives, the health and safety signs that must be installed or used according to the risks. It is therefore strongly recommended that evacuation and safety plans and professionals be used to avoid any accidents.

Uniform and specific visual identification for a clear message

Visual identification includes the colour and size of the sign. The visual identification of the safety sign is called the referent

In order for messages to be understood by all audiences, the colours chosen must be followed scrupulously and depend on the message to be conveyed. The homogenisation of colours allows the public to quickly identify the message visually. 

The international standard NF EN ISO 7010 (since April 2020) classifies visual signs into 5 categories: 

categories of signs

  • Evacuation (E): this referent is for any evacuation sign: emergency exit, safety location or room or safety action such as emergency phone, safety shower... 
  • Fire fighting equipment (F): fire fighting signs conform to this referent: fire extinguisher, fire door... 
  • Mandatory (M): referent concerning any mandatory action sign: wearing of gloves or visor, dog on a lead...
  • Prohibition (P): this round, crossed-out referent applies to prohibition signs: no picnic, do not touch... 
  • Warning (W): Danger signs should have this triangular referent: radioactive material, biological risks...

The letter in brackets is part of the reference number in the ISO standard table. Example: 

VisualReference numberSecure message
panneau danger matiere radioactiveISO 7010-W003Radioactive products; danger

Signs may be accompanied by a sign with additional text to the warning sign. The additional sign should always be placed after the main sign (i.e. to the right or below).

Now that you know the meaning of each referent, you need to know the size of the sign you display on your premises. This size is also subject to the standard.

Define the size of the sign for optimal visibility

It is not sufficient in the eyes of the law that your sign respects the visual identity of the sign. The size of the sign is also standardised and can be easily calculated. 

You need to know the farthest viewing distance (L) and you can find out the minimum height (h) of the sign. 

Here is the formula to use: L= 100 x h

Below you will find the correspondence of h according to the shape of the panel:

different panel heights

For example, if your maximum viewing distance is 30 metres, rectangular and square signs should be 300mm or 30cm high and round signs should have a radius of 15cm. 

panel size to distance graph

SBE Direct offers a wide range of indoor signs (standard signs or directional signs) as well as outdoor signs (no parking signs, no picnic signs, etc.). If you do not find the right sign for your needs, do not hesitate to contact us to discuss the possibility of manufacturing a sign. 

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