In this November’s Federal Register, OSHA confirmed the September 11, 2013 effective date of its direct final rule revising the accident prevention signs and tags standards for general industry and construction. On June 13, 2013, OSHA published the final rule updating references in the signage standard to more recent national consensus standards approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Since the agency received no significant adverse public comments by its July 15 deadline, it was able to confirm the effective date of the final rule of September 11, 2013. For the purposes of judicial review, however, OSHA considers November 6, 2013, the date of issuance of the final rule.
The goal of the new rule is to create a single, national uniform system of hazard recognition. OSHA believes that such consistency will create more effective communication, which in turn, should help achieve the objective of fewer workplace accidents. Over the past four years the
ANSI Z535 Committee for Safety Signs and Colors, together with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, championed this update to OSHA’s standards to better align with the latest advances in safety sign technology by recognizing that the ANSI Z535 series of standards for safety colors, signs and tags provide an equal or greater level of safety as compared to the 1967-68 USASI Z53 and Z35 standards that are presently referenced in OSHA’s regulations.
The update will allow employers to use the latest ANSI Z535 standards for signage and tags—thereby advancing safety in the workplace—without impunity. Most employers currently use signs that comply with the older 1967-1968 standards. To avoid creating an economic burden to employers, the older standards will continue to be referenced in OSHA’s regulations. However, the corresponding ANSI Z535-2011 reference will be placed next to the older reference allowing employers to use safety signs that comply with either the old or the new standards.
Improvements to signage and tags through the new ANSI standards include:
- Providing critical information employees need in order to make safe decisions, such as the nature of the hazard, the consequence of interaction with the hazard, and how to avoid the hazard
- Incorporating human factors research on effective warnings and by modern risk assessment methodologies for accurately communicating hazard severity
- The capacity to use panels for multiple languages and graphical symbol improving hazard communication to non-English speaking workers
- Meeting the current legal criteria for “adequate warnings” as defined by the past thirty years of U.S. case law
According to OSHA, with an emphasis on tested symbols and the ability to handle complex messages, the ANSI designs have many advantages toward advancing safety in an increasingly complex workplace. This includes improvements of the definition for the content of a safety sign and sign formats. The new designs also expand the differentiation between varying degrees of risk/hazard severity and promote consistency leading to better comprehension.
Two of the leading reasons behind the new signage requirements are the growing cultural diversity in the United States and literacy issues in high-hazard jobs. Under federal law, employers are required to provide information to employees about health and safety at the workplace in a manner the employee understands. This can be a challenge for a growing work force of employees whose primary language is not English. Also, 30 million adults in the United States cannot read and more than 50% read at or below an 8th grade level. It is the illiterate worker and the newly immigrated who are most likely to work in environments with a greater risk of injury or illness. New ANSI standard safety sign designs will make it easier to communicate hazards to these populations.