When it comes to ensuring the safety of our workers, clear and precise communication is a critical element. The cornerstone of effective safety communication is, without a doubt, health and safety signage. Unfortunately, there seems to be a little bit of confusion over this in some circles, best illustrated by a recent gem of a sign we stumbled upon.
Picture this: a sign with the ominous caption “DANGER” followed by a succinct list: “Contains asbestos fibres, avoid creating dust, cancer and lung disease hazard, avoid breathing, airborne asbestos fibres.”
Did that catch your attention? We hope it did, particularly the ‘avoid breathing’ bit. Who knew that the ultimate safety measure against asbestos was to join the esteemed league of goldfish and earthworms in their oxygen absorption techniques? This sign just made a compelling argument for evolution to equip humans with gills or maybe grant us the ability of photosynthesis.
As much as we appreciate the unexpected chuckle in our otherwise profoundly serious occupation, this sign exemplifies how poor wording can muddle critical health and safety messages.
The Importance of Clarity in Health and Safety Signage
Good safety signage needs to be immediately comprehensible. The human brain, unlike our breathing rule-bending sign, isn’t particularly fond of solving puzzles in the face of immediate danger.
In our humorous sign example, ‘avoid breathing’ is likely intended to caution against inhaling the airborne asbestos fibres. But with its current unfortunate wording, the warning could be interpreted as a suggestion for people to stop breathing altogether – a fascinating concept but impractical unless you happen to be a cartoon character or in possession of superhuman abilities.
It’s All in the Wording
Clear, concise, and easy-to-understand wording is necessary in safety signage. Instead of ‘avoid breathing’, a more accurate directive might be ‘use respiratory protective equipment’ or ‘avoid inhaling dust’.
We cannot stress this enough: Asbestos is no laughing matter. Prolonged exposure can lead to serious health conditions, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Miscommunication of safety protocols, even unintentionally, can put lives at risk.
Good practice in Safety Signage
Make sure that your safety signage is:
- Clear and Concise: Keep your messages short, simple, and easy to understand.
- Visually Impactful: Use bold colours and universal symbols to catch attention and convey the message quickly.
- Well-Maintained: Replace signs that are faded, damaged, or outdated. A sign that’s not easily read serves no purpose.
- Well-Placed: Install signs where they can be easily seen and understood by all, preferably at eye level and in multiple locations if necessary.
To end on a lighter note, remember: good health and safety signage should instruct, not perplex. The next time you see a ‘stop breathing’ sign, let us hope it is part of a comedy skit, not an actual safety measure against hazardous materials. And until human evolution catches up with our sign’s innovative proposal, let us stick to using masks and respirators in the presence of airborne asbestos fibres!
Stay safe and, of course, keep breathing!
Don’t wait till it’s too late! Prevent accidents from happening in your company, click here to find out more about our Health and Safety Risk Assessments.