Frequently Asked Questions

 NFPA Sign Regulations

Q. What do you recommend for NFPA labeling on storage tanks?

Magnetic NFPA placards are most popular material choice here. These adhere very well and do not come off, even in gale force winds. Unlike adhesive NFPA placards, magnetic versions can be easily removed, though. And, compared to aluminum placards, there is no worry about using screws or other attachments. Many others use one of our reflective NFPA diamond signs. These can be seen at night.

Q. How large should my NFPA sign be?

NFPA signs should be as large as possible. Make sure that the emergency workers have plenty of distance before nearing the hazardous area. Large signs are a real advantage. Keep everyone away from the explosion. Let them choose the right fire-fighting equipment. Bigger signs can be seen from a greater distance.

Insiders prefer our reflective NFPA signs. These can be spotted in a blackout. A flashlight quickly illuminates the door to the room that houses the volatile or hazardous materials. The High Intensity reflective NFPA signs are especially bright – even when approached at an acute angle.

Q. What is the material is best for our new NFPA signs? They are outside and face the sun.

We have selected our sign materials for excellent durability. Our signs are made using 3M’s Matched Component System for Traffic Signs. Unlike most competitors that use an inferior ink jet printing system, these signs use 3M authorized films and inks. Most signs are also laminated for increased life.

The most durable signs use reflective materials. In practice, signs should last 10 years outside. But, I must mention that questions of durability are always fraught with uncertainly. Fading can be unpredictable. A sign that faces north might last 3-4X longer than an NFPA placard that faces south. Other key factors are temperature changes and rain.

 Safety Sign Design

Q. I've heard that Johnson and Johnson was suing over the rights for the first aid symbol (the red cross). Does anyone in particular own the rights to this, and can I get in trouble for using it?

Many people use the first aid symbol on signs, labels, and countless other objects. The reason that Johnson and Johnson was suing the American Red Cross was because they started selling merchandise with the logo on it in order to turn a profit. J & J based their suit on the fact that the not-for-profit company started licensing the symbol to commercial partners for profit.

The Red Cross and J & J actually share the rights to the symbol, and the Red Cross offers open sharing of their logo on their website. Since the Red Cross logo (not to be confused with the First Aid Symbol)is frequently used, the recent dismissal of this suit sets a precedent that the symbol can be used freely.

Because of this, you will see the American Red Cross logo almost anywhere that leads people to safety, aid, or disaster help, and you will find this near-universal symbol on many of our signs.

Q. Why is flourescent green the new standard for pedestrian signs and school signs?

Flourescent yellow-green signs are being used in school zones and pedestrian zones to warn that people may be in the area. Since an overwhelming number of deaths are due to traffic accidents, 3M wanted to find a more effective way to warn drivers of pedestrian and school zones. They found out that yellow-green flourescent signs were 50-100% more effective at preventing accidents in busy areas. These signs also work best at the most dangerous times of day -- dawn and dusk.

Q. How does retroflective material make my traffic sign more effective?

With over 50,000 pedestrian fatalities resulting from vehicle accidents, there is good reason why the Federal Highway Administration has shown that retroflective yellow-green signs are the most effective sign for warning drivers of potential danger.

Nobody wants to get in an accident, but retroflective signs can help stop these accidents from happening. With the two effects of flourescence and retroflectivity, these bright, attention-grabbing signs grab light and make a bigger impact on drivers. These MUTCD-compliant signs are saving lives, every day.

Q. A variety of accidents could occur. Some are serious and others are minor. Which type of accident should I consider when selecting the correct header?

The ANSI Z535 standard states that you should use. “Worst credible severity of harm if an accident occurs”. In practice, this means that sign buyer might lean towards the conservative alternative when weighing various severity and injury likelihood scenarios. For example, choose DANGER instead of WARNING for a given hazard. Please look over our Sign tips for more background on hazard selection.

Q. When should I use a Bilingual Sign?

This is a common question. Although there is no definitive answer to this question, we recommend using a bilingual sign when workplace instructions are frequently translated into another language, if your company recruits or actively issues advertisements in non-English media outlets or if there is a substantial non-English speaking audience that needs to be aware of the potential hazard.

For labels that need to be read outside the workplace we recommend that you use a Spanish sign, for example, if (1) Spanish newspapers and radio stations are prevalent in the area or (2) that the primary education is available in both Spanish and English. Of course, a warning label or sign should try reach as wide an audience as possible.

Typically, the bilingual module is attached on the right or at the bottom of the label. It is important that a dual language sign not look cluttered.

Second language is added as a
module to the bottom of a sign.
Too many languages make it hard
to read.

Q. The header definitions seem to have precise definitions for both 'Will' and 'Could' in describing when to use a given header. Can you give me more detail here?

The ANSI Z535 definitions are as follows:

Will: Indicates an event that is expected to happen with near certainty.

Could: Indicates an event that is possible but not nearly certain.

Q. How large a sign should we order?

The ANSI Z535.2 sign standard uses a ratio of 25 feet of viewing distance per inch of text height, assuming favorable viewing conditions.
For unfavorable viewing conditions, this ratio lowers to 12.5 feet of viewing distance per inch of text height.
For a more optimistic calculation, the traffic sign 'rule-of-thumb' is 50 feet per
inch of text height.

Q. When should we use an ANSI sign designs instead of the traditional OSHA safety sign designs?

This entire issue is rather controversial. Let me answer indirectly. Let’s look at actual signs ordered in the marketplace. Here, the OSHA safety sign designs dominate. It seems that a vast majority of industrial sign buyers still purchase the OSHA style signs, especially when they order simple stock signs. ANSI safety sign designs represent a very small part of this market. The shift, if anything, has been to signs that show both a text message and a picto (but still keep the traditional OSHA sign elements such as all caps, the Danger oval header and centered text).

On the other hand, there has been a trend for custom signs towards the ANSI designs. Although the OSHA sign designs predominate for custom orders, there is a gradual trend towards the ANSI designs. This is especially true for signs that involve more text. Utilities and pharmaceutical firms seem to be moving more and more of their custom designs towards ANSI styles.

For me, I can see some real advantages in the ANSI designs. They certainly handle complex text better. A simple, one-line "High Voltage" sign can be improved when you add an Action statement, consequences, a symbol, use mixed case and, in many situations, add emergency information. These signs can be quite impactful.

Q. Our warning labels use ANSI formats, but our industrial safety signs seem to follow the OSHA styles of 1910. What do you recommend?

Yes, this is quite common. The ANSI designs were first proposed for product labeling. These label design standards were originally developed by FMC and Westinghouse in the 1970's and became part of the ANSI label standard in the 1991. The ANSI sign standards took longer to fully push the same layouts.

Q. For symbols that have a red 'Not' mark on them, should the circle slash be on top of or below the symbol?


This question has been studied by several researchers. The answer depends, generally, upon the complexity of the underlying graphic. If, for example, the graphic has a great deal of detail that would be obscured by a diagonal red over-slash, the slash could be placed underneath the black symbol. In the example above, the slash is best shown underneath the black graphic (the version on the right). In this example you can see the operator's hands and how he uses his legs and weight to drive the shovel into the ground. Adding these details make the digging metaphor much clearer.

For more information, see Dr. Wogalter's study, "Pictorial Negations: Preferences for Different Circle Slash Variations" or R.E. Dewar's study, "The Slash Obscures the Symbol on Prohibitive Traffic Signs", Human Factors, 18, 253-258.

Q. Are there rules for when the skull symbol can be used? What is the history of this symbol?

Skull and Crossbones symbol is typically found, now, on chemical hazards. Other, related symbols are the 'Mr. Yuck' symbol and the 'dead bird' symbol. For more detail, click here.

Infectious, Lethal

'Mr. Yuck', Child's Warning
for Dangerous
Substances in Home

Poisonous Gas
Dead Bird

Q. In looking over the differences in sign hazard levels, I am confused on how to best determine injury severity. Do you have any guidelines here?

ANSI defines serious injuries as those that typically have one or more of the following characteristics:

• results in permanent loss of function or significant disfigurement

• requires substantial and prolonged medical treatment

• involves long periods of disability

• involves considerable pain and suffering over long periods of time

For more information, see ANSI Z535.

Q. Do you have setup fees for custom signs?

No! Order custom signs from us without aggravating setup fees.

For most printers, adding a setup fee for plates, art, dies or special colors is a way to disguise the true cost of your custom signs. Setup fees are also a legacy of traditional sign printing presses – when special plates were needed.

Q. I want to use the red cross on my first aid sign. But, you do not seem to show this symbol. Why not?

This symbol should not be used for signs. A green cross, rather than a red cross should be used. Click here to learn more.

First Aid

First Aid

Q. Can you help explain which recycling symbol that I should use on our labels and signs?

There are many choices. For more background, click here.

Q. Should I use all capital letters for my sign? Or, should I use upper and lower case letters?

In most cases, we recommend caps or a bolder font for the headline. But, try to use mixed case letters for the rest of the sign. If the sign has a great deal of text, type your legend as it would be seen in a book or article. Too many capital letters becomes confusing.

Note that we read phrases or groups of letters at a time. You read clumps of letters, together, as one shape. Reading individual letters in all capital letters, would slow us down and has been described as how an early child reader proceeds. ("It is like having your lips move when you read.") In a type font, the ascenders and descenders provide important clues. One of the reasons that we do not spot many typographical mistakes is that we do not read letter by letter. Our "expectations" of what is about to be said allows us to speed through the passage. See the sign below. It is not easy to spot the typo.

You may use the capital letter height for readability guidance. The illustration below shows how much more readable the upper and lower case word is than the all caps version having the same "footprint." Both headlines have the same "footprint". Yet, the upper and lower case version is more readable than the all-caps version.

The upper case alphabet has many more straight lines and is far simpler. A well-know typography expert once stated, "capital letters are for tombstones only!"

 Safety Sign Regulations

Fire Extinguisher Location Signs

Q. Do we have to use signs that jut out from the wall to identify the fire extinguisher locations?

In fact, the NFPA rules are often misinterpreted here. Some building inspectors have required that fire extinguisher signs be mounted perpendicular to their cabinet or when the fire extinguisher is mounted on a wall bracket.

An NFPA interpretation (November, 99), however, mentions that this is not a requirement. The rules only require that "extinguishers mounted in cabinets or wall marked conspicuously."

In practice, however, the perpendicular signs remain our most popular – and for good reason. While "a conspicuous sign, including those mounted parallel to the wall, meet the intent of [the NFPA rules]", the advantages of a sign that can be seen as you approach it from an angle are obvious. Most locations are approached from an angle. Sign visibility suffers. Moreover, many fire extinguishers are kept in recessed cavities and are even harder to locate.

In an emergency, seconds may count. A sign that can be seen from as many different angles (and as many different light conditions) is certainly an advantage.

Q. What are the rules regarding the materials used for fire extinguisher signs?

The signs need, merely, to be "conspicuous". Signs that fade quickly or are too small are not conspicuous. Our GlowSmart signs are some of the most conspicuous in the market.

Q. Do fire extinguisher signs need to be photoluminescent, or "glow-in-the-dark"?

Again, there are no common rules here that mandate this treatment. On the other hand, fires often cause blackouts. A photoluminescent or reflective sign only increases the chances that vital fire protection equipment, shut-off's, etc. will be found quickly. Photoluminescent signs glow in the dark after the lights are off. Reflective signs take the light from a flashlight or backup light and return the light in a way that makes the sign evident. Give your emergency crews and other fire fighting teams all the help that they deserve.

Q. How many fire extinguisher signs do we need?

We recommend that you consult with the regulations above. For a quick overview, of how many are needed, see the excerpt below (from the OSHA standard 1926) regarding Portable Firefighting Equipment, Fire Extinguishers and Small Hose Lines:

• A fire extinguisher, rated not less than 2A, shall be provided for each 3,000 square feet of the protected building area, or major fraction thereof. Travel distance from any point of the protected area to the nearest fire extinguisher shall not exceed 100 feet.

• One 55-gallon open drum of water with two fire pails may be substituted for a fire extinguisher having a 2A rating.

• A ½-inch diameter garden-type hose line, not to exceed 100 feet in length and equipped with a nozzle, may be substituted for a 2A-rated fire extinguisher, providing it is capable of discharging a minimum of 5 gallons per minute with a minimum hose stream range of 30 feet horizontally. The garden-type hose lines shall be mounted on conventional racks or reels. The number and location of hose racks or reels shall be such that at least one hose stream can be applied to all points in the area.

• One or more fire extinguishers, rated not less than 2A, shall be provided on each floor. In multistory buildings, at least one fire extinguisher shall be located adjacent to stairway.

• Extinguishers and water drums, subject to freezing, shall be protected from freezing.

• A fire extinguisher, rated not less than 10B, shall be provided within 50 feet of wherever more than 5 gallons of flammable or combustible liquids or 5 pounds of flammable gas are being used on the jobsite. This requirement does not apply to the integral fuel tanks of motor vehicles.

• Carbon tetrachloride and other toxic vaporizing liquid fire extinguishers are prohibited.

• Portable fire extinguishers shall be inspected periodically and maintained in accordance with Maintenance and Use of Portable Fire Extinguishers, NFPA No. 10A-1970. Fire extinguishers which have been listed or approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, shall be used to meet the requirements of this subpart.

• Table F-1 in §1926.150(c)(1)(x) may be used as a guide for selecting the appropriate portable fire extinguishers.

In practice, though, you may also want to consider other factors, such as the training and mobility of the workers or others in the building, the type of construction, the existence of other fire protection systems, evacuation plans, etc.

Q. What are the rules regarding Fire Extinguisher training?

See, OSHA 1910.157, which is excerpted here: "Where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, the employer shall also provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting."
Radiation Signs

Q. Can you help me find information on Radiation warnings?

Q. What is the 'Trefoil' symbol?

For a quick overview, click here.

Q. What are the OSHA regulations that I need to study for warnings?

There are many possible links. Click here as a start.

 Sign Installation

Q. How do I fasten the signs to a fence?

Use our inexpensive fence clips. They come in pairs. For most people, fastening a sign with our clips is actually a 'one person affair'.

Q. What types of sign mounting posts do you sell?

We offer a complete line of u-channel, round, and square sign posts. We stock these sign posts in both green and galvanized finishes. Custom and decorative sign posts are available. To buy sign posts, click here.

 Sign Materials

Q. What is photoluminescence? And, how is this different from fluorescent signs?

These are two common material features for signs. Photoluminescent signs glow-in-the-dark. Fluorescent signs just exaggerate the impact of the color during the day time (and, especially, at dawn and dusk). Click here to learn more.

Q. When should I use a fluorescent sign? Why is a fluorescent sign better?

Fluorescent signs get noticed faster – in some studies 75% faster. They are a great way to add emphasis to your warning. Your message stands out against the visual clutter of a typical workplace. Fluorescent signs work by “grabbing wavelength” from adjacent spectrum. In other words, a Fluorescent orange is a more intense orange that a standard orange. It’s hard, on a web site or monitor to show how bright these fluorescent signs truly appear in person. Next time you go by a toll booth, school crossing sign or highway workzone, notice how bright the fluorescent signs appear. The photo below only hints at the advantages of fluorescent safety signs.
Biohazard Safety Signs
Fluorescent signs are typically found for Biohazard Safety Signs and whenever you need special emphasis. One of the breakthroughs in fluorescent signs came when 3M invented a durable (10 years +) fluorescent traffic sign material. Till then, fluorescence was quite fugitive. The 3M reflective sign materials offer terrific durability. Click here to compare fluorescent and photoluminescent signs.

Q. What the best reflective sign to us? We’re marking our Fire Hydrants.

3M makes three basic grades of reflective sign materials. For most safety signs, we recommend Engineer Grade or High Intensity Grade. Both give superior outdoor visibility and unexcelled durability. 3M has a near monopoly on reflective films – so, I will confine this discussion to 3M materials. If you need to see your sign when you approach it from an angle, we recommend High Intensity Grade. It’s got better “reflective angularity”. For lower costs, use Engineer Grade signs. High Intensity Grade also gives a better daytime “white” vs the slightly duller Engineer Grade.

There’s a third grade, too – Diamond Grade. But, that is rarely used for safety signs. It’s used for traffic signs in urban areas and when extreme reflectivity is needed.
Reflective Fire Hydrant Signs

Q. Should I fasten my sign to the inside or outside of our fence?


A sign inside of the fence is not effective.

Outside of the fence, it conveys the warning.

It is far better to put the sign on the outside. That way the sign is most easily seen and read. With a strong fastening system, the sign is very hard to steal – even for professional scrap metal vandals. A sign on the inside of the fence is not as effective.