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Color Coding

What Does Color Coding Mean?

Color coding in the workplace mainly concerns the safety and disaster preparedness of the workforce. The concept consists of assigning different colors to indicate various risks, dangers, and safety hazards either up-close or from a distance (even when vision is compromised and reading safety signs could be difficult).

Color coding is often considered an essential safety measure in the workplace and has proven to be effective in terms of instantaneous recognition of different safety hazards denoted by various safety colors, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Safeopedia Explains Color Coding

It must also be noted that a variation of workplace safety agencies and organizations recommend color coding and subsequently assign separate meanings to different safety colors. These color-coding guidelines and annotations often overlap between organizations, which is necessary for safety uniformity across all industries.

The requirements for color coding as directed by OSHA's general industry standards are subdivided into two categories, namely physical hazards and accident-prevention signage and tags.

Color-coding requirements for physical hazards are as indicated below:

  • The color red is assigned to fire protection equipment to facilitate immediate identification.
  • Red must also be used to indicate buttons or switches for shutting down machinery in an emergency situation.
  • Red must additionally be used to indicate containers with flammable liquids that are appropriately labeled with painted yellow lettering.
  • The color yellow often denotes physical risks such as striking against, stumbling, tripping, falling, and getting caught in between. This color indicates a need for added caution.

Color coding applicable to safety signage and tags, as per OSHA's general industry standards, is as follows:

  • Red signs with lettering or symbols in contrasting colors indicate immediate danger.
  • Orange signs serve as a warning for risks and hazards that are not as severe or immediate as red signs.
  • Yellow denotes a need for added caution, and signs painted yellow serve to prevent injuries and accidents in the workplace.
  • Fluorescent orange or red-orange signs indicate various biohazards presented by contact with toxic chemicals in industrial settings.

It should be noted that similar to OSHA, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) stipulates the use of color coding for safety and accident prevention. These color codes largely overlap with OSHA stipulations, barring a few exceptions.

Prominent color-coding standards unique to ANSI are as indicated below:

  • Red lights at temporary obstructions and barricades are a requirement in many settings, as directed by the ANSI Safety Code for Building Construction.
  • Green indicates the need for emergency evacuations in certain circumstances. Similarly, ANSI stipulations dictate that the color green be used to indicate the location that safety equipment and supplies are stored in the workplace.
  • The color purple largely pertains to radiation hazards, as per ANSI stipulations.

ANSI color coding also applies to piping and can indicate hazardous liquids and gases contained and transferred by pipes. Overall, both ANSI and OSHA color-coding requirements facilitate further safety in the workplace.


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