Sign Blindness

By Tabitha Mishra
Last updated: August 9, 2023

What Does Sign Blindness Mean?

Sign blindness is a psychological phenomenon in which a person fails to notice signage in their field of vision. It is a common occurrence for anyone who sees the same signs in their working environment, week after week.

Sign blindness is not the same as intentionally ignoring a sign or failing to comply with the instructions posted on it. It is, rather, a failure to consciously register signage in one's environment.

Sign blindness is a safety risk, since it means workers might not notice, and therefore not heed, the warnings posted in the workplace.

Safeopedia Explains Sign Blindness

Signs play an important role in keeping workplaces safe. They can warn workers of nearby hazards, remind them when they need to don protective gear, or guide them to exits and muster points in the event of an emergency.

To ensure that they convey information clearly and quickly, safety signs follow conventions or regulations that guide their design. Generally, this involves favoring graphic representations over words, terse wording rather than lengthy sentences, and using specific colors to communicate the type and severity of nearby hazards.

Despite efforts to maximize the efficacy of safety signs, they can fail to protect employees and prevent incidents if workers experience sign blindness from repeated encounters with the same signs.

Types of Sign Blindness

Although the outcome is the same, sign blindness can have a few different causes:

  • Cluster blindness from having too many signs in a single location. This information overload makes it difficult for people to pick up on key information and will tune it out instead.
  • Overfamiliarity from simply seeing the same sign too often.
  • Outdated temporary signage that has not been removed despite no longer serving a purpose. For example, an "Under Maintenance" sign that remains after the maintenance has been completed or a "Caution: Slippery Floor" marker that is left in the same spot for days on end. These signs not only contribute to cluster blindness but also discourage workers from taking the safety signs seriously.

Preventing Sign Blindness

While sign blindness is bound to occur, there are ways to minimize its impact and maintain the efficacy of safety signs. These include:

  • Only posting signs that convey essential information
  • Placing signs where they have the most relevance (e.g. near the hazards they refer to)
  • Using signs that are eye-catching, clear, and easily visible
  • Keeping the wording concise and easy to interpret
  • Spacing signs to reduce the risk of cluster blindness
  • Using signs with standardized design elements
  • Conducting regular toolbox talks on the importance of the postage signage and the information they convey

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