How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility

By Mauriah Lamia
Last updated: June 17, 2017
Presented by Accuform
Key Takeaways

Evaluating your safety sign's placement, anatomy, and use of contrast can improve its visibility and reduce workplace incidents.

Workers can’t avoid hazards if they’re not aware of them. That’s why safety signs are so important. They alert workers to nearby risks, remind them to take proper precautions, and help prevent them from making mistakes that could have tragic outcomes.


It’s not enough to simply post the signs, however. To make them truly effective, you also have to make sure they are well-placed, highly visible, and eye-catching.

In this article, we’ll go over the three basic factors that will help you optimize the visibility of your safety signs: placement, anatomy, and contrast.


Placement: Find the Ideal Spot for Your Sign

Sign placement is the chief element in the science of sign visibility. Safety signage doesn't exist in isolation. It is part of a dynamic spatial environment that includes facility structures, active employees, and lots of moving parts. All of these elements compete for the worker's attention and can have an impact on how well the sign is seen.

For this reason, the first step to optimizing sign visibility is identifying the ideal spot to mount signage.

To do that, separate your facility into three tiers:

  1. Above the worker's head (78 inches above the floor)
  2. In the worker's eye-line (45 to 66 inches above the floor)
  3. Closer to floor level (4 to 18 inches above the floor)

This division will help you determine the most effective spots for any given sign:

  • Location and emergency equipment signage belongs in that first tier – 78 inches above the floor so it is easy to locate when they look up and can be seen from afar
  • Danger, Warning, and Caution signs call attention to deadly risks and serious hazards in close proximity – these should be at eye level, so workers can see them while performing their tasks
  • Wayfinding and pathmarking signs belong closer to the floor so they can be seen and help workers safely evacuate even if an emergency fills the facility with smoke

The placement will also help you select the right size for your sign. Here's a table that breaks it down:


How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility

Placing a new sign also gives you a great opportunity to audit your facility's existing signage. Safety sign clutter reduces the effectiveness of your safety signs, so taking down outdated or irrelevant signs will improve the visibility of your newer and more permanent safety signage.

If you're not sure what sort of sign would be most suitable for your facility, consult a visibility chart or make use of measuring tools. At the very least, take these three steps to find out what size will give you maximum visibility:

  1. Determine the viewing distance
  2. Count the characters and spaces
  3. Associate distance with sign width

(Learn more in Sign Blindness Is Real – Here's What You Can Do About It)

Anatomy: Selecting the Right Design

How a sign is designed can also increase employee engagement with the instructions posted on it. Think of it as the sign's anatomy: it's how all the different parts of the sign come together to convey the relevant information.

The ANSI Z535 standard provides guidelines for optimizing safety sign anatomy in the most functional, visually engaging ways. It specifies a uniform format for accident prevention signs and tags that revolves around safety alert symbols, signal words, safety symbols, and safety messaging. Following this format optimizes the space allotted on a sign to deliver need-to-know information in the blink of an eye.

The ANSI Z535 sign formats communicate the following critical pieces of information:

  • The nature of the hazard
  • The consequences of interacting with the hazard
  • How to avoid the hazard

Taking time to consider the most visually compelling sign anatomy could be what saves your company from the large business and human costs of a workplace accident.

(Find out How to Choose the Right Sign Material)

Contrast: Make It Pop

The ANSI Z535 format also ensures that your sign stands out instead of blending into the background.

High-contrast signs are one of the best ways companies can prevent safety sign blind spots around their facilities. The eye is naturally drawn to salient objects, so signs with bold type, bright colors, and thick borders have a better chance of capturing attention.

Here is an overview of the OSHA/ANSI color standards for safety signs.

How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility

Get the Message Across with Improved Safety Signs

The best sign systems effectively marry facility specifications with industry signage standards. Optimized sign visibility plays an important part in that process.

By staying mindful of safety sign visibility best practices and using signage solutions that meet unique workplace specifications, you won’t just have safety signs; you’ll have a visual, responsive safety environment.

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Written by Mauriah Lamia | Content and Social Media Manager

Mauriah Lamia

Mauriah Lamia, Content Marketing at Accuform
Mauriah performs industry research to educate others about products, markets, and standards/regulations. She writes content that’s topical and solves problems, while engaging reader with unique perspectives. Her goal is to create safety experts in the industry of signage and facility identification.

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