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How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility

By Mauriah Lamia
Published: June 19, 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.

Source: Sutisa Kangvansap /

In 2013, lack of awareness about hazardous surroundings resulted in 4,000 worker fatalities and countless more injuries. These tragic outcomes—not to mention the citations, lawsuits, and insurance fees—are compelling reasons for you to re-evaluate the safety signage in your facility. You can't afford to wait for an injury or death to happen before you take a good, hard look at the effectiveness of the signs posted on your worksite.

Taking steps to ensure safety sign visibility is a simple and cost-effective way to prevent the blind spots that lead to OSHA violations, workplace injuries, and fatalities (find out more about the Top 10 OSHA Safety Violations You May Have Committed Last Year). Before selecting and posting safety signs, consider the three basic factors that will optimize its visibility: placement, sign anatomy, and contrast.


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 contributes to a dynamic spatial environment that includes facility structures and active employees, both of which have an impact on how well a sign is seen. For this reason, the first step in optimizing sign visibility should be identifying the ideal spot to mount signage.

To make the most informed placement choices, think of your facility as separated into three tiers:

  1. 78 inches above the floor (above workers’ head)
  2. 45-66 inches above the floor (at workers’ eye-line)
  3. 4-18 inches above the floor (no higher than workers' knees)

This division will help you determine the most effective spots:

  • Location and emergency equipment signage is best place at 78 inches so it can catch a person's eyes when they look up and call attention to the sign's content from afar
  • "Danger," "Warning," and "Caution" signs call attention to harmful and deadly hazards and should be placed at eye level, where workers can readily see the instructions as they perform their tasks
  • Wayfinding and path-marking signs should be placed no higher than 18 inches off the floor so thy remain visible even in smoke conditions (see Is Your Facility Prepared for an Emergency? for more advice on selecting emergency signage)

A proactive approach to safety sign placement can also inform the required size of the sign:

How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility

Taking the time to consider sign placement will also give you the opportunity to audit your facility's existing signage and eliminate safety sign clutter. Taking down outdated or irrelevant signs will improve the visibility of the newer, more pertinent safety signage.

Analyze the Sign's Anatomy

Eye-catching sign anatomy increases employee engagement with the instructions posted on it. OSHA and ANSI provide guidelines for optimizing safety sign anatomy in the most functional, visually engaging ways. New compliance standards specify that accident prevention signs and tags should follow a uniform format revolving around safety alert symbols, signal words, safety symbols, and safety messaging.

While you won’t be penalized for lacking the latest z535 formats, the industry-approved form optimizes the space allotted on a sign to deliver need-to-know information in the blink of an eye.


OSHA/ANSI z535 sign formats communicate to workers 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.

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
By adhering to industry best practices for safety sign formats and using the proper visibility calculation techniques, you can maintain OSHA/ANSI compliance as well as a safe, visual


Make Use of Contrast

OSHA/ANSI’s z535 format not only provides you with an optimized, economical sign anatomy, but it also ensures your signage stands out from the facility.

High-contrast safety 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 an increased chance of visually attracting workers.

OSHA/ANSI Color Standards

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.

Optimize the effectiveness of your sign with this free visibility chart and view the recommended letter size for specific viewing distances.


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Written by Mauriah Lamia | Content and Social Media Manager

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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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