A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words-Why Pictograms are Important on Industrial Safety Signs

Wed, 2011-07-06

The English language makes communication difficult.  Take these sentences as an example:

‘The bandage was wound around the wound.’

‘Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.’

Someone with little or no understanding that these words mean different things would think the person writing it was just not making sense. 

Our population is diverse, highly mobile, and has many levels of social and educational backgrounds, each with different reading skills and word comprehension.  

This makes signs that just use words somewhat ineffective.  Not understanding a sign full of words could result in serious injury- even death.

There is a way to help these workers develop understanding of a particular safety message without understanding every word on a safety sign.  The use of standardized safety symbols has provided critical information for accident prevention and personal protection for decades. 

Industrial safety signs can be enhanced by using an appropriate pictogram.  Illustrated or pictorial signs can promote quicker and more effective communication of your safety message, which can result in less accidents and a better understanding of hazards.  Pictograms can be helpful when there is a possibility of workers not being able to read sign text because of a language barrier or a disability.

Bridging the Gap between Words and Pictograms


One of the hardest things to overcome is ensuring that employees understand what each pictogram means.  To bridge that gap, you have to rely on your safety program for the proper education and training- but you’re not alone.  ANSI Z535.3 standards give you an in-depth guide to using pictograms that pass the 85% comprehension test rate. 

This table depicts some of the most common symbols and their interpretations:

 Explosion:

 Pinch:
 Electric Shock:or  Cut/Sever:
 Slip: Corrosive:
 Trip: Poison:
 Fall: Flammable:
 Entanglement: Hot Surface:

Don’t forget about Color…


The other important aspect of any safety sign is the color and/or header of the sign you use.  Keep these colors in mind when purchasing a new safety sign:

 Safety Red Safety Red Shall identify , & Electric Power. Some common applications are fire protection, emergency egress, emergency stop bars, electrical switches and electric power facilities.
 Safety Orange        Identifies an intermediate level of hazard – .
Commonly used to identify hazardous parts of machinery, as the background color on signs or to indicate telecommunications facilities.
 Safety Yellow Shall identify . Common applications include alerting against unsafe practices, identifying physical hazards, personal protection messages, as the background color on radiation signs and to indicate petroleum pipelines.
 Safety Blue Mandatory Action not directly associated with a hazard. Policies, information, etc. Also used to indicate buried water pipelines.
 Safety Green Location of safety equipment, first aid, egress, general safety information. Also used to indicate buried sewer pipelines.

Using widely recognized pictograms and standardized colors will help you choose the proper safety signs for your facility.

Here are some examples of signs you might see every day, both with and without pictograms.  Both signs convey the same message, but the signs with pictograms (which are on the right) give visual clues to the particular message associated with each sign.  If you couldn’t understand what these signs say, the pictograms should help give an idea what message is on the sign:

Danger No Smoking OSHADanger No Smoking With Symbol OR No Smoking Symbol
Caution Slippery When Wet ANSICaution Slippery When Wet With Symbol ANSI
Notice Authorized Personnel OnlyNotice Authorized Personnel Only With Symbol
Danger High Voltage BilingualDanger High Voltage Bilingual With Symbol

Stonehouse Signs offers a full line of standard industrial safety signs for every application.  Don't see what you need?  Ask your account manager to Change It Up- make simple wording changes, add a standard pictogram, use ANSI headers, or even change the hazard level free of charge!

Source: ANSI Z535.3