The Psychology of Safety Colors and Signs

Safety colors and signs are among the most fundamental aspects of workplace safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have created a set of rules that specify what colors mean in a workplace. Safety colors are used in facilities and are even mandated by industry regulations. By following safety color guidelines, businesses can ensure their employees’ safety and minimize workplace accidents. 

safety colors and meanings

The Psychology of Colors

Colors are commonly used to communicate workplace hazards and ensure employees’ safety. OSHA and ANSI have established the following colors to improve workplace safety. 


Yellow is commonly used to generate caution and mark physical hazards. Yellow is easily noticeable and is used for attention-grabbing safety precautions like pedestrian crossings, yield signs, and the “slow” signal at three-color traffic lights. 

In addition to designating caution, yellow is commonly used within industrial space, most commonly for construction vehicles, hard hats, caution tape, safety vests, and cones. Ultimately, yellow is used to highlight instructions and warnings. Although OSHA does not specify a color for handrails or guardrails, they are often painted yellow. 

Green Safety Signs

Another safety color commonly used for safety colors is green, which is usually used to denote safe areas and first-aid equipment. The green background is often associated with safety and used to direct people. Green is not as intrusive as red or yellow, which allows it to blend in while still being recognizable. 

Green is typically used in industrial facilities for safe areas and first-aid equipment. Green is also used to relay safety-related messages that do not include specific workplace hazards. 


Red is one of the most powerful safety colors that requires attention and is commonly associated with danger and urgency. Red is usually used to communicate warnings, highlight potential hazards, or indicate the need to stop. Red triggers an emotional reaction in individuals, sparking them to take action immediately, which enhances safety awareness. 

Red is also commonly used to identify fire protection equipment, danger signs, containers of flammable liquids, and emergency stops or alarms. 


Orange in the workplace is often used to signify dangerous machines or equipment that can crush, cut, shock, or injure workers in any other way. Orange also indicates a moderate risk of injury and guarding devices. Within the workplace, orange represents the need to pay attention to and be mindful of potential hazards or dangers. Due to its high visibility, user safety increases tenfold. 


Blue is commonly used in an emergency to identify where first aid and other safety equipment are. Mandatory signs have been blue since after the law was established in 1996. The International Organization for Standardization is in charge of standardizing safety signs’ colors and basic shapes. 

The Psychology of Symbols

Symbols also play an important role in the workplace to effectively promote safety. Symbols help capture attention, influence behavior, and, most importantly, help workers stay safe. Given that humans are visual beings, visual communication through safety symbols is an excellent way to relay messages quickly and effectively. By implementing universally understood symbols, everyone can receive the same safety messages, regardless of cultural or language barriers. 

Skull and Crossbones

The skull and crossbones are well-known symbols that indicate danger, poison, and death. The design originated in the Late Middle Ages as a symbol of death. This symbol is typically used with chemical hazard labels and warning signs. 

Exclamation Mark

The exclamation mark symbol in workplace safety is used to indicate a hazard that could cause immediate skin, eye, or respiratory tract irritation or narcotic effects. It could also be used to show acute toxicity, skin corrosion, and skin sensitization. This symbol is part of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHSH). The exclamation mark is also used in traffic signs to indicate caution or in product labeling to show that the product is unsafe for consumption. 


The flame symbol in the workplace indicates flammable materials, which could include self-reacting substances and objects that give off combustible gas. The actual open flame is used to indicate the presence of a fire hazard. The flame over the circle symbol oxidizes substances or objects that give off oxygen or other flammable material. Outside of the workplace, the symbol could also be used to show no smoking or open flames. 


The cross symbol in workplace safety indicates first aid or medical help. This symbol helps ensure individuals can reach the first aid stations or emergency medical services quickly in the case of injury or medical emergencies. 

Hard Hat

The hard hat symbol works perfectly to indicate the need for a hard hat in the workplace. This symbol is usually used in areas that require a hard hat, like a construction zone. The emblem is generally paired with a text saying “Hard Hat Required in this Area” or “Hard Hats Must Be Worn.” 

Hand and Eye

Hand and eye symbols are essential in representing the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against hand and eye hazards. The hand symbol usually denotes the need for protective gloves against cuts, abrasions, chemical exposure, and other hand-related risks. The eye symbol indicates the need for eye protection through safety glasses or goggles—the goggles shield against potential eye injuries from flying objects, chemical splashes, or other workplace hazards. 

No Smoking Symbol

To communicate no-smoking policies in the workplace, companies use a no-smoking symbol. The symbols are often found at the entrance, exits, and designated areas in order to remind individuals of no smoking in that area. The symbol typically shows a cigarette inside a red circle with a red diagonal line crossing it. 


The arrow symbol in a workplace provides directional guidance to indicate the location of safety equipment or to direct personnel. These symbols keep personnel moving in the right direction and even point out the site of important materials. The arrow is often used along with other safety signs. 

Stop Sign

The stop sign controls traffic and directs traffic within work environments. The signs help prevent accidental collisions with forklifts, vehicles, and foot traffic. Furthermore, the stop signs denote restricted areas like offices with confidentiality requirements or spaces with delicate or dangerous equipment. 

The Benefits and Importance of Colors and Symbols

Using symbols and colors in the workplace offers several benefits, here are some of the main benefits: 

  • Improved recognition and response
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Cost savings
  • Universal recognition
  • Psychological impact
  • Prevention and Awareness


Using symbols and colors in the workplace is an extremely powerful tool to promote safety, improve productivity, and foster a culture of awareness and prevention. The visual cues improve recognition and responses to hazards and add to a universal understanding of safety information. Contact Hobbs Dock and Door today!