ANSI Compliant Signs and Labels

The Little Differences

In ANSI, Safety Symbols, Signs and Labels on 3 April 2009 at 1:33 pm

Radioactive Symbol

Pop Quiz: Which of these is the correct radiation alert symbol?

They are not readily noticeable, but if you look close you will see subtle differences. One of these symbols conforms to international standards, the other does not. Give up? Try these:

Which of these is the correct surround shape for prohibited actions?
Prohibited Symbol

Which of these is the proper hazard alert symbol?
Hazard Alert Symbol

Which of these is the appropriate directional arrow?
ANSI Directional Arrow

If you don’t know or are guessing, that’s okay (the answers are at the bottom of this article). The point of having international standards isn’t to give you a headache or to give OSHA a new reason to issue a fine (though it probably feels like that sometimes). Standards are in place so that anyone who walks into your facility will recognize and obey your safety signs.

Radioactive Symbol Correct SizeHere, for example, are the actual, specified dimensions of the radiation hazard symbol. This amount of detail ensures that no matter who creates a radiation symbol, it will be universally recognizable. What’s more, there are specifications that dictate exactly when, where, and how to use these symbols. Problems arise when a designer either doesn’t know or deliberately ignores these specifications. All too often, people try to make a safety symbol “look better” without regard to international standards.

Smoking is RequiredThis can sometimes have an amusing result. According to ANSI standards, the symbol at the left means “Smoking is Required” (the blue circle signifies a mandatory action). We see unintentionally hilarious signs like this everywhere we go, but not all of these mistakes are funny. Ignoring standards can sometimes be dangerous. Even deadly.

We’ll use this symbol as an example:

Do Not Poisonous

This symbol is ambiguous at best. If you were to guess its meaning, what would you say? Taken literally, this combination means “Poisonous Substances Prohibited” or possibly “Do Not Poisonous Substance” (which, of course, is utter non sense). But someone who sees this symbol may guess it means “Not Deadly” or “Avoid Poison” or maybe “Do Not Die.”

If this symbol is posted to warn of a dangerous substance, there is an enormous risk if the viewer assumes it means, “Don’t worry, everything is fine, nothing here will kill you.”

This is why the standards are so specific. Obviously, you aren’t expected to memorize them all (that’s my job), but you do have to make sure your signs are produced by someone who knows what they are doing. Because little differences can have huge consequences.

1) B
2) A
3) A
4) B


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