The Psychology Behind Safety Signs

Signs are used all over the world; regardless of language, alphabet and culture, they all follow the same sort of layout, with similar images and colors so that everyone can understand them within seconds.


Color also has a huge role within safety signs as each color tells you at a glance what the essence of the message is – red signifies danger, yellow often denotes caution – so you can modify your behaviour even before you read the content.

The main use of safety signs

These signs have several uses and applications, with some being more important and immediate than others. Mainly, safety signs are used to:

  • Highlight health and safety issues and potential hazards;
  • give directions and information;
  • instruct employees and visitors and remind them about personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • point out the location of emergency equipment, and
  • point out which actions are unsafe or prohibited and which are mandatory.

A sign’s color will be determined by its purpose – red is immediate danger, yellow is caution and so on.

Colors and meanings

Red – red indicates danger, or instructs people to minimise or eliminate dangerous behaviour. There can be stop signs, signs pointing to emergency cut-out switches and warning signs. Red signs usually are round with red edging and black and white words or images. The red portion of the sign needs to be at least 35% of the total area.

Yellow or amber – this color denotes important information and instruction, like wet floor signs. The color yellow helps the sign to stand out but makes people read the notice before proceeding. Usually yellow signs are triangular with very little or no white, and black text or images. The yellow area needs to be at least 50% of the total area to be effective.

Blue – this color is used to impart instructions or information. They don’t warn of any danger, but they do give information or instructions that must be heeded, such as PPE reminders or parking directions. As with yellow, blue must make up at least half of the sign, but the text can be black or white.

Green – this is for signs that are used to direct people and to point out important features in a building or environment, like first aid signs or exits. Green isn’t as intrusive as red, yellow or blue, but it’s still instantly recognizable when the need arises. Green signs are usually square or rectangular with white text or images and a 50% green component


The psychology of color

It’s important to recognize the psychological impact of colors on cognition and behavior. Each color has its own meaning – red is the strongest and provokes the biggest reaction, which is why it’s used for the strongest of emergency and danger signs.

Blue is also a powerful color, but it denotes wisdom and information. It’s a popular and neutral color, so people respect it and pay attention. Blue is associated with intelligence, which is why it’s used to impart important information.

Yellow is the brightest of sign colours and is the first one the human eye notices – it’s also the most visible to visually-impaired people. This reason is why it’s used in road signs and in hazard warnings as it’s hard to miss.

Green is associated with peace, generosity and freedom, which is why it’s used for exits and first aid signs, as these places represent freedom and kindness. People will run towards them in a crisis, rather than away, as may happen with red or yellow.

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