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Archived Article

ANSI Z535 - New Regulations For Safety Signs and Decals


ANSI Z535.4

The American National Standard Institute (ANSI) is the organization responsible for publishing the ANSI Z535 series of standards. The ANSI Z535.4 Standard, titled Product Safety Signs and Labels, defines the content for a safety label, as follows:

"A product safety sign or label should alert persons to a specific hazard, the degree or level of hazard seriousness, the probable consequence of involvement with the hazard, and how the hazard can be avoided." (ANSI Z535.4-1998)

The American National Standard Institute has issued new standards for safety signs and labels. Most safety professionals consider these standards to be as important as the OSHA standards. According to ANSI Z535.4-1998 publication, many standards of visual presentation are suggested for maximum safety.

Before the new ANSI regulations, a sign or decal might have looked like this:

Utilizing the new standards, a new sign might look like this:


NOTE: You can build a wide variety of general and safety signs using our free Safety Sign Builder. Full control over every sign option results in virtually unlimited possibilities.



The American National Standard Institute's Z535.4 provides guidelines for the design of safety signs and labels for application to products. These guidelines have been in use since 1991, when this Standard was first published. Prior to approval of this Standard, product manufacturers did not have a uniform national standard for designing product warnings. Most manufacturers either developed their own warning designs, borrowed the OSHA designs for environmental and facility safety signs, or purchased generic warnings from inventory-based safety sign companies. The result was an increase of product safety sign designs, colors and messages.

The ANSI Z535.4 Standard sets forth a hazard communication system developed specifically for product safety signs and labels. It consolidates a number of previous graphic approaches into a common design direction, carefully selected to present product hazard information in an orderly and visually consistent manner for effective communication.

The ANSI Z535.4 committee, consisting of representatives from a variety of industries, took many years to develop this Standard. As a result, there is now a single consistent standard for the majority of product warnings, including those for use on industrial equipment.



According to this Standard, a product safety sign or label should alert persons to a specific hazard, the degree or level of hazard seriousness, the probable consequence of involvement with the hazard, and how the hazard can be avoided.

Product safety signs are likely to contain more information within a smaller format and are usually observed at closer distances. They must physically and visually integrate with a wide range of product sizes, shapes, and color characteristics.

The signal word is the large word appearing in capital letters on a colored background at the top of a product safety sign. This standard defines four choices for the signal word; DANGER, WARNING, CAUTION or NOTICE. Each signal word and its background color, communicates a different level of hazard seriousness. The four signal word choices are:

  • NOTICE - indicates a statement of company policy directly or indirectly related to the safety of personnel or protection of property. This signal word should not be associated directly with hazard or hazardous situations and shall not be used in place of danger, warning, or caution.
  • DANGER - indicates an imminently hazardous situation which, if not avoided, will result in death or serious injury. This signal word is to be limited to the most extreme situations.
  • WARNING - indicates a potentially hazardous situation, which, if not avoided, could result in death or serious injury.
  • CAUTION - indicates a potentially hazardous situation, which, if not avoided, may result in minor or moderate injury. It may also be used to alert against unsafe practices.

There are two key decisions to make when choosing the appropriate signal word for your product's hazard:

1) How severe will the injury be if the safety sign is ignored? If it is serious injury or death, then your choice for a signal word is either DANGER or WARNING. If the injury is minor or moderate, CAUTION should be used.

2) What is the likelihood that the injury will occur if the safety sign's message is ignored? Is it a "will" or a "could" situation? If you have decided that serious injury or death would be the result of interaction with the hazard, and it "will" occur if the safety sign is ignored, then your choice for the signal word is DANGER. If the likelihood that injury or death "could" happen should the safety sign be ignored, then your signal word choice would be WARNING.

ANSI Z535.3 promotes adoption and use of uniform and effective safety symbols. This Standard also provides a procedure for evaluating image effectiveness in communicating the intended message, as well as considerations for graphic design of symbols.
There are four types of symbols that communicate different messages. The messages are:

1) Prohibition - A circle with a 45-degree slash from upper left to bottom right that represents prohibited action.

2) Hazard Alerting - The preferred symbol panel which consists of a black image (or safety red image for some symbols) on a white background.

3) Mandatory Action - These symbols are generally used in ANSI Z535 to convey mandatory action.

4) Information - These symbols, usually found on ANSI Z535.2 General Safety of Fire Safety Signs, are used to convey equipment location, egress, permitted actions, and fire equipment location.

When evaluating candidate symbols, you want to ensure you identify your target audience, determine the intended message, and determine the final size of the symbol.

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