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Are the signs right?

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Are the signs right?

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Due to owner and management liability, clearly laid out in new safety legislation, the HSSA (Health and safety Signs Association) have realised the need for many organisations to revisit their safety communication systems. Particularly signs, as often they have found many managers have not kept them up to date, leaving a confusion of safety within the work place. If an accident were to happen, safety sign status would be among the key components investigated. It is therefore paramount, that consistency of design across safety signs is maintained if a common communication message is to be effective throughout all our buildings.

For example, in the case of a fire, it is critical that all occupants get to a place of safety. One of the most important aspects of this is clear, unambiguous and consistent escape route signing.

This is good practice, but regrettably when looking around organisations premises, so often signing is not consistent due to a mixture in sign types and design.

New standards for good safety practice that includes clear advice on the use of safety signs have now been released, enabling organisations to audit their signs, ensuring they meet current safety legislation.

The new Reform Order makes it clear in Part 2, section 14 (g) that emergency routes and exits must be indicated by signs; and (h) emergency routes and exits requiring illumination must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of their normal lighting.

This is good clear practice, but regrettably when looking around organisations premises so often signing is not consistent due to a mixture in sign types and design.

What is required is a bench mark for good fire safety practice that includes clear advice on the use of fire safety signs, and that has now been provided by the introduction of BS 5588 Part 12 Fire precautions in the design, construction and use of buildings ? Part 12: Managing fire safety.

In section 7.4.4. Signs and signage it says:

'Fire safety signs and signing systems form an integral part of the overall fire safety strategy of a building and are fundamental to the communication of good fire safety management information. Clearly visible and unambiguous signage is essential for speedy escape, particularly in buildings where many of the occupants might be unfamiliar with the building content'.

This new standard also offers real clarity to the categories of fire safety signs that should be employed in an organisation. These are laid out in Annex D (informative) Signs and Signage. The headings are: Means of escape; Way-guidance and signing systems; Fire safety notices; First aid fire-fighting signs; Emergency equipment identification signs; Emergency egress equipment signs; Fire-fighting facilities signs; Hazard warning signs; Prohibition signs and finally Assembly point safe area signs.

Sign design is paramount to the overall effectiveness of these categories working as a harmonious communication message. It is at this point that BS 5588 Part 12 reinforces the design criteria of BS 5499. This standard offers absolute clarity on the best design type for fire safety signs. Correct use of colour, graphical symbol, directional information and the use of lower case supplementary text are recommended as the most effective elements that make a clear sign for use in an emergency situation.

BS 5499 Parts 1, 4 and 5 have also been subjected to a rigorous examination in regards to the DDA - The Disability Discrimination Act. The DDA specifies the need for safe evacuation for disabled occupants and includes persons with learning disabilities and dyslexia. BS 5499 recommendations concerning the correct use of supplementary text are particularly pertinent at this point.

So, what does this all mean for us, who under new safety legislation now have a new set of responsibilities? Well firstly, we must ensure that all safety risks and appropriate safety instructions within our buildings are clearly signed. We must ensure that other elements that are key to the overall fire safety of our organisations are signed appropriately offering clear information, whether it's a fire action notice, a fire door keep closed sign or a prohibition sign. Our risk assessments should flag up these. But the HSSA's main recommendation is that organisations audit their signs to ensure an absolute consistency of design and sign type using BS 5499 for advice on good practice and BS 5499 for good design!

For access to the free HSSA interactive guide on safety sign design please go to http://www.hssa.co.uk/

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