Safety signs

Safety signs banner conveying the message Look, Learn, Act


Safety signs are important. They help to keep you safe in your everyday working life at the University. They warn you about things that are unsafe, tell you what you must do to be safe, what not to do to avoid harm, and where to go to be safe.

By transcending language barriers, these visual cues convey critical information, warnings and instructions to mitigate risks and prevent accidents. Understanding the different types of safety signs and their significance is essential for promoting a good safety culture.

Types of safety signs

There are four main categories of safety signs that are compulsory in the UK workplace, as prescribed by the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996:

  • Prohibition
  • Warning
  • Mandatory
  • Emergency escape and first aid

This is in addition to fire action signs and notices. These clearly guide staff on what to do in the event of a fire, with instructions including how to raise the alarm and where the closest assembly point is. It is advised that fire action notice signs are prominently displayed next to every manual call point in the building.

Find out exactly what each type of safety sign is telling you.

Safety signs poster with EveryDaySafe character holding up two prohibition safety signs: "Yellow, green, blue, red... Any idea what's being said?"

Prohibition signs convey actions or behaviours that are not allowed in a particular area or under specific circumstances. 

Red is a colour synonymous with danger, hence why these signs feature a red circle with a diagonal line through a black symbol or image. This can be accompanied by supplementary text which reinforces what action is forbidden.

Examples of prohibition signs include:

  • No smoking
  • Strictly no admittance
  • No cycles
  • No photography
  • Do not touch
  • No sitting
  • Do not obstruct
  • No stepping on surface
  • Do not turn off
  • No access for people with active implanted cardiac devices
  • Not drinking water
Safety signs poster with EveryDaySafe character holding up 2 yellow warning safety signs: "Green, blue, red, yellow... Safety signs of different kinds"

Warning signs alert individuals to potential hazards, dangers or unsafe conditions in a specific area or circumstance. If you spot a warning sign, you should exercise caution and take the necessary precautions to prevent accidents or injuries.

Warning signs feature a black triangle on a yellow background with a standardised black pictogram. Yellow is an eye-catching colour, and one often associated with caution.

Common warning safety signs include:

  • Slippery surface
  • Biological hazard
  • Fork lift trucks and other industrial vehicles
  • Laser beam
  • Radioactive material or ionising radiation
  • Overhead obstacle
  • Warning: step down
  • Hot surface
  • Barbed wire
Safety signs poster with EveryDaySafe character holding up 2 blue mandatory safety signs: "Red, yellow, green, blue... What am I supposed to do?"

Mandatory safety signs convey specific instructions or actions that you must follow. They emphasise and enforce rules, regulations or protocols necessary to maintain safety in a particular environment.

These signs typically feature a white symbol on a blue circular background. Blue is not seen as a threatening colour, but does attract the eye. Many people now associate blue with instruction.

You will have seen lots of these throughout Oxford on the entrances to constructions sites, instructing those to enter to wear, amongst other things, hard hats and safety boots. Laboratory environments also utilise these signs to ensure you enter wearing the appropriate PPE (personal protection equipment), such as lab coats and goggles.

Other examples of mandatory safety signs include:

  • Wear ear protection
  • Wash your hands
  • Wear protective gloves
  • Use handrail
  • Wear high visibility clothing
  • Use footbridge
  • Use litter bin
  • Keep locked
  • Keep distance
Safety signs poster with EveryDaySafe character holding up 2 green safety signs: "Red, yellow, blue, green... What on earth do they mean?"

Emergency safety signs, otherwise known as safe condition and first aid signs, provide you with critical information during emergency situations. 

Green is seen as a welcoming colour and one that symbolises safety. These signs are designed to be highly visible and easily understood, even in high-stress or low-visibility situations.

They are typically either first aid or emergency escape signs, indicating a safe place or a safe route to take. They also help identify safety equipment and emergency procedures, which can be vital in saving lives and minimising harm during emergencies.

In addition to emergency exit and first aid signs, well-known emergency signs include:

  • Emergency telephone
  • Evacuation assembly point
  • Automated external heart defibrillator
  • Eyewash station
  • Stretcher
  • Drinking water
  • Emergency stop button
  • Emergency hammer
  • Evacuation chair

Find out more

In the workplace, you will encounter safety signs in a variety of locations. Dr Chris Williams, University Safety Officer, demonstrates this in the latest EveryDaySafe video, in which she points out appropriate safety signage in place around the University.

Have a go at our latest EveryDaySafe quiz, which will test your knowledge on different types and examples of safety signs and why they’re important in the workplace, along with some signs trivia.

You can find further information on all the types of safety signs and their meanings in the HSE Guidance.

Campaign materials

You can access more details about the safety signs campaign in the communications pack, and a range of materials, from the EveryDaySafe folder in the UAS comms SharePoint. These include a series of posters (for local printing or via the Print Studio) and an animation, banner image and text content for digital screens, department intranets, newsletters and social media channels.

Help with safety signs in departments

Departments needing to renew, modify or supplement safety signs should contact the Safety Office, where a limited range of self-adhesive signs are available free of charge. If the Safety Office is unable to provide the required signs, departments should purchase these directly - a number of suppliers are available online, including Seton who can produce bespoke safety signs.

Advice is also available from your departmental safety officer.


The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations require the use of safety signs whenever there is a risk to health and safety that cannot be avoided or controlled by other means.

Details on when signs should be used and the standards by which they should comply are set out in the policy.