A brief history of signs

slipperyIt’s funny, sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference. Safety signs and warning signs can make a big difference, simply by highlighting hazards and risks in the workplace, and allowing us to modify our behaviour accordingly. What you may not know however, is it’s a strategy that’s been effective for hundreds, if not thousands of years…

The very first road signs were simple milestones, marking out distance. However, there are examples of specific warning signs from around the 17th century onwards. These early signs were written in the local language and did not have high-contrast lettering, meaning their messages might have been easily overlooked. Interestingly, the symbolic signs we see today did not develop until much later on.

Complex signage systems emerged with the appearance of motorcars. And in 1909, nine road signEuropean governments agreed on the use of four pictorial symbols, indicating bump, curve, intersection, and railroad crossing. The intensive work on international road signs that took place between 1926 and 1949 eventually led to the development of the European road sign system.

As the 20th century progressed and traffic volume and vehicle speeds increased, sign-visibility and nighttime use capability gained significance. Earlier flat painted signs gave way to signs with embossed letters, resembling the vast array of safety signs we find today.

In modern times, there is a vast array of warning signs, specially adapted to indicate any potential hazard, obstacle or condition requiring special attention. These safety signs may consist of words with safety messages, pictorial warning symbols of various sizes, shapes, and colours. Each colour is standardized and reflects a meaning. On the other hand, there are some types of safety sign, which are often in the form of posters and are designed to provide significant information or instructions to employees, informing them of their duties and responsibilities. Other signs are designed to be displayed temporarily, for example to indicate when a floor is wet. These are often portable in nature.
Regardless of the kind of industry, safety signs are needed in every business. Failing to protect your workers could lead to extensive fines or have more serious consequences including prison sentences, personal injuries or even loss of life. It is therefore vital that employees take measures to ensure that their signage meets current legislation and safety best practice.

This article was guest written by Stock Signs, our preferred partner for RoSPA Members.  For more advice on how you can use safety signs to protect your employees and your business, please visit their website.

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