You can view a copy of the HSE Regulations here

About the Regulations

What do the Regulations require?

14 The Regulations require employers to ensure that safety signs are provided (or are in place) and maintained in circumstances where there is a significant risk to health and safety that has not been removed or controlled by other methods. This is only appropriate where use of a sign can further reduce the risk. The other methods may include engineering controls or safe systems of work and may be required under other relevant legislation. Safety signs are not a substitute for those other methods of control.

15 In determining when and where to use safety signs, employers must take into account the results of the risk assessment made under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the Management Regulations).2 This assessment should identify hazards, the risks associated with those hazards, and the control measures to be taken. When those control measures have been put in place there may be a significant ‘residual’ risk such that employees must be warned of any further measures necessary. Safety signs should be used if they will help to further reduce this residual risk. If the risk is not significant there may be no need to provide a sign.

16 These Regulations make it clear that safety signs are not a substitute for other means of controlling risks to employees; safety signs are to warn of any remaining significant risk or to instruct employees of the measures they should take in relation to these risks. For example, in some workplaces, there may be a risk of foot injury despite taking measures to control the risk and it may be appropriate to remind staff using the sign indicating that wearing foot protection is mandatory.

17 Although these Regulations do not require safety signs to be used where there is no significant risk to health and safety, certain fire safety signs may have to be displayed under separate legal provisions. If you have any doubts check this with your enforcing authority for fire safety.

What about information, instruction and training?

18 It is important that employers ensure that their employees are aware of and understand the meaning of safety signs and signals either seen or heard during their work, including providing training where necessary. Although most safety signs are self-explanatory, employees (particularly new, young or inexperienced ones) may be unfamiliar with the meaning of some of the less commonly used signs. It is therefore important that the meaning of any sign is clearly explained, and that employees are aware of the consequences of not following the warning or instruction given by the sign. Text supplementing the sign may have a useful role here.

What is a safety sign?

19 The Regulations cover a variety of methods of communicating health and safety information. The terms used in the Regulations mean the following:

  1. (a)  safety and/or health sign – a sign providing information or instruction about safety or health at work by means of a signboard, a colour, an illuminated sign or acoustic signal, a verbal communication or hand signal;
  2. (b)  signboard – a sign which provides information or instructions by a combination of shape, colour and a symbol or pictogram which is rendered visible by lighting of sufficient intensity. In practice, many signboards may be accompanied by supplementary text, eg ‘Fire exit’, alongside the symbol of a moving person. Signboards can be of the following types:



(i) prohibition sign – a sign prohibiting behaviour likely to increase or cause danger (eg ‘no access for unauthorised persons’);


(ii) warning sign – a sign giving warning of a hazard or danger (eg ‘danger: electricity’);

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(iii) mandatory sign – a sign prescribing specific behaviour
(eg ‘eye protection must be worn’);

(iv) emergency escape or first-aid sign – a sign giving information on emergency exits, first aid, or rescue facilities (eg ‘emergency exit/escape route’;


(c) safety colour – a colour to which a specific meaning is assigned (eg yellow means ‘be careful’ or ‘take precautions’);

  1. (d)  symbol or pictogram – these appear in Schedule 1, although some variation in detail is acceptable provided the meaning is the same (examples of variations are included in BS EN ISO 7010). They are for use on a signboard or illuminated sign (eg the trefoil ionising radiation warning sign);
  2. (e)  illuminated sign – a sign made of transparent or translucent materials which is illuminated from the inside or the rear to give the appearance of a luminous surface (eg emergency exit signs);
  3. (f)  acoustic signal – a sound signal which is transmitted without the use of a human or artificial voice (eg a fire alarm);
  4. (g)  verbal communication – a predetermined spoken message communicated by a human or artificial voice; hand signal – a movement or position of the arms or hands giving a recognised signal and guiding people who are carrying out manoeuvres which are a hazard or danger to people;

fire safety sign – see Part 3.




Where and to whom do these Regulations apply?


20 The Regulations place duties on employers in respect of risks to their employees with the principal duty being to ensure that safety signs are in place.

21 In some industries, for example offshore, many employees are employed by contractors who are not in control of the places in which their employees work. In practice, safety signs will normally be provided by the employer or person in charge of the workplace, usually the owner or operator of the installation. The Management Regulations are relevant in these cases, particularly regulation 12. This requires the ‘host’ employer (or self-employed person) to give information on risks and the associated precautions arising from that employer’s activities to the employer of persons at work there. In these cases, the employer or contractor will usually be able to meet their obligations by relying on the arrangements made by the host

(ie the owner or operator).

22 Contractors who are also employers will want to check that their employees are familiar with the meaning of safety signs likely to be encountered during the course of their work. They may also wish to make checks – where there is a ‘host’ employer – that appropriate signs are in place.

Application offshore

23 The Regulations apply to work activities carried out in British territorial waters and in designated areas of the UK Continental Shelf. The activities are those listed in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (Application outside Great Britain) Order 2013. This includes offshore installations, wells, pipeline works and activities connected with installations and wells such as construction, loading and unloading of supply vessels, and diving operations offshore. Note that for offshore installations the emergency warning arrangements, including the tones of acoustic signals and colours of illuminated signs, are covered in the Offshore Installations (Prevention of Fire and Explosion, and Emergency Response) Regulations 1995.3

Fire safety

24 The way these Regulations apply with respect to fire safety signs (eg fire exit signs and fire alarms) is described in Part 3. Further provisions for specific fire safety signs are required by other provisions such as Building Regulations and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Circumstances where these Regulations do not apply


25 These Regulations do not place any duty on employers to provide signs to warn other people (eg visitors, neighbours) of risks to their health and safety. They do not apply to the self-employed. However, in both these cases, employers and certain self-employed people will still have duties under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (the HSW Act), and regulation 12 of the Management Regulations regarding the health and safety of non-employees, and may find the safety signs described here helpful in meeting their general duties to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of others not in their employ but who may be affected by their work activity.

Supply of articles and dangerous substances

26 The Regulations have no requirements regarding the supply of either articles or dangerous substances.

27 Most machinery will be subject to the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 which also contain marking requirements (supporting European standards provide ways of meeting these requirements).

Internal works traffic

28 The signs specified in Schedule 1 of the Regulations are not intended for use in directing traffic on public roads, waterways etc. However, the Regulations require the use of road traffic signs, as prescribed in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (examples of which are shown in the Department for Transport publications Know your traffic signs4 and Highway code5) to regulate road traffic within workplaces where necessary.

Application to merchant shipping

29 Seagoing ships are subject to separate merchant shipping legislation. Regulation 3(1)(d) of the Regulations disapplies them from ships in respect of the normal shipboard activities of a ship’s crew under the direction of the master. It does not, however, disapply them in respect of other work activities. For example, where a shore-based contractor goes on board to carry out work on the ship, that person’s activities will be subject to the Regulations within territorial waters. In these cases, the contractor should make checks to ensure, for example, that appropriate signs are in place. This partial exemption applies to seagoing ships only. The Regulations apply in full to ships operating on inland waters.