Safety labels vs. signs: What’s the difference?
Every facility will have different priorities and constraints when it comes to choosing safety labels and signs.
The accurate interpretation of safety signs is crucial to prevent injuries and save lives. OSHA has set industry standards that clearly define what a safety sign is, how it should be used and where it should be placed. However, when it comes to deciding whether to use a sign or a label to convey a message, OSHA leaves that part up to each individual company.
Every facility will have different priorities and constraints when it comes to choosing safety labels and signs. It may often require experimentation with different kinds of materials and designs to determine what is most effective, but safety labels are most commonly made of an adhesive-backed vinyl material to apply directly to a surface, while safety signs are constructed from a hard-backed material designed to attach to walls, doors, fencing and more.
But, these definitions are not set in stone. To help choose between a safety label and a safety sign, here are some important factors to consider.
How to choose between a label and sign
OSHA does not specify whether a sign or label should be used to communicate vital safety information, just as long as the message is communicated in an obvious, long-lasting and legible way.
Labels are most commonly made to convey identification or instruction. They are typically made of an adhesive vinyl material to instantly peel and apply directly to a surface. This makes labels convenient to apply to a variety of items and areas for inventory labeling, product packaging, identifying tools and materials in a warehouse or office and equipment instructions and warnings for machine guarding, lockout/tagout (LO/TO) and more.
The main drawback of generic labels is that they are temporary and need to be replaced often. The adhesive will likely corrode and text will fade when exposed to light and moisture, which makes them ideal for work environments that have little to no exposure to harsh elements.
There are a variety of other labeling supplies engineered for use in specific environments, including low/high temperatures, laboratories, electronics and more. Labels can also be applied to difficult areas like piping systems and valves using tag stock that provides a rigid backing.
Signs consist of a hard-backed material for durable, long-lasting messages that can be hung or mounted onto many surfaces. They can be used to create large wayfinding messages, safety instructions and procedural signs for a variety of workspaces and other general facility signs that need to remain intact in work environments with different degrees of exposures.
The drawback to signs is that they are a bigger investment due to their often bigger size, higher-quality material and more complex design elements like graphics and specialized text.
Factors to consider
The following factors will assist in determining whether a sign or label will be the best choice for your company’s needs:
- What kind of environment will the message be in? Will there be minimal industrial and environmental exposures, or will the message likely come into contact with light, moisture, solvents, chemicals or other materials?
- How durable must your message be? Can the material be flexible or must it remain rigid?
- Will the message be indoors or outdoors?
- Who needs to see this message and where? Consider the amount of information needed to convey. It is important to ensure messages remain clear and legible to viewers at all times.
Transform labels into durable signs
Sign blanks are an easy way to communicate safety messages in hard-to-label areas and locations that need temporary signage, such as construction sites, warehouses and retail businesses.
The rigid surface ensures messages remain reliable and long-lasting. You can also get the most out of your labeling supply by applying multiple labels onto sign blanks to create custom signs that may require more information or to make a bigger impact, like communicating site-specific PPE requirements and miscellaneous safety procedures. For example, you can make larger signs by doubling up on labels. Make an 8-inch tall sign using 4-inch label supply by applying two labels to a sign blank to instantly double its size.
Just choose the sign blank size and material that is best for the environment, ranging from strong fiberglass and aluminum to corrugated plastic for temporary sign applications. Sign blanks also have the ability to provide visibility from all angles with 1-, 2- and 3-way design options for both indoor and outdoor use.
- 1-way is a flat, 1-sided, semi-rigid white plastic material that allows viewing from one direction. Attaches to fences, walls and doors.
- 2-way is a flat, 2-sided durable translucent white plastic material that allows viewing from two directions. An ideal solution for posting in hallways and areas where visibility is limited.
- 3-way is a flat, 3-dimensional, v-shaped durable translucent white plastic material that allows signs to be seen from 180 degrees. This is ideal for critical safety signs that need to be seen from multiple angles, such as emergency exits and wayfinding.
Types of sign blank materials
Sign blanks are available in a variety of materials that range in durability and purpose. They also come with convenient pre-drilled holes at the corners, making them easy to hang on walls or mount to a variety of surfaces and building fixtures using cable ties, nails or screws.
Sign blank materials include steel, corrugated plastic, aluminum, reflective aluminum and fiberglass. It is critical to consider the environment and installation method when choosing the material for your sign.
- Will the message be indoors or outdoors?
- Does the sign need to endure certain temperatures?
- Will it be in direct sunlight or low light?
- Is there a chance it will come into contact with moisture, oil, solvents or chemicals?
- Will the message be permanent or temporary?
- Where will you apply this message? E.g.: on a post, wall, door, barrel, storage container or fence?
Here’s a breakdown of the features of each sign blank material:
A steel sign blank is made of a ferrous metal (iron) material with a solid 24-gauge steel backing for heavy-duty signs that also allow magnets to stick to it. It’s highly resistant to most chemicals, stands strong to impact and withstands low temperatures.
This material is mainly for interior signage, as it will rust fairly easily. Apply to piping, shipping containers, on refrigerators and more.
Use this corrugated plastic sign blank for temporary mounting locations. The tough corrugation provides a thick material that is lightweight and retains its flat surface shape, even after being bent. This material is made for mild environments that will come into little or no contact with prolonged UV exposure, low temperatures and strong solvents.
Perfect for temporary sign applications on poles, fences and more to communicate wayfinding, site-specific hazards and warnings and other general safety information in warehouses and other indoor facilities.
Aluminum sign blanks are lightweight and reliable in locations that contain harsh environmental exposures, including chemicals, abrasion, moisture and sunlight. This is an ideal material for do-it-yourself sign creation using multiple adhesive labels, which apply seamlessly to this surface.
This corrosion-resistant material can withstand low temperatures. It won’t rust, making it highly durable for outdoor applications. Apply aluminum signs on fencing, poles or other difficult-to-label locations that conventional labels cannot adhere to.
This material offers the same lightweight construction and durability as the aluminum sign blank, but can instantly add extra visibility to your message. Enhance visibility indoors and out with reflective aluminum signs to keep messages highly visible both day and night. This material is perfect for low-light conditions and for signs that need to be seen from long distances.
An ideal solution for construction sites, mining operations, confined spaces and more.
Fiberglass is the sturdiest of the sign blank materials. It provides the highest resistance to impact and is stronger than most metals. The thick material lasts 25-plus years outdoors, and will retain its shape and durability in high and low temperatures as well as exposures from various external stresses. However, contact with strong solvents such as acetone, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and trans-dichloroethylene will jeopardize this material.
This smooth, clean surface is ideal for placement in areas where label application is difficult, such as mounting on walls with challenging textures that most signs cannot adhere to.
Invest in label and sign-making solutions
You can streamline the safety labeling process by designing and printing materials on-demand whenever you need them. Some printers allow you to design custom signs and labels using label design software and choose from built-in templates to simplify the label creation process to produce compliant labels for common industrial applications. Print safety messages small to large on ½- to 10-inch-wide tapes depending on the printer model.
To improve safety instantly, choose from a variety of pre-made labels that are installation-ready.
In addition to sign blanks, you can improve visibility to dangerous work areas all the way down to the floor using tough adhesive floor signs. Simply peel and apply to the facility floor to instantly improve safety awareness and wayfinding. You also have the ability to customize floor signs with your own message and tailor them to the work environment.
Prevent OSHA fines for a lack of hazard communication and make your own rigid signs directly from your facility.