Do safety signs have any real effect on a company’s culture? JACO DE KLERK discovers that, when it comes to emergency planning and evacuation, signs could save lives.

We chat with Ive Van de Velde, product marketing manager of safety and facility identification at Brady Identification Solutions EMEA.

Which signs should organisations have in their emergency plans and within the building?

In any building, you’ll commonly see five types of signs. The round, red on white “no smoking” sign is perhaps one of the most widely used. Prohibition signs are always a white circle with a black icon, with a red edge and diagonal. Mandatory signs, blue circles with white icons, usually inform workers on personal protection items they need to wear, like gloves, goggles or earplugs. The yellow triangular warning signs, with black icons, draw attention to potential danger.

In emergency plans, two types of signs are especially important: evacuation signs, green signs in a square or rectangular shape with white icons, and fire equipment signs, red square signs with white icons. The first are meant to support fast evacuations, and the latter to indicate the location of firefighting equipment.

What role does signage play in emergency planning and evacuation?

Signs are extremely important during emergencies and evacuation. A familiar office or production floor can change dramatically when it is filled with smoke, and commonly used passageways may be blocked by debris or flames. Signs indicate a fast way out, and one that is easy to understand. We recommend placing them thoughtfully, for example, up high to be visible from a distance, but also low enough so they can still guide people out of smoke-filled halls.

What products and services does Brady offer in relation to emergency planning and evacuation?

Brady provides all signs any organisation might need. We will always advise our customers to use ISO 7010-compliant signs that are easy to recognise and standardised in many countries. Using our material expertise and in-house laboratories, we offer all sign artwork on reliable materials that can resist extreme temperatures, abrasion, moisture, UV radiation and other factors usually encountered in challenging industrial environments. All signs are also available in metal-detectable materials for food industries, or with photolum and reflective features to increase their visibility in the dark.

In addition, as a service, we offer a comprehensive walk through your facility together with your experts, to identify optimal locations to place signs that keep your employees safe, and your plant compliant.

How have emergency signs changed/developed over the years?

They have evolved significantly during the last couple of years, moving from customer/country specific signs to more standardised designs, like ISO 7010. This evolution is in part driven by the increased mobility of labour worldwide. Standardisation makes signs more familiar to anyone, no matter which country they are from. It enables signs to guide all professionals present at a premises to make informed, split-second decisions to get to safety.

What challenges is the industry facing with regards to emergency signs?

The result of increased automation and more artificial intelligence is that there are fewer people in a production hall or plant. Consequently, clear and reliable safety signs are more important than ever. In the past, employees could easily follow others in case of an emergency; now they need to rely on well-planned and clearly identified evacuation routes to guide them to safety.

In addition, increasingly complex machinery creates more demand for specialised contractors who travel from site to site and from country to country, to repair and maintain machines. This further strengthens the need for internationally recognisable, standardised signs.

Are there any new trends or developments with regards to emergency signs?

The demand for the materials on which signs are printed is changing. In the past, most organisations would go for just one material that needed to stay in place for a couple of years. Now we see two evolutions:

A need for longer-lasting safety signs, with increased UV protection to reach 10 years of outdoor reliability.

Temporary signs that can be removed and repositioned, to address changes in safety requirements. Demand for this solution has been driven, in no small part, by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a side effect, Covid-19 also increased awareness for signs as a solution to communicate site-specific safety and compliance rules.

What does the future hold for emergency signs?

In the near future, we expect further sign standardisation, also in the emergency sign category. One example is Marine Safety Signs, for which the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Standardization Organization (ISO) have worked together to arrive at a common sign language. Brady closely monitors these evolutions, and we are always able to adapt our signs to the latest standard.

Almost every solution is impacted by technology. Safety and emergency signs are no exception. We expect signs to become more interactive in the future. Any emergency sign could bring a floor plan to an employee’s smartphone via a barcode or RFID chip. It could also initiate a call to first responders, without needing to worry about the right number. People who are stuck could get their precise location by scanning an RFID-enabled sign. Signs can also be equipped with sensors that can be battery-powered, or activated by a fixed RFID scanner. When linked, they could highlight the safest way out on a smartphone, based on actual sensor data. In this way, safety signs, equipped with technology, could further improve the chances of getting everyone safely out of a calamity.

Additional comments that you would like to share?

As an organisation, Brady is very much focused on the customer experience for any solution we develop. We can, for example, customise all our signs to client specifications. On top of that, we offer any organisation the ability to print signs at their facility whenever they need them. In stand-alone mode, our safety printers can print a wide range of signs, and when coupled with the Brady Workstation apps, any safety sign or label is always within reach. Take Globally Harmonised System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals labels for all chemical containers, for example. They will soon become mandatory in South Africa. With our GHS app, we ensure our customers have one less thing to worry about. Simply enter a chemical’s CAS-number and the app auto-designs a compliant GHS label. Print it on one of our safety printers, and apply to fully comply with regulations.

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