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      • Published 18 Apr 2023
      • Last Modified 20 Feb 2024
    • 5 min

    What are Fire Safety Signs?

    Fire safety signs are an essential part of keeping people safe at work or in commercial buildings, but which ones comply with British Standards?

    Reviewed by David Carmichael, Solution Engineer (December 2022)

    Health and safety are crucial parts of commercial life. The responsibility of maintaining a safe working environment comes from using the correct and appropriate signage to make sure fire safety signs and symbols are consistent and used in the right way.

    Which British Standard Deals with Fire Safety Signs?

    These are governed by processes and procedures through a governing body known as The British Standard Institute. The British standard policy that looks after fire signs and warnings, as well as all other safety signs, is called the BS 5499. As well as ensuring consistency in signs and symbols across all warning signs, the BS 5499 is also compatible with the Health and Safety Regulations 1996.

    When overseeing the consistency in fire safety signs, the BS 5499 gives recommendations for fire safety signs and symbols including sign type and size, the illustrations and arrows used, as well as sign positioning.

    Fire Safety Signs and Meanings

    Fire safety signs and lights serve several purposes and therefore have a variety of categories. They can contain images, text, or both. They can act as a warning, give directional advice, give information, and prevent fire from occurring. Fire safety signs also come in a range of colours that include red and white, green, blue, white, and black and yellow. Signs can also vary in their location. Fire safety information signs can be found in places like fire extinguishers, whereas fire exit signs can be found above doors, to direct an individual to safety.

    All these fire safety signs are split into two groups; signs that prevent fire and signs that assist a person if there is a fire. Fire safety signs that prevent fire can also be categorised into three groups, based on the symbols they contain. These groups include warning signs, prohibition signs and mandatory signs.

    Regardless of which group a fire safety sign falls into, they should all be easily understandable, easily visible, and positioned at the correct height, so that they can be seen from a distance.

    Consistency is key to being able to interpret the meaning of signs in the stressful event of a fire. There are three different colour signs to help with the identification of various warnings - blue, red, and yellow. Each has its own goal around prevention, warnings, and prohibitive messaging.

    What Do Blue Signs Mean in Fire Safety?

    If a fire safety sign is blue and circular, this indicates that the sign is a ‘mandatory sign’. Mandatory signs usually convey some information to prevent a fire. If a mandatory fire safety sign contains a hazard, then the sign is directed to a specific action that needs to be completed to prevent a fire. Mandatory signs form part of a risk assessment in fire safety but are not considered health and safety regulation signs, so don’t need to be routinely changed once in place.

    Examples of mandatory fire safety signs include the blue circular ‘automatic fire door keep clear’ signs. These are giving specific instructions to not obstruct a fire exit pathway. Another blue fire safety sign is the Fire Action Notice. This sign gives step-by-step instructions on what actions to take if a fire takes place in the working environment. Though still blue, these signs are usually rectangular shaped and list out step-by-step actions, rather than containing a lone symbol or a small amount of text. Fire Action Notices are commonly placed by every fire alarm in a commercial building. They are also placed by most external fire exit doors.

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    What Do Red Signs Mean in Fire Safety?

    Red fire signs can be prohibition signs. These are red and white circular signs with a red border and a diagonal red line through them. They are like a stop sign and indicate not to complete an action, or that something is not allowed. Examples of these signs can include no smoking signs or no lighting matches. These signs do not usually contain text, and instead, have a picture to indicate what is prohibited. These signs are legally required in hazardous areas, as per the Health and Safety Regulation 1996.

    Other red fire safety signs include firefighting equipment signs. These signs are red rectangle signs with a white picture or symbol and sometimes contain text to indicate the type of equipment the sign is referring to. The purpose of these signs is to help a person locate the equipment needed, in the event of a fire. They are also used to show fire alarm activation points. These fire safety signs, along with the equipment, should be clearly visible for them to be most effective. Examples of these signs include extinguisher signs and fire hose signs.

    Both red and blue fire safety signs are legal requirements as per the Health and Safety Act 1996.

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    What Do Yellow Signs Mean in Fire Safety?

    Yellow signs are warning signs, indicating a nearby danger or hazard. These signs are usually a yellow triangle with a black border. They most often contain a picture of the nearby hazard, which is also black and in the centre of the triangle. An example of this fire safety sign references a flame object. This sign shows a picture of a flame with a black line underneath it.

    Another yellow sign can include supplementary information signs. These are rectangular yellow signs containing a symbol or arrow alongside some text. These are designed to give additional information to a person. The Health and Safety Regulation 1996 defines these signs as directional arrow signs, but the BS5499 advises that these signs can also include text. An example of these signs includes signs that say, ‘Danger fire risk’, which are designed to further warn an individual of a potential fire hazard.

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