When cleaning carpet, the just-cleaned area can become very slippery. This is why safety signs are so important.

This is especially true if walking in a transition area, from the carpet to a hard surface floor. The same is also very true when cleaning hard surface floors. Some safety manufacturers even make what are called “grippers,” specially designed shoes to help prevent a slip and fall accident when stripping or refinishing floors. Because of this, when cleaning carpet or floors in a commercial facility, it is highly recommended carpet cleaning technicians place safety signs around the work area.

Don’t think just because you are alone on the job an accident can’t happen. Safety signs also serve as a reminder to you that the just cleaned work area is slippery.

Most of us do not know a lot about safety signs. Surprisingly there is a lot more to them than you might realize. For instance, did you know that a safety sign should comply with both OSHA and ANSI standards? For instance, OSHA requirements state certain words must be used on the sign, such as “danger,” “caution” and “safety.”

ANSI has similar requirements, but their guidelines take things a step further. In order to comply with ANSI standard Z535, for instance, a universally understood pictogram is also required on the sign.

Further, safety signs are available in different materials. Some are made of plastic, others of aluminum and still others of fiberglass. Most of the safety signs technicians likely will use are made of a high-quality, yet cost-effective, plastic. These signs are easy to pick up and move around, are often stackable — taking up less space in a janitorial closet— and have a proven track record of durability.

Knowing what the words on safety signs mean

Sometimes a carpet cleaning technician will meet with a distributor or go online to select a safety sign without paying much attention to the wording on the sign. For instance, one sign might read, “warning” while another says, “caution.” Are these two signs delivering essentially the same message?

Not according to ANSI and OSHA standards. The sign selected and its wording should be based on the situation for which it is needed. For example:

Danger: This message is most urgent and applies only to extreme situations in which there is a high probability of death or serious injury. It should not be used to indicate the possibility of property damage; it should be used only in personal injury situations. These signs are typically red.

Warning: This message is somewhat less urgent and should be used when there is a possibility, but not a high probability, of injury or death. It can be used to protect users from harming themselves or the facility they are using. In most cases, a warning sign will be orange.

Caution: This message indicates that a hazardous situation may be present that could lead to an accident or injury. A caution sign is usually yellow in color and is typically the most commonly used sign.

Two other safety signs that get a bit less use, at least in the professional cleaning and carpet cleaning industries, are signs indicating “notice” and “emergency.”

Usually blue in color, notice signs are often used by organizations to remind building users to comply with a specific company policy. A green emergency sign is used to indicate procedural instructions and reminders in a workplace setting.

As mentioned earlier, along with the appropriate wording, ANSI requires a pictogram be on the sign. For instance, if placing a caution sign in an area where a slip-and-fall accident is possible, it should have a drawing of someone falling. Everyone can understand that pictogram, no matter what language they speak.

Best practices and maintenance of safety signs

Along with placing warning signs where and when needed, one of the most important things a carpet cleaning tech, and all involved in facility safety, should know is when to remove a safety sign.

Very often a safety sign is placed on a floor (for instance, after a spill is noted and cleaned up) but then forgotten. If this happens on a regular basis, warning signs essentially lose their meaning and effectiveness. In not knowing whether the sign indicates a current safety issue or something that occurred a week ago, building users may start to ignore all safety signs, which could quickly become a very serious — and dangerous — situation.

Very often when techs are cleaning a carpet, for instance, they will place one sign directly ahead of where they are working, and that’s all. The first issue with this is where they place that sign. Rather than placing it right before the work area, it should be placed several feet ahead of the work area to give building users plenty of time to take an alternative route.

Further, it’s far better to place two or more signs designating the floor cleaning area. And the work area should be outlined by placing safety signs strategically outlining the work area. Not only does this further highlight that building users should be careful, but by outlining the work area, it helps make sure no part of the work area is walked on, which would interfere with the cleaning work being performed.

It is usually best to select a fluorescent safety sign. These signs stand out, are highly visible and are hard to miss. They can be so effective there are even examples of fluorescent safety signs being placed deep in the ocean to guide divers and ocean explorers.

Finally, safety signs should be kept clean and in good condition. View them as a reflection of both your concern for building-user safety as well as your professionalism. A clean, well-maintained safety sign becomes an image of your quality service.

Related: Make Safety a Core Value

Dennis Knapp is director of product development at Impact Products LLC. Impact Products makes a wide range of safety, floorcare, washroom and related products for the professional cleaning and building industries.