Tackling 'Sign Blindness' for a Safer Working Environment
Can you recall the details of the last safety sign you walked past today, before reading this blog?
How about the speed limit sign on your last journey, by car?
Are you aware of the location of these signs, but struggle to recall the specific details?
If so, you may be suffering from a phenomenon called sign blindness.
What is Sign Blindness?
Sign blindness is an unconscious human tendency, to overlook or ignore important safety signs, due to over familiarity or distraction. Quite simply put, our perception of these important safety measures is reduced over time, with the novelty and impact of things we are constantly exposed to wearing off.
This can be problematic for workplaces that rely on safety signage and have a duty of care to their employees, to ensure safety measures are in place to reduce the risk of accident, injury or even in the worst case, death.
A scientific explanation for this human tendency and why it occurs, is because of ‘Inattentional blindness’, the failure to notice something visible, due to a lack of attention or optical stimulus.
Personnel avoiding walkway due to lack of attention or a distraction.
Causes of sign blindness in the workplace
Sign blindness has more to do with the positioning and number of signs used in a specific scenario, rather than the intended purpose of the sign.
Cluster sign blindness can happen when there are too many safety signs installed in close proximity to each other, for example this may be at an entrance to a warehouse where there are multiple warnings for requirements for high visibility jackets, protective footwear and hearing protection.
Health and safety managers may feel the need to bombard personnel with warnings simply to tick boxes to show that safety measures are in place to protect personnel. This can have the opposite effect intended due to information overload, instead of being able to focus on clear and concise safety signage that is effective in reminding personnel how to protect themselves from risk, the signs are simply ignored due to the cluster placement.
Familiarity sign blindness is where the novelty of existing safety signage wears off for employees or personnel, who frequently see these safety signs. The effectiveness of signs decrease overtime, as does the novelty and visual impact for employees, making them less noticeable.
Another cause of safety sign blindness is cognitive overload. When employees are busy and have a lot on their mind, they may fail to register safety signs. Additionally, distractions such as phones and conversations can also contribute to safety sign blindness.
Could you take in all this information from a passing glance? A clear example of cluster sign blindness,
The Consequences of Sign Blindness In The Workplace
The consequences of Sign Blindness can have negative outcomes, for everyone involved. When employees fail to notice safety signs, they may be more likely to engage in unsafe behaviours or overlook hazards.
Ineffective safety signage can lead to increased risk of personnel serious injury or death, and an increased chance of damage to goods, assets and machinery.
A shocking statistic from a Science Direct research journal states that inattentive (or sign) blindness, accounted for 50% of recorded ‘Failure of safety risk perception’ or ‘FRSP’ during an experiment that went ahead, to measure the importance of recognizing inattentive blindness as a key factor in the failure of safety risk perception, for the construction industry.
Tackling sign blindess is crucial to reduce workplace risk.
Strategies to reduce Sign Blindness in the workplace.
Clear and Concise Signage: Safety signs should be clear and concise, using simple language and imagery that meets the UK health and safety standards and is easily understood by all employees. Avoid using complex or technical language that may confuse or overwhelm workers and ensure sign placement is organised, not clustered or scattered.
Regular Signage Refreshing: Over time, safety signs can become faded, damaged or outdated, making them less effective. Regularly refreshing and replacing safety signs can ensure that they remain visible and legible.
Projection Safety Signage and Markings: Projection safety signage and markings are an innovative technology that utilises projections to create highly visible, dynamic and attention-grabbing safety markings. This can be particularly effective in low light or high-risk areas where visibility is crucial. Unlike Traditional safety signage, projections are practically indestructible and provide a more economical choice, as they do not loose visibility over time or need regular maintenance.
Audio Signs: Audio signs can be used to supplement visual safety signs, providing an additional layer of information and increasing the chances of the message being received and understood by employees. This can be particularly useful in noisy or high-traffic areas where workers may be wearing protective equipment that restricts their vision.
Safety Sign and Marking Audit: Conducting regular audits of safety signs and markings can identify areas where improvements can be made, such as increasing the size or visibility of signs, or relocating signs to more prominent locations.
As with many things, the principle of "less is more" should be applied to safety signage.
Overloading workers with too much information or too many signs can increase the risk of sign blindness, as important messages will be lost in a cluster.
By prioritising key messages and using clear, concise signage, workers are more likely to take notice and respond appropriately.
Projection Markings clearly showing personnel the risks and PPE required in the enviroment.
Sign blindness can have serious consequences in the workplace, but it is a preventable problem.
By understanding the causes of safety sign blindness and adopting strategies to prevent it, employers can help to ensure a safer and more productive workplace for all personnel.
Projection Markings as a effective reminder to use hearing protection.
"Wincanton are always looking for more effective ways to ensure warehouse personnel safety, to increase the awareness of their material handling equipment. Personnel safety is a crucial aspect of the day-to-day operation of a warehouse, and any collision between pedestrians and MHE has a high risk of serious injury. Wincanton felt it was crucial to be proactive and implement new ways to increase personnel awareness of the enviroment they are about to enter."