Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign


If you’re of a certain age or listen to classic rock music, the title of this article may be quite familiar to you. If not, it’s the chorus of the 1971 chart-topping hit “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band.

The songwriter was referencing the profusion of advertising ruining the natural landscape, as well as the “conflict” between older and younger generations in this tumultuous time in our country’s history. One of the signs mentioned was “Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply” – how’s that for a help wanted ad!

Signs have been used for thousands of years to convey not only viewpoints but also important information. Even the Greeks and Romans used signs. In medieval times signs with images were used to communicate with a mostly illiterate population, such as a hammer and anvil for a blacksmith.

Today, in our always-on online world, real-world physical signs still play a key role in conveying information quickly and easily. Think about highway signs alerting you to upcoming exits, “Sorry, We’re Closed” signs at your local convenience store, or street signs that tell you where you are. 

In manufacturing facilities, a warehouse, office complex, or other facility, signs can be used to direct you to where you need to go or to designate a certain area as safe… or not.

Signs convey the information and guide our decision-making process. For example, when you see an area labeled “Danger – Hazardous Materials,” you’ll no doubt take extra care.

The Importance of Design and Text

The visual aspects of signage are important, including the shape, colors, font, symbols, and other elements. But just as important in creating a readable sign that presents the necessary message without confusion, is the wording that is used.

This becomes very challenging when we’re dealing with a diverse, multigenerational audience.

Recently, the state of New Jersey kicked off a signage campaign to encourage people to be safer drivers. These brief messages, which are quite unconventional, have really struck a chord with the state’s diverse population.

I saw one of the messages on one of those mobile electronic signs while I was driving on a state highway:

Drive Safely, Get Your Head Out of Your Apps.

Here are some more from the safety campaign:

We will be blunt. Don’t drive high, you’ll get a DUI.

Hold on to your butts, help prevent forest fires.

Nice car. Did it come with a turn signal?

These messages started popping up during the summer of 2022. When I saw the signs when I was out and about, I’d get a real kick out of them. They reminded me of bad dad jokes, which, as a dad myself, I can definitely appreciate.

I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my family. But to my surprise, my 20-something year old daughters asked me if I had seen them. They loved them too. In fact, it allowed us, as a family, to have a dialogue about driver safety.

When was the last time you ever had an engaging conversation about safety with your kids? Probably never. You usually lecture if I had to guess. Or at least it comes across that way to your kids.

Essentially, the state of New Jersey came up with a simple but effective way to convey important messages about driver safety in a very clear fashion for people of all ages.

I recommend you bring the same creativity to bear when creating awareness of safety issues in your facility.

Bridging the Generation Gap  

You work with a wide range of people of different ages and backgrounds. Also, you have key safety messages that you need everybody on the team to understand and implement in their day-to-day activities.

This is an aspect of communications, which is one of the Core Four principles that I recommend every facility/plant manager adhere to. Not communicating effectively with your team can lead to expensive mistakes and serious accidents. Projects fail. Problems go unrecognized. People get hurt.

Signs are a key part of worker safety. But they not only help us keep people out of harm’s way, but they ensure we stay in compliance with regulations.

OSHA has very specific requirements relative to signage. In fact, signage requirement issues are often on OSHA’s Annual Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards list. Highly visible, physical signs in the workplace are necessary, even in this online age.

However, simply putting up a sign to stay within the rules is not enough. The trouble is that signs that are too dry and not engaging often go overlooked in a busy workplace. Signs that are “boring” simply get lost in the background.

What I recommend is following the regulation. Include all the language and symbols that are required. You then have your required sign. Then you can create additional signage that accentuates the regulatory-required signage in a more engaging way.

For example, in a noisy area in a facility that is above a certain decibel level, you are required to have a sign that says something to the effect of “Hearing Protection Required in This Area,” usually with a picture of noise protection earmuffs.

But you could add another sign next to it that says something to the effect of (taking a page from the New Jersey road signs): “Don’t want to hear about hearing protection? Don’t wear it and you won’t… or anything else.”

You could have fun with the whole exercise. Get managers and employees involved. Have a company-wide contest. Let people submit their creative ideas. This will not only result in some effective signs that increase worker safety but the simple act of letting everybody participate in the process will bring extra awareness to the issue.  Soon you will find your co-workers talking about safety issues!

The goal is to create messages that resonate with everyone at your facility, from long-term employees to those new to the job. Often there is a gap in communication between these two groups about how to do things – and do them safely.

I find the exercise that I just suggested is effective at closing that gap and creating a safer workplace for all.

Unfortunately, I do have to leave you with some discouraging news. In late 2022, the federal government actually stepped in and requested that the New Jersey traffic safety signs be taken down because they were “distracting to drivers.”

The general reaction from the public was along the lines of “You’ve got to be kidding me” or “That’s the first time I’ve paid attention to driver safety signs since I got my driver’s license.”

But they came back for the 2023 holidays for a limited run. They’re fun and worth a read:

Reckless drivers are worse than fruitcake.

Ho ho ho. Please drive slow.

If you have any questions about creating effective signage for your facility, or have any other environmental consulting needs, you can contact me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885or get in touch via email at

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