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Warnings 101

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Tools for Teaching and Learning

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1284.1 - 8.1284.13

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Paper Authors

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Richard Forbes

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Mary Emplaincourt

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3166 Warnings 101

Richard E. Forbes, Ph.D., P.E. and Mary C. Emplaincourt, M.S., M.A. Mississippi State University


It is accepted practice for designers to “design out” dangerous machine elements when this can be done without significantly affecting utility or cost of the device. Often this is not possible; for example, a hand-held circular saw must be sharp and rotate at high speed to perform its intended function. If the danger cannot be removed by design, the designer incurs an obligation to devise an effective guard, if possible. There exist in some cases (i.e., the hand-held circular saw) specific design conditions that the guard must satisfy. When neither design nor guarding will remove the danger, proper accident prevention signs (warnings) must be utilized and located at appropriate locations on the device.

Although accident prevention signs were standardized as early as 1941, and the guidelines have remained relatively unchanged, signs written today often do not conform to these standards. Accident prevention signs, if they are to be effective, must alert the observer to the level of the hazard and should always be presented in the prescribed format. This paper presents a historical survey of accident prevention signs as presented in standards published by the United States of America Standards Institute (later to become the American National Standards Institute, ANSI), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and other standards publishing agencies.


Both the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), publish standards that should be followed when selecting or designing accident prevention signs. For example, specific color format and general configuration are prescribed for “Caution,” “Warning,” and “Danger” signs. Both standards also indicate that each of the “signal words” (Caution, Warning, Danger) should be chosen to reflect the level of the unsafe condition.

A common occurrence is the observation of accident prevention signs that do not conform to the general guidelines of either ANSI or OSHA. This paper will discuss the requirements for proper accident prevention sign design (using ANSI, OSHA, and other available standards) and will present various examples of conforming and non- conforming signs. The information should be useful to anyone who has a job function that includes designing, selecting, and using accident prevention signs in their workplace.

“Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Forbes, R., & Emplaincourt, M. (2003, June), Warnings 101 Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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