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How to Make Labeling and Signage Programs Effective, Efficient

By Al Feaster

Imagine a workplace without labels. Hazards are unmarked; cables are unidentified; the content inside boxes is a mystery. With so many different tasks to focus on, ensuring your space meets safety protocol needs to be a priority for any facility manager.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has made a concerted effort over the years to reduce the number of on-site accidents. In 2003, there were an estimated 5 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses reported in private industry workplaces, a far greater figure than the nearly 2.9 million estimated in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And yet incidents still occur, and the fact remains there is still work to be done in the area of industrial safety.

Proper labeling and signage is an important step in attempting to prevent workplace accidents and injuries. So how can organizations go about making their approach to labeling as efficient and effective as possible? The solution is two-fold: first, ensure that all responsible parties are aware of the importance of labeling and identification, and second, make sure that the process itself is not a burden.

Stress its Importance

Staying up-to-date on the regulatory landscape (and other recommendations) is a challenge for any organization. Labeling compliance may not be something that is addressed in the workplace, outside of formal inspections. Leaving it until the last minute heightens the risk of failing certain tests, a costly and potentially dangerous consequence. To mitigate this risk, companies should make proper labeling and overall safety compliance part of their day-to-day and month-to-month routine. Regular audits can be conducted internally to gauge where a facility stands in terms of safety and regulatory concerns, making the inevitable visits from government authorities a much less stressful experience.

Additionally, the challenge for those responsible for health and safety is to communicate the importance of identification — particularly the critical role labels have in identifying hazards. Trip hazards should be clearly marked, materials (e.g., chemicals, electrical wiring) should be flagged as being dangerous, and objects that have passed internal compliance processes should be clearly labeled, providing peace of mind to employees.

Increasing the visibility of labels in the workplace is a good way of raising their profile, but communicating any changes that are made to labels is another best practice. For instance, if cabling or raw materials are now labeled as potentially hazardous, flagging why that change was made is nearly as important as making the change itself. Use these instances as an opportunity to explain the rationale behind the modifications. Not only will your staff be better informed, but you will have the comfort of knowing that the labeling system is as effective as it can be.

Make it Easily Accessible

Many employees who are in charge of labeling are self-taught or informally trained on the job. This means that the act of labeling is often seen as a time-consuming or even frustrating task. Moreover, knowing the intricacies that go into labeling various kinds of hazards can prove challenging, as each potential hazard will inevitably require a different process from a compliance standpoint.

Creating templates for each particular job and providing these to the individuals charged with on-site labeling is one way of addressing this. Doing so will not only help those tasked with labeling with the tools and information needed for success, but also “legitimize” labeling beyond a thoughtless task and into a crucial part of maintaining a safe work environment.

It is also wise to invest in the right tools for effective labeling solutions. Durable, resistant, and long-lasting labels will be a smarter option than something more temporary, which requires a level of re-labeling. Consider upgrading labeling devices themselves, as digital technology has made labeling a much easier endeavor.

Ultimately you are the expert in your organization’s needs. Being clear on exactly what you need to achieve — both in terms of stressing the importance of labels and finding the solution that works best — is a relatively straightforward, yet vital process for facility safety.

Al Feaster, RCDD and industrial labeling expert at DYMO, has more than 30 years in the telecommunications industry and is responsible for training and supporting the DYMO sales team with industry and technical information.

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posted on 1/24/2017