The History of Warning Signs


From road signs to offices, there are warning signs everywhere. But where did they come from, and why do we have them?!

There’s evidence of specific warning signs dating from around the 17th century, however, the universal signs we see today weren’t developed until around the 20th century when nine European governments agreed on the use of four pictorial symbols. These warning signs denoted bumps, curves, intersections and railroad crossings.

Throughout the early 20th century more European bodies worked together to create a single sign system that’s still in place today.

Nowadays, we have warning signs to indicate any number of potential hazards, obstacles and conditions which may cause harm. Safety warning signs can consist of words and images, shapes, symbols and colours.

Regardless of the industry, safety signs are an essential part of modern-day life. Protecting not only the members of the public from harm, but also businesses from potential lawsuits.

4 types of safety signs
Under the Health and Safety Regulations Act, 1996, there are four compulsory warning signs that all workplaces must display:

– 1. Prohibition
– 2. Warning
– 3. Mandatory
– 4. Emergency

Prohibition signs

Typically used for “Do not” commands, prohibition signs are used to limit the likelihood of a behaviour that could cause harm or danger. For example, to indicate that smoking in a particular area is prohibited.

Prohibition signs appear in a circular red band with a diagonal cross line running through the middle from left to right at a 45 degree angle.

The background of prohibition signs is solid white and the command imagery is in black.

Warning signs

Warning signs are used to showcase a hazard or danger to make people aware of a nearby hazard.
Warning signs appear as a black triangle with a solid yellow background in the triangle with imagery indicating the type of hazard in black.

Mandatory signs

Mandatory signs are used to encourage a specific behaviour and indicate actions that must be carried out in order to comply with statutory requirements such as “Fire Door Keep Shut.”

Signs indicating mandatory requirements feature a blue circle with a pictogram or text in white.

Emergency signs

An emergency sign is one that gives information should an emergency occur. The main examples of emergency signs are emergency exits, first aid, or rescue facilities.

Emergency signs should be prominently displayed to indicate escape routes, emergency exits and first aid equipment.

Emergency signs feature a green rectangle or square with imagery or text in white.