1.1.4 Colour coding

To minimise workplace injuries and accidents requires the combined input of both the employer and the employees. There are tens of hazards lurking everywhere within the organisation and while it is not possible to cover every angle, properly informing the relevant persons of the potential hazards can go a long way towards ensuring safety. Workplace safety is a great concern and immense regulations have been put into place and they are strictly enforced. These regulations have also ensured that the workers clearly understand their responsibilities and their rights. The employer has a huge responsibility of enforcing the set standards and ensuring safety to all. This can be achieved through a number of ways, including using industrial colour codes and other appropriate marking and signs.

Involving the staff

Workers have a major stake in the safety of the organisation and they will determine the success of any safety regulations put in place. It is hence important that they be involved right from the start and they be adequately trained to understand the purpose and meaning of each industrial colour code and marking used.

Sticking to simple and easily understandable colours and signs

Employers should assist the employees and any visitor to the premises by ensuring that the colour codes used, the accompanying signs and the language used are clear and easily understandable. They should be unambiguous with any part of the message that can be misinterpreted removed. A mixture of colours, signs and texts should be utilized. A common language should be used but it is important to consider using multi-lingual signs for those employees who may not understand the common language used. The text used should be of large fonts and the words for the warnings being appropriately designed and spelt. Every sign should only include appropriate colour codes that only convey a single meaning to avoid overlapping of the messages to be conveyed. If there are two messages to be conveyed, the signs and colour codes should be different and placed in separate places.

Industrial colour codes to be used

Colours should be used sparingly and it is important to stick to the conventional industrial colour codes to ensure consistency. Fewer colours lessen the confusion and prevent visual fatigue. Colours used should be consistently applied throughout the organisation. It is important to assist employees who are colour blind by placing clear signs alongside the colour codes.

Educating the staff

The industrial colour codes used should be easily understandable but this does not mean that the employer should not take the extra step of educating the staff to ensure their cooperation and understanding of the measures taken to give them a safe working area. They should be taught the meaning of the colour codes, the symbols and the signs used. They should also be informed of the locations of the hazards and the potential dangers that lurk in those areas. In addition they should also be trained on how to take precautions and the course of action to be taken in case of emergencies. To make it effective this education should be continuous and be applied during the induction of any new employee into the organisation.

Colour attracts attention and can be used extensively for safety purposes. For example, colour can be used as an additional safety measure to identify the contents of pipes and the nature of the hazard.

Referring back to risk mitigation techniques, colour coding minimises risk by communicating information visually.

In the Section on Safety Signage, the significance of geometric shapes, combined with colours is clearly shown in terms of various applications. In this section the focus is on applications other that signage.

Standards (Norms)

Colour coding would be of very little use if it were not standardised across all business and for that reason, the South African Bureau of Standards maintains a set of standards for the colour codes and its applications in industry.

SANS 10140-1: Identification Colour Marking Part 1: General

SANS 10140-2: Identification Colour Marking Part 2: Identification of Hazards and Equipment in Work Situations

SANS 10140-3: Identification Colour Marking Part 3: Contents of Pipelines

SANS 10140-4: Identification Colour Marking Part 4: Contents of Taps and Valves in Laboratories

SANS 10140-5: Identification Colour Marking Part 5: Coding of Containers for Carrying Lubricants and Associated Fluids

SANS 1091: National Colour Standards

SANS 1186-1: Symbolic Safety Signs Part 1: Standard Signs and General Requirements

SANS 1186-2: Symbolic Safety Signs Part 2: Self-Luminous (Radio luminescent) Signs

SANS 1186-3: Symbolic Safety Signs Part 3: Internally Illuminated Signs

SANS 1186-4: Symbolic Safety Signs Part 5: Photoluminescent Signs

Important Colours and Applications

The following are extracts from relevant documents:

Practical Application of Colour Codes

Floor Demarcation

Floor demarcation is done by marking the walking areas, stacking and storage, machinery and keep clear areas. (The first insert refers to green for safe areas, yellow = caution and grey = working areas)

  • The purpose of floor demarcation:
    • Clear areas under equipment and around machinery to ensure that such equipment/machine is always accessible
    • Divide space into storage and walkways to identify the respective areas for the purposes intended
  • Demarcation Colours
    • Colours for floor demarcation line areas are as per standards above (Please see insert above)
    • All demarcation lines must be 50 mm wide
    • Demarcation under fire equipment and distribution boards must be 450 mm wide and covering the entire length of the equipment (outside measurement) plus 50 mm on either side. Where distribution boards are ground mounted then only demarcation lines are required. These demarcations must be outlined with a yellow demarcation line.
    • Stacking/Storage areas must be demarcated with a white demarcation line and must be surrounded by a yellow demarcation line which will indicate a no stacking area on the outside of the white demarcation line
    • Noise zones must be demarcated around the noise to a distance where the zone is no longer deemed to be a noise zone. Where workshops have numerous noisy machines then the ideal would be to demarcate all entrances to the zone.

Pipe Colour Coding

The piping colour code applies to commercial buildings, apartment buildings, schools and offices, and is the pipe colour code standard that should be used. An additional colour band can be added to provide more detailed information about the pipe contents. Graphic Products has compiled a consensus standard that provides the piping colour code banding colours most frequently used in these types of buildings.

Piping Colour Code – Labels versus Painting

Should pipe colour coding be done by painting pipes or should colour coded labels be used?

Labels cost considerably less than painting and require essentially no maintenance. And consider that even if you colour code your pipes by painting them, you still must apply labels to identify the contents and direction of flow. That means zero savings on labelling plus the additional cost to paint.

A crucial criterion is to have labels that require no maintenance.

An example of how colour codes and bands are used in industry is:

Please see if you are able to use the tables above to identify the primary colour and then the first and second band in each case e.g. water, drinkable water, hot.

Gas Cylinders

Lifting Equipment Colour Codes:

Below is an example of colour codes used to identify slings used in hoisting and lifting operations:

Electrical Colour Codes

The pictograms below show International Standards as it is currently being promoted. Please note that with electricity, the application of standards is no simple exercise as electrical installations were often completed decades ago and it is not feasible to change these installations to meet changing standards.