There are a large number of fire safety signs and symbols used as part of health and safety guidance to prevent fires from happening and assist those who are trying to escape or tackle a fire. Whilst many people can easily identify the most important symbols, there are plenty of others which are essential to understanding fire evacuation procedures and could save lives in an emergency.
In the workplace, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide appropriate fire safety signs that indicate all fire exits, emergency routes and fire equipment. Whether you are an employee or just the visitor of a commercial, entertainment, educational or professional venue, learning the different symbols used in fire signage is not only useful but often vital in meeting standards and regulations for fire safety.
This guide outlines the two main categories of fire safety symbols and then runs through the identifying features of different fire hazard and safety signs, along with explaining what some of the most common symbols mean.
Fire safety symbols are used as part of fire safety signage to indicate a range of health and safety information. Symbols may act as hazard warnings, safety information, or instructions.
Fire safety signs can involve images and/or text, and come in a range of different colours depending on their meaning. Most people are only able to recognise the symbols for things such as fire exits or fire extinguishers, but there are a lot more symbols out there that it is important to familiarise yourself with.
There are a large number of different fire safety signs and symbols used in a variety of locations, each dealing with a different aspect of fire safety. Sometimes just a hazard symbol is used to convey a message, and sometimes a sign will combine text and images to convey a fire warning.
According to the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations of 1996, all fire safety signs must be clear and unambiguous, should include a picture with supplementary text, and need to be positioned at a reasonable height where they can be read from a distance.
There are two main categories of fire signage; signs that prevent fires and signs that offer help in the event of a fire.
Fire prevention symbols come in three different groups; prohibition signs, mandatory signs and warning signs. These all give advice that will prevent a fire from starting, and several of them have legal obligations attached.
Warning signs are used universally to indicate that a hazard is present and that care should be taken to avoid injury or an accident. These symbols are triangular with a yellow background and black image or symbol in the middle of the triangle.
When it comes to fire safety, several warning symbols are linked to the risk of fire. The most obvious is the symbol for ‘flammable’, illustrated with a picture of a flame and used to indicate that a substance or material could ignite in certain conditions and cause a fire.
The hazard symbol for ‘oxidising’ could also indicate the risk of fire, which is illustrated by a flame over a circle. Materials which oxodise can ignite, cause an explosion or increase how quickly a fire spreads.
Finally, the fire safety hazard symbol for ‘explosion’ also indicates a fire risk and is illustrated with an image of an exploding bomb. Explosive materials can be major fire risks, and should be treated with extreme care to prevent any accidents.
Prohibition fire symbols are made up of white circles that are outlined in red and have a red line running through the middle. This indicates that something should not be done, as in the case of fire safety it could be a fire hazard.
A common fire safety prohibition sign is ‘No Smoking’, which many people recognise as the black illustration of a cigarette with a red line going through it. Smoking presents a serious fire hazard in many cases, as either igniting a cigarette in flammable conditions or failing to put it out can cause a fire.
Another common prohibition sign linked to fire safety is the ‘No Naked Flames’ symbol, which is conveyed through the black illustration of a lit match surrounded by the red ‘prohibited’ sign. This is a very important fire warning sign, as it indicates that there are flammable materials nearby which could ignite if exposed to a flame.
There are other prohibition signs that indicate a fire risk that will be used in certain workplaces and conditions, but these will be identified and explained as part of fire safety training.
Signs which indicate a mandatory action are easily identified by their blue colour, and are often circular in shape. When a mandatory sign is a fire safety hazard symbol, it means that a specified action must be taken in order to prevent a fire.
A common fire safety prohibition sign is ‘Fire Door Keep Shut’, which indicates that a fire door is present and must be kept closed at all times in order to prevent a fire spreading. Because of fire door signs regulations, you could face legal action if you are found to be keeping a fire door open, which is why it is so important to follow the instructions indicated by blue mandatory signs.
The critical ‘Fire Action’ sign that all buildings have is also blue and gives mandatory instructions for what you must do if you either discover a fire or hear the fire alarm. There is only text on this kind of sign and no symbols, and it includes blank gaps for specific evacuation instructions that are relevant to where you are and who the building’s fire safety marshal is.
Symbols that assist with fighting or escaping from fires are divided into 4 types of safety signs, each detailing a different aspect of fire safety.
A symbol that most people are very familiar with is that which indicates a fire exit is nearby. These signs are always green as the colour is universally associated with the action ‘go’, and are often illuminated so that they can be seen even if it is dark.
The symbol for a fire exit is usually rectangular and consists of a white illustration of a person leaving through an open door. It often has the words ‘Fire Exit’ included in the design as well, and an arrow which indicates the direction of the exit.
Safe condition signs include symbols that point towards a fire exit, but are also used to indicate emergency exits, escape routes and first aid points. These signs are also green and are used to provide guidance and direction in all emergency situations, including fires.
A common safe condition sign is the fire assembly point symbol, which shows a group of people being pointed at by four arrows. This may be used in conjunction with an arrow to guide people to the point, or clearly indicate where the fire assembly point is.
Other safe condition signs which are used in fire safety include the ‘Refuge Point’ symbol, used to show where disabled people should gather if they can’t leave a building, and the ‘Emergency Telephone’ symbol which indicates where a phone can be found to call emergency services. Instructions for emergency exits such as ‘Slide to Open’, ’Push to Open’ and ‘Pull to Open’ are also safe condition symbols and can be identified as such by their green and white colouring.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order made it compulsory in 2005 for all non-automatic fire equipment to be clearly labelled with signs. These signs are red, rectangular and feature white writing and illustrations.
The ‘Fire Extinguisher’ symbol shows a fire extinguisher next to flames, and indicates that an extinguisher is nearby. The symbol may be accompanied by text that outlines the conditions that the fire extinguisher should be used in, so it is very important to read the entire sign before using any fire equipment.
A ‘Fire Alarm Call Point’ symbol consists of a hand reaching for a rectangle with flames on the right hand side. This indicates that a fire alarm is nearby, which is vital if you are the first to discover a fire and need to quickly start the evacuation process.
The symbol for a ‘Fire Hose Reel’ is simply an illustration of a hose attached to a wheel, and signals that there is a fire hose nearby. Only those who are familiar with fire hoses should ever attempt to use one, so this sign is primarily in place for the fire services.
A ‘Fire Blanket’ symbol is just an illustration of flames with the words ‘fire blanket’ beside them, and indicates the presence of a fire blanket. This symbol is commonly found in all kinds of kitchens, and tends to also feature instructions for using the fire blanket.
The final kind of fire escape signs for fighting or escaping fires are general symbols that are used to supplement the other signs listed above. These symbols are usually just arrows that provide continual direction towards an exit or piece of fire equipment, but may sometimes include text if necessary.
Additional information signs are green where the information supplements a safe condition symbol, red when supplementing a fire equipment symbol or yellow if supplementing a warning or hazard symbol.
Fire safety signs and symbols that are associated with exiting a building and escaping a fire are green, because of its universal association with ‘go’. The writing and images on fire exit signs are white, and the sign is usually rectangular and illuminated.
Fire safety signs provide a range of different information depending on their colour and the images and text present on the sign. The intention of most fire signage is either to warn you of a hazard, provide fire safety information or to give instructions in the case of a fire.
A fire alarm sign indicates that a fire alarm is nearby, which is very important as in the case of a fire you will need to raise the alarm as fast as possible. Fire alarms are usually located right next to fire equipment such as an extinguisher or fire blanket so that you can tackle the fire after raising the alarm if it is safe to do so.
From fire escape signs to hazard warning symbols, there is a huge variety of signage used in fire safety. Whilst many people will be familiar with common symbols, understanding the colour system used and the difference between prohibition, warning and mandatory signs is key to having a full grasp of fire safety and the various signs used to keep people safe.
Numerous legal requirements make it essential to have clear and comprehensive fire safety signs displayed in most buildings, and if this is your responsibility then you must understand the different kinds of symbols and where each of these is needed. Major fires in the workplace are rare, but appropriate measures and procedures must be put in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved if the worst does occur.
We have several different online fire safety resources available at Virtual College, including our popular ‘Fire Safety Training’ course which is ideal for businesses who need to train employees in fire safety procedures in the workplace.