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Good Signage = Good Risk Management

Melanie Bennett, Esq.
October 2020
When and where signs are needed, and how to ensure they are effective

Signs are an important risk management tool, warning of hidden dangers to prevent injuries and reduce liability. Specifically, signs can help schools meet their duty of care to warn of foreseeable risks. Consider the following United Educators (UE) claims in which it was alleged that a sign could have prevented injury:

  • While watching a soccer game on campus, a man fell down a slope at the end of the field trying to avoid an errant ball. He was left permanently paralyzed and alleged that the slope was hidden by tall grass. No sign warned of the sudden drop-off.
  • A student stood too close to a hot kiln, and her pants caught fire, causing serious burns. The student had arrived late to class and missed the instructor’s warning not to stand next to the kiln. No warnings of kiln safety were posted in the room.

Which Facilities Need Warning Signs?

Signs are particularly important in spaces where the risks are not immediately apparent. For example, trail signs can warn hikers that snakes are in the area. Facilities also need signs if:

  • The school is on notice that an action frequently taken in the facility has caused injury (such as spectators at a field slipping on a slope)
  • The school has rules specific to the space (such as science lab, art studio)
  • Users access the space at their own risk (such as pool without a lifeguard, fitness center without supervision)
  • Access is limited to certain groups of individuals (such as restricted to adults, only students allowed)

Tips for Good Warning Signs

Follow these steps to ensure signs sufficiently communicate the intended message.

  • Prominently display signs so they are visible from all facility entrances.
  • List the inherent risks associated with using the facility. Use language that states participants “use the facility at their own risk.”
  • Choose simple and easy-to-read language. Less verbiage in a simple font (in appropriate size and color) is always preferable.
  • Use pictograms or symbols to quickly and clearly provide information.
  • Use signs to address short-term or temporary risks, such as wet floors due to spills or cleaning.
  • Ensure signs are accessible to users with disabilities. Work with legal counsel to ensure that signs comply with specifications noted in The Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Conduct periodic signage checks. Determine if new visitors can quickly understand posted warnings. During emergency drills, review whether emergency signs are effective and make modifications as necessary. Confusion during a drill indicates ineffective emergency signs.

Signs are an important tool for warning about campus risks. By using the recommendations discussed, signs can help mitigate risks in your institution’s facilities.

 

More From UE

Each of these resources includes specific information about appropriate signage for a particular facility or activity.

Safe Use of Drones on Campus
Use Security Cameras and Closed Circuit TV on Campus

Beekeeping on Campus

Swimming Pool Safety

Additional Resources

University of Minnesota Facilities Interior Sign Standards
North Carolina State University Exterior Signage – See Section 5, Trail Components

Pennsylvania State University Exterior Signage Policy