We see signs in red, yellow, green, or blue, and we pay attention because we know they contain important information. At a glance and almost without thinking, anyone can tell that there is a safety hazard and judge how severe it may be. It’s what makes colour-coding a truly brilliant idea for safety. Even in unfamiliar places where we don’t know our way or speak the language, the colours of safety demand our attention and we can count on them to help us understand our surroundings. It’s not magic, it’s psychology; every colour carries its own meaning and each one evokes a different reaction from us.
Arguably the most powerful colour of all, red not only demands attention but action. Whether we associate red with passion or anger, we agree that it conveys urgency which makes it perfect for warning us of impending danger. In fact, according to a colour psychology consultant, it takes 25/100ths of a second to register 3 words of a text but only 2/100ths of a second to register red. And in emergencies, even 100ths of a second count. That’s why we use red for all emergency signals, alarms, and signs conveying high risk of injury or death.
It won’t come as a surprise that yellow is the brightest colour on the visible spectrum and the most noticeable shade to the human eye. Many of us are drawn to yellow for it radiates feelings of warmth, joy, optimism, and inspiration. And this long-wavelength colour is known to stimulate mental activity and awareness. In other words, it’s hard to miss. It follows that we’d use it to warn us to use caution and signal minor risks.
Much less intrusive than red or yellow, green boasts a unique ability to remain recognizable while blending in. Known as the universal colour for nature, we often associate green with harmony, freedom, and peace. Ever noticed it’s used to represent feelings such as liberty and healing? Think emergency exits, directions, and first aid kits. We see green and assume it’s safe to proceed.
Blue is a popular colour in the marketing world because it’s associated with wisdom, trust, and dependability. It’s also seen as neutral and the colour least likely to evoke negative emotions. Visa, Ford, Walmart, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—there are no shortage of companies that lean on the mentally soothing qualities of blue. In the safety world, this has translated into its use on mandatory instructions and safety information. The idea is that following blue signs will be perceived as the right and intelligent thing to do. That’s why it’s used to convey important safety information in the absence of immediate hazards.
What truly makes this work is the help of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) responsible for standardizing the colors and basic shapes of safety signs, making them recognizable worldwide.
Universal Health and Safety always maintains safety at the forefront. That’s why for The Universal Group, red, yellow, green, and blue are much more than colours. They are what makes traffic management plans effective and keeps traffic control persons safe.
Hooray for colour coding!