It is becoming more and more common to accept the new social safety signs as commonplace in our communities, and they don’t look as if they are going anywhere anytime soon. With that in mind, it gets one thinking about the colour of these social safety signs – is there a reason behind the colour schemes that are being used and is this a worldwide standard?

In this article, we are going to explore the colours we see on social safety signs and find out more about the effect they may have on our minds when we view them.

What Colours Are Commonly Used For Social Safety Signs?

There are a variety of colours which are commonly used on social safety signs, but we most often see green, blue, yellow and red. This isn’t a random decision since these are the colours which are often used for signage in a variety of different contexts.

Depending on the nature of the sign will depend on the colour used, for example you may see green signs offering advice such as ‘stay at home if you feel unwell.’ In contrast to this, you may notice a red sign containing serious warning information, perhaps ‘avoid touching your face.’ A blue sign offers information on actions which should be adhered to, you might see this colour being used on a sign which reads ‘wash your hands.’

But is there more behind the decision to use these particular colours. In short, the answer is yes. Each of these colours carries a universal message, let’s look at this in a little more detail.

Other colours which are often used may be black, yellow and white. Black and white are often used as accents on signs to make the other colours stand out and grab the attention much more easily.

What Is The Meaning Behind These Colours?

Each of the colours used on social safety signs has a different meaning and since these are used all over the world, the colours are ingrained in our minds. Even subconsciously knowing the meaning of the sign colours allows us to immediately determine the level of severity of the information offered in the sign.


Let’s take red as our first example. Most people will be aware, on some level or another that a red sign alerts us to potential danger. This bright colour instantly grabs the attention of the reader and is used on safety signs such as ‘avoid contact.’


The blue sign, which gives us information on mandatory actions usually feature an image and a simple instruction. Where safety signs concerning Covid-19 are concerned, they may read ‘wear a mask’ or ‘use hand sanitiser.’ You will usually see these signs at the entrance to a building or in an area where these actions must be performed before proceeding.


The green sign refers to safety and gives advice on how to remain safe. This colour is frequently used on social safety signs and may give information on things such as staying at home. It is also used to point out that no danger is present.


Yellow signs are displayed to alert you to potential hazards – you may have seen these in places such as hospitals to let you know of hazardous materials, for example.

How Do These Colours Affect The Mind?

The colours used on social safety signs were not simply picked from the ethos at random. It is no secret that colour psychology plays a huge part when it comes to designing safety signs and the colours we are used to seeing do have an effect on the brain.

Would it surprise you to learn that the colour red is known to increase the heart rate? When this happens, it stimulates our brain into a much more alert state and for this reason is often used as a warning colour, particularly on signs.

What’s more green is thought to be calming and reassuring, so when used on a sign can create a feeling of harmony making people much more likely to follow the advice given. In addition to this, green symbolises that there is no danger to be concerned about. Blue has a positive effect on the brain and when viewed as a sign can translate into compliance, making it extremely useful on mandatory action signage.

Colour psychology isn’t only used for signs and warnings, we are frequently exposed to it through marketing and branding, with companies selecting colours carefully as a way of influencing our interactions with them. In addition to this, colour psychology may be used in a therapeutic way to help patients with mental health issues express their feelings more clearly or for calming purposes.

Colour Combinations

We mentioned earlier that black and white are often used as accent colours on signs as a way of drawing attention, but these are not the only colour combinations that are used.

One colour on its own may not be as appealing as two complimentary colours. This goes back to the idea that colours can impact the brain and selecting the correct colour combinations can be the difference between a sign having an impact or not.

Quite often you will see black and yellow used on a safety sign, this denotes a serious hazard. In this case, the background of the sign is usually yellow since this colour invokes intense feelings. The use of black for the image or text of the sign to make it stand out and easy to read.

Information on green or blue signs is usually displayed using a combination with white. If you were to use black on these colours, it would not stand out as much, however white appears extremely vivid on these colours.

It is evident that choosing the correct colour combinations for a safety sign is just as important as the information the sign is telling us.

Do Colours Have Different Meanings In Different Cultures?

Whilst colours themselves may have different meaning depending on what culture you find them in, safety sign colours do not vary globally. There has been a worldwide standard set by the ISO enforcing all nations to operate the same safety sign system. This means that no matter where in the world you might go, even if you do not speak the language, the colour of the sign will be enough to alert you to any potential danger.

That being said, if you were to examine colour meanings on a social level, you would notice that there is a great difference depending on culture. For example, the colour white frequently relates to purity however in some cultures it can symbolise death.

In the western world, we usually associate the colour red with love and passion, however in India it may represent wealth and in China it is linked with fertility.

Are There Safety Sign Rules?

Owing to the fact that there are global safety sign rules where the use of colour is concerned, it may not come as a surprise that there are other rules which should be observed when creating safety signs.

One of the most common factors is the placement of safety signs, by law they should be easily visible and maintained to a standard that the information is always easily seen. In addition to this, where colour is concerned blue and green safety signs should be made up of at least 50% colour to ensure visibility.

It is required that safety signs are used anywhere that the risk of danger cannot be reduced by other means. When we think of this in terms of a sign such as ‘wear a mask’ it should be displayed where there is a chance of large numbers of people such as a supermarket or bus.

Do These Rules Apply To Social Safety Signs?

The social safety signs which are popping up all over the world are not exempt from the ISO standards because they display vital safety information which needs to be recognised. You only need to look at the wealth of websites selling these safety signs to see the phrase ‘complies with ISO standards.’

However, there is some suggestion that perhaps these signs ought to be more easily able to blend into the background of the location they are placed. For example, signs being used in a supermarket may be different to those used at a music festival with each event displaying only relevant information. This isn’t such a good idea, because swaying away from the standards can become confusing and could make people unsure of what rules apply. With a standard set across the board, these signs can be used as a reminder of what is expected and the rules can be more easily committed to memory.


For the last few months, and no doubt many more into the future we have become used to seeing social safety signs relating to the Coronavirus pandemic. These signs not only provide valuable information relating to safety but do so in a way which is conducive to stimulating the human brain. By using certain colours, our brains are not only influenced through colour psychology but with these colours being used on an international level, we are more easily able to assess the risk level when observing these signs.

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