Using signage to improve physical distancing

Aug 14, 2020

Using signage to improve physical distancingAre customers not following your COVID-19-related instructions? "They could be confused due to poorly placed or missing signs, unfamiliar symbols and complicated instructions," says WSPS Ergonomics Specialist Don Patten.

With Ontario's physical distancing requirements of 2 metres (6 feet) still in place and a second wave of COVID-19 predicted for the fall, every workplace with pedestrian traffic needs to ensure they've got the signage and floor markings right.

WSPS has a new guidance document that can help. Guidance for the Design and Placement of COVID-19 Signage, Floor Markings and Barriers gives practical suggestions on how to maximize the effectiveness of your on-site instructions.

Based on health and safety concepts workplaces are familiar with, as well as ergonomic and pedestrian/road safety principles, these recommendations can be used to provide consistent, clear messaging in a range of businesses - retail outlets, restaurants, warehouses and more.

"This document provides employers with a process to follow," says Don. "Use it to assess whether what you are doing now is working, and whether people can easily understand the directions you are providing."

The process involves the following five considerations.

1. Conducting a risk assessment. This will help you determine the best locations for signage, floor markings and barriers, while taking customer traffic, flow and hot spots (congested areas) into consideration. You may want to:

  • Remind your customers about their social distancing responsibilities by placing signs at the entry point and at other higher traffic areas
  • Distribute high demand items among several areas instead of placing them together. It will help to space customers out and avoid congestion.

2. Sign design. "These suggestions focus on what your signs should look like and how to ensure they get noticed," says Don. For example:

  • Ensure signs are at eye level and keep text size large to ensure it is legible.
  • Use high-contrast colours and follow universal colour coding (e.g. red for "Do not enter" or "Stop"; green for "Enter").

3. Floor markings. "If people are not following your path of arrows, you need to ask why," says Don. "Is it because they can't get where they need to go in a relatively quick manner? Go through your store and pretend you are a customer." Consider:

  • Placing floor markings such as arrows and pictograms where customers have to make a decision (e.g. entry or exit, and/or the expected path of travel).
  • Using symbols such as a red hand or two feet wherever possible in addition to clear instructions such as "Wait here."

4. Physical barriers. "Barriers need to account for different interactions between a customer and the cashier. Many are too short and don't cover the majority of a working area," says Don.

  • Ensure that the heads of most employees are shielded by installing barriers that extend at least 1850 mm (6 feet) high from the floor.
  • Install a barrier along the entire transaction area (e.g., the full length of a checkout counter).

5. Accessibility. "Signs, floor markings and barriers may unintentionally create accessibility issues," warns Don. People with disabilities should be provided with equal access to information around COVID-19. Be sure instructions are in an accessible format on your website. For example:

  • Write in clear language and use pictograms for customers with intellectual disabilities.
  • Use large print and good colour contrast for customers with visual impairments. Include Braille for customers who are blind.

Repeat instructions

"Finally, give people multiple options to receive your instructions, so they are more likely to comply with the desired action," says Don.

How WSPS can help

You can find Guidance for the Design and Placement of COVID-19 Signage, Floor Markings and Barriers and 100+ other COVID-19 articles, checklists, tools and courses on WSPS' COVID-19 Hub.

Have a question? Call WSPS' Duty Consultant, available Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM - 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).