The Colors of Safety

We should be careful not to overlook the impact and meaning of color. Color psychology is a well-established science, and marketers and designers know how to use color deftly to evoke emotions and sell products.

In manufacturing environments and construction sites, colors are used to increase safety and indicate rank or position within a company. Let’s have a look at the most common safety colors, keeping in mind this is specific to the Western hemisphere. Color codes made be different elsewhere in the world.


Probably the most well-known color on a construction site is safety orange (sometimes referred to as blaze orange). Safety orange is the color used for traffic cones, stanchions, barrels, and other construction zone marking devices. OSHA requires that certain construction equipment must be painted safety orange.

Why orange, and that specific hue? Because it sets objects apart from their surroundings, and contrasts remarkably well again a blue sky.

Construction signs - photo by jphilipg

It’s a color that’s hard to miss, as is the intense bright redness of fire engine red or National School Bus Glossy Yellow (the color’s official name in Canada and the U.S.).

High-visibility clothing, a type of personal protective equipment (PPE), is clothing worn by construction workers and emergency services due to its highly reflective properties. Fluorescent green vests with retro reflective strips and yellow waistcoat are common examples.

For the categorization of individuals in a manufacturing or construction setting, the color code is typically the following:

Green – Head of the company (President, CEO)*

White – Visitors/Management

Yellow – Workers / Contractors

Red – Safety/Fire department

Orange – Executive Level (Technical)

Blue – Maintenance (welder/fitter/electrician)

* Green sometimes indicates Safety Officers. Your organization of work environment may have different color codes than the ones listed above.


Of course, harm and accidents can happen at anytime, not just on the job. Interestingly enough, there is a personal awareness system that uses colors. It’s called the Cooper Color Codes, and it was authored by Colonel Jeff Cooper, the father of modern combat handgun usage (and a guy who probably ate a bag of nails for breakfast every morning).

The Cooper Color Codes are basically four levels of readiness represented by the colors white, yellow, orange and red, and the appropriate responses you should be deploying when in that color state.

With this system, you “think” in terms of colors. Here’s how it works:

When you are unaware of your environment, you are in condition white. This is not an ideal color state to be in, and should be avoided.

If you are fully aware with your surroundings but relaxed, it’s considered Condition Yellow. In this state of awareness, you have ample reaction time should an unsafe event arise.

In Cooper’s Condition Orange, a potential threat to your personal safety presents itself. That potential threat could be anything beyond your perception of “normal”.

A Condition Red is when you perceive your safety to be immediately threatened. Whether or not it actually is is irrelevant, you have a plan in place and are mentally and physically prepared.

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