How Signage and Labeling can Improve Reliability

Bob Schindler

The importance of signage and labeling is often underplayed or even ignored when a maintenance program is being discussed. Since we are visual creatures and the visual workplace is the direct application of this, we should take a few minutes to go over some reasons and applications for signage and labeling to get more attention in our programs.

Signage can be for several reasons, such as:

  • Regulatory compliance (e.g., personal protective equipment, arc flash, Department of Transportation placarding)
  • Access control, such as “Authorized Personnel Only”
  • Fire safety, such as extinguisher locations and fire exits
  • General safety (e.g., cautions about fork truck traffic)
  • Behavior and training purposes (safety reminders and CPR how-to directions)

Labeling is usually more specific but is also varied in use. Examples include:

  • Piping labels per ANSI standard
  • Equipment labeling for the CMMS
  • Storage location labels
  • Special tools and tooling
  • Safety equipment
  • Equipment set points and wear indicators

All of these and more play an important part in achieving your maintenance and reliability goals. Don’t forget that one of the biggest factors in your success is your ability to communicate effectively with your operators and technicians. They need clear direction on proper behavior and actions. A few generic, half-hearted exhortations to “work smarter” or “work safely” look nice on the wall, but do they truly achieve their intent if they are not coupled with specific instructions? Probably not.

It takes visible, useful and targeted information to let your people know what you expect from them. In exchange, you have to provide them the tools they need to make it happen. Proper signage and labeling moves your organization in the right direction and does so at a very reasonable price.

Take a look around your maintenance shop first and look for the simple things like the safety posters, the grinder guard safety labels, the special tools storage labels, the fire equipment, oily rag storage, etc., that you could do right away. Then, expand out into areas that are under your control and start putting up the signs and labels that you can see are missing. Go to the various safety sites on the Internet and check your general vendors for what they offer for ideas. I guarantee that you will see opportunities for everything from flammable materials storage to pinch points, arc flash and many others.

Your piping labels are especially important if your process includes hazardous materials or high pressures and temperatures. Don’t forget the directional arrows for clarity where possible.

Equipment labels pay off big time for your CMMS system and for improving the accuracy of your work orders, as well as assisting your safety program. Putting the identification number or code, a proper description and the power shut-off locations on the tag are the bare minimum.

The ID number gets the work orders written to the right spot and ties together bills of material, standard operating procedures and lockout/tagout procedures as well as just about anything else your imagination can connect to that unique piece of equipment.

The proper description gets everyone using the same name for it, and that reduces confusion. Everyone has run into the problem of the new guy who calls it a widget when you call it a whatsit. Save time all around and get everyone on the same page with a simple tag or label.

Power source locations are a big safety item that could help to save an injury or equipment damage by directing people to the shut-off right away. Don’t pass up this opportunity to save time in an emergency.

Your operations partners will recognize the value quickly. Jobs are recorded more accurately, take less time and get done safer. Who could argue with that? They will want to get on the train with you and share in the good results. Plus, it is fairly cheap, can be done with in-house labor and can be spread out over months or even over multiple budget years.

Remember, reliability doesn’t cost; it pays.

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