Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Even if you believe you know all about the potential hazards at a lab facility, please read posted warnings and instructions for your safety and the safety of others. Photo: Dave Hockin, ESH&Q

We have a lot of signs at Fermilab. The above photo is just one example: a single door displaying numerous signs referring to a particularly large variety of hazards. It’s also an example of the measures we take to be responsible stewards of government property. The example may seem extreme, but all of the posted instructions are needed on this door. Because we often see the same signs and labels day after day, we do not always read them. Not reading or not following posted instructions is risky behavior, especially since situations can change—and change is a constant at Fermilab. During this time of transition in our scientific program and facilities, this is especially true, so it is vital to follow all instructions on signs and labels.

At Fermilab we have recently had several instances in which people chose not to abide by the instructions on posted signs or labels because they had “insider information” that the hazard addressed by the posting was not actually present. Some people have even been spotted moving barricades near restricted or construction areas with the idea that they could navigate around any danger they happened to encounter. In some of the situations, the hazards were indeed not present or easily avoided. However, many tragic accidents and chemical and radiological exposures occur around the world because an individual does not read a label or sign, or because someone, incorrectly assuming an activity to be safe, does not follow the associated instructions. We all know why we do not permit chemicals to be stored in unlabeled or incorrectly labeled containers. Similarly, the police will frown on someone who drives through a stop sign without stopping because, the driver claims, he did not see anyone coming and thus “knew it was safe.” This approach is not likely to be very convincing to the officer writing the ticket!

Even if you think a posted hazard is not actually present, do not ignore the instructions. Doing so is unacceptably risky to yourself and others, and it also sets a very poor example. Read the signs and labels you encounter in your work. Doing this at home and in public settings will serve you well in those places, too. Adhere to signs, postings and labels for your safety and the safety of others.

Don Cossairt