Caution: Wet Floor! In an ideal world, a caution sign warning against a slippery floor would light up like a beacon in the eyes and minds of passersby.

But the reality is, most people ignore such signs.

While that may be counterintuitive, the problem boils down to this simple fact: very often, custodians will leave the signs up long after the area has dried, inadvertently desensitizing the public to the wording on the signs. Not only that, but the sign itself could become a trip hazard if it remains in place longer than it needs to be.

“Signs are the most misused safety product out there,” says Russ Kendzior, founder of the Southlake, Texas-based National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), as well as secretary of the ANSI B101 Committee.

That’s not to say that “wet floor” signs should not be utilized. They should, absolutely, unequivocally, be utilized. But, says Steve Spencer, Facility Specialist with State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois, there are ground rules that should be followed:
• The sign should be right on top of the wet area.
• The sign should be stable so it doesn’t fall over.
• The sign should be at least 28 to 39 inches tall.
• The sign should be visible from 360-degrees.
• The sign should be yellow, with black letters.
• The sign should clearly say Caution: Wet Floor.
• The sign should be immediately removed after the area is dried.

It is also a good idea to put signs around a wet area in advance of the hazard when at all possible. And, ideally the sign should be illuminated or otherwise clearly visible.

At times, barricades are appropriate to use rather than signs, or in addition to signs. For example, if the custodial staff happens to be applying finish to a floor during building hours, putting up a temporary barricade is a good idea.

A barricade is a better option than a sign anytime that an area is going to be wet for a long time or for a larger area.

Nonetheless, like signs, people will sometimes violate barricades, says John Poole Jr., consultant with American Institute for Cleaning Sciences in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. That’s why, if at all possible, close down an area, such as a restroom, and direct the public to another area.

Hilary Daninhirsch is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.