Using PowerPoint to make warning signs

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Have you noticed that the world today seems full of warning signs? When I was a boy, the only sign I ever remember seeing was “Keep off the grass”. I did wonder what the point was of grass you couldn’t walk on, but it seemed fair enough. It wasn’t much to ask, and there were plenty of other things I was allowed to do.

Nowadays, though, the health and safety brigade has truly taken over. And what they like to do most, apart from stopping us from doing things, is to put up signs telling us to be careful.

Danger, it seems, lurks at every step. Everyday life in twenty-first-century Britain makes Frodo’s journey to Mordor look like a stroll in the park. (And he was probably allowed to walk on the grass, too.)

Some of these signs and warnings do seem to assume that our general level of intelligence is struggling to get into double figures. The warning on the packet of peanuts that it “may contain nuts” is justly famous, as is the admonition to “remove clothes before ironing”.

Offices are particularly prone to having warnings plastered throughout the common areas. The advent of PowerPoint and the laminating machine means that anyone can put up a sign that looks official, complete with stern warnings and the kind of language people rarely use in real life. The kind of formality beloved of train companies, who talk about people “alighting”, for instance.

I’m all for safety at work. I’m also happy to be warned about things that I might be taken unawares by. But it does seem that some of the signs in offices haven’t really been thought through.

Take this one, for instance. “In case of an emergency in this building, please call this number and leave message.” That would be for less urgent emergencies, presumably. Or “Caution. Automatic door. Push to operate.” Possibly semi-automatic would be a better description.

Another class of sign in offices irritates, because it’s unnecessary. Like the sign over the office guillotine: “Caution! Watch your hands, hair, ties or loose hanging items whilst using.” If I really need to be warned about this sort of thing, maybe I shouldn’t be operating the guillotine in the first place (or be wandering about the office wearing loose hanging items).

Similarly, “To avoid the toaster catching fire, please do not turn the setting above 3.” Anyone who needs this warning shouldn’t be making toast in the office – although rather than making signs about it, the office would be better off buying a toaster less prone to bursting into flames.

I suppose the moral is that just because you can put up an office sign doesn’t mean you should.

During the Second World War there was a famous poster that asked people, “Is your journey really necessary?” Perhaps, the message 65 years on should be “Is your sign really necessary?”

I think I’ll make one and put it next to the office laminator.

By David Vickery


Published On: 1st Sep 2009

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  1. I copied your warning picture to use in a presentation on Illegal Immigrants. Is there a particular source you would like for me to use for citing, or cite this web page? I did alter the background to black to blend with slide.

    Rick 22 Sep at 6:40 pm
  2. Rick

    I’m afraid that you cannot copy images like this as we do not own the copyright.

    You would have to purchase image number 15133887 from

    admin 24 Sep at 5:23 pm
  3. this is really good and funny… On my Christmas lights the label reads: for indoor and outdoor use only. Where else would you use it. Not necessarily an office warning but funny.

    catrina 14 Apr at 8:49 pm