Seeds: Colour-coding Work space people

Note: the term workshop is confusing. While it initially referred to a room or building for making or repairing things, it has taken on an added meaning of an intense meeting about a specific subject. Using the term frequently results in misunderstandings. To avoid confusion, I am attempting to replace the first definition with work space. Yes, I am aware that others are using maker space, but not all work results in products being made. Frequently, they are repaired. At other times, they are disassembled, even recycled, hopefully upcycled. The term make looks at only one phase of a product life cycle.

Communication is difficult, especially between people. Communication at the Unit One work space can be more difficult than in other work spaces, because it currently has three purposes: research, teaching and prototyping.

Research means that we are continuously experimenting into new areas. With any experiment there is the potential for increased risk, which has to be analyzed and (potentially) minimized. Naturally, there are different types of risk. The ones that are focused upon involve the potential for injury or disability.

Unit One, including its annex, occupies about 25 square meters of space. This is a small area compared with many other work spaces. Only four workers are allowed to actively work in the workshop at any one time. A total of six people are allowed into the workshop when work is in progress. An exception can be made for demonstrations, where up to ten people will be allowed. A demonstration (not to be confused with a protest) is a reenactment of a work process, for the benefit of an audience.

One of the first things that is done at Unit One is that we make a distinction between four types of people: novices, skilled workers, supervisors and others.

Novices are people who do not have the training or experience to understand (fully) the consequences of what they are doing. They are usually in the work space to learn. They are not just observers. While restrictions may apply, they are expected to use equipment and facilities in their learning process. These people are distinguished from others by the colour orange. It is used on hard hats, name patches and identity cards. Novices will be observed and helped by the skilled workers and supervisors in the work space.

Model 7
Novice worker name patch proposal.

Skilled workers are people who have appropriate training in the use of equipment available at the workshop, as well as elementary first aid training. They are at the work space to  undertake research, or to build prototypes. They use yellow as a distinguishing colour. Skilled workers are allowed to work independently, but are expected to help novices, when help or advice is needed.

There are two styles of name patch that have been short-listed for consideration for skilled workers. One is closer to that used by supervisors having black thread on a yellow background. The other is closer to that used by novices having yellow thread on a black background. It will be up to the skilled workers themselves to decide which they would prefer to use.

Model 2
Skilled worker name patch proposal. This style is closer to that used by supervisors.


Model 11
Skilled worker name patch proposal. This style is closer to that used by novices.

Supervisors have (at least in theory) the interpersonal skills needed to provide the training that will turn novices into skilled workers. Novices are not allowed to work at Unit One unless there is a supervisor on duty. In keeping with the traditions found on construction sites, supervisors have white as their distinguishing colour.

Model 1
Supervisor name patch proposal.

Guests in a work space (or site) are always a challenge. There are always a lot of temptations and potential dangers that have to be planned for. A large number of them can be avoided by disconnecting electrical power to any machines guests are likely to encounter.

Yet, it must be remembered that not all guests are equal. Members of the Unit One board, may lack the technical training to qualify them as skilled workers, but they also have a right to inspect the activities.

On many construction work sites guests are issued white hard hats. However, at Unit One we won’t be doing this, because all novices are told that they can always receive help from a person wearing a white hard hat, or white name patch.

The solution to this challenge is to use blue as a colour for all guests that lack status as skilled workers or supervisors. Board members without technical competence will be issued blue hard hats and name patches. Board members with technical competence will be issued hard hats and name patches appropriate to their skill level, either yellow or white.

Model 6
Name patch for members of the Unit One board, who lack technical competence.

Update: 2021-03-15 14:00

In an attempt to update this article, several sites were investigated. The main conclusion is that practice varies. The following colours are are commonly used for helmets. This could be extended to apply to other articles of clothing, as well as name labels:

  • white: for managers, engineers, forepeople, supervisors, and sometimes process operators.
  • red: for safety officer, fire fighting team
  • green: for first aid team, safety inspectors and new workers
  • blue: some sites this is for general labourers, more sites use this for technical workers, including electricians.
  • yellow: some sites use this for visitors, more sites use this for general labourers.
  • brown: workers in high heat situations.
  • orange: some sites use this for maintenance members, technicians, laboratory analysts.
  • gray: visitors
  • pink is often used in situations where an operator arrives at work without a safety helmet.

Within Europe the ISO7010 standard applies. It is an inter­national standard created in 2003 to assist with consistent safety sign regulation across Europe. This regulation concerns workplace safety signs and colour markings for accident prevention, fire protection, health & hazard information and emergency evacuation. However, once again, it could be applied to articles of clothing. Wikipedia has an excellent article on the subject.

Here are the specific colours that are specified: Black – RAL 9004 Signal Black; Blue – RAL 5005 Signal Blue= Mandatory; Green – RAL 6032 Signal Green = Safe Condition; Red – RAL 3001 Signal Red = Prohibition; White – RAL 9003 Signal White; Yellow – RAL 1003 Signal Yellow = Warning.