Safety Alarms

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Workplace alarms, signals, and bells are often so common that we don’t even notice their existance, they are a ctitical part of keeping a work environment safe.

The benefits of alarms

Many job sites and workplaces are naturally loud and require the use of alarms to alert employees to potential danger. Dangerous types of equipment or the potential for emergencies may also require employees to be made aware of threats to their health and safety through the use of auditory alerts and alarms.

The problem of safety alarm fatigue

The “beep beep” of a forklift horn, the start up alarm on a piece of equipment, shift whistles, fire alarm drills, and truck back-up signals are just a few of the “special” sounds and signals meant to keep workers alert and safe in busy workplaces. Unfortunately, the cacophony of sounds meant to provide critical information to workers, in addition to the myriad of ambient noises prevalent in a busy workplace, can lead to a dangerous effect known as safety alarm fatigue.

Safety alarm fatigue is a serious problem in multiple industries and can be a difficult challenge to overcome when attempting to create a safe work environment. Safety alarm fatigue occurs when an individual or group is constantly exposed to safety alarms, warning sounds, or alert bells in the workplace and, as a result, become desensitized to them. Desensitization to safety alarms can lead to decreases in reaction time when encountering the specific hazard or situation that the alarm is meant to inform workers of, or in the worst cases, lead workers to completely disregarding the alarm altogether.

How to make sure alarms work for you instead
of against you

Warning Signal Checklist
Yes No

Has your workplace been assessed for need of warning sounds? Evaluate natural and man-made hazards, machinery, evacuation routes and systems, process handling, and special or unique situations.

Yes No Is your alarm system designed based on the level and type of hazards present at the site? It is monitored and updated as needed?
Yes No Does this assessment include compliance with ADA and needs for visual as well as audible alarms? Are supervisors aware of those on site who are hearing-impaired?
Yes No Are all employees advised as to what the sounds mean? What about visitors and contractors?
Yes No Are employees advised as to actions needed to respond to the alarm, such as evacuation, special PPE, sheltering in place, safe locations for workplace violence situations, etc.?
Yes No Are employees who do not speak English advised as to meanings of alarms and responses to them? Do you include all languages on the site?
Yes No Is each sound specific, and do employees understand how to get additional information if needed?
Yes No Are volunteers, temporary employees, and contractors advised as to sounds, meanings, and needed actions? Is there a process for constant turnover of crews?
Yes No When alarm styles are changed or updated (for example, fire alarms changed from bell to chimes), do you consult the local authority having jurisdiction? Is this documented in safety minutes, etc.?
Yes No Do employees who wear hearing protection in the workplace understand they should still be able to hear the warning sounds? Is an alternative, such as having a watch person in place, available in the event there are problems? (Usually it can be solved by trying a different model of hearing protection. Other warning system levels can be adjusted if needed.)
Yes No Are employees aware of potential for disciplinary action for disabling or circumventing alarms that are required, such as disabling a forklift’s back-up alarm or turning down the Public Address system?
Yes No Is there a backup plan in the event your primary warning is not operational (for example, air horns are used if the PA system is not functioning, a lookout is posted for firewatch, etc.)?

This checklist was originall published in the 2007 article “The Sounds of Safety” by Occupational Safety &
Health Magazine



Blackmon, R., & Gramopadhye, A. (n.d.). IMPROVING CONSTRUCTION SAFETY BY PROVIDING POSITIVE FEEDBACK ON BACKUP ALARMS. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. Retrieved June & July, 1995

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This work by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.