Ten Critical Sign Installation Errors That Could Kill You


1 – Fascias

Car wash fascias are long and heavy – we’ve seen examples fitted to plywood, which is in turn mounted on the car wash building brickwork.  The plywood rots and the fascia falls down. But why fix to plywood in the first place, when the fascia can be fixed directly to a brick wall … which won’t rot?

Shop fascias present similar problems – we’ve seen new fascias fitted to the old one, presumably to save the time required to remove it.

But this puts extra load on the old fascia (which may be very old, and may be held up by equally old fixings!)  The original structure could even have been fitted inadequately in the first place – how do you know, if you don’t check?  Or it could be fixed to a substrate which is now rotten.  It’s simply unprofessional to do this in most situations.

Fixing a fascia is not to be undertaken lightly – if it doesn’t kill you when it falls down, it could kill someone else, months or years later!

2 – Working at height in a storm

We’ve seen mobile towers blown over in the wind even before the stabilisers were fitted (we have another contractor’s report and photos about this on file).

Storm damage can result in site closures, so site operators are often desperate to get hanging roof sheets or wind-damaged signware removed – fast.

But if a contractor works in wind speeds of more than17mph (on a mobile scaffold tower) or 24mph on a MEWP, the site owner may be as responsible in law as the contractor when things go wrong.  And at those wind speeds, there’s a pretty good chance that something will go wrong, particularly when working with sign components which act like sails in heavy wind.

In one case recently, a pedestrian was brain damaged by a falling sign; the sign company incurred fines and costs equating to £78K, and the sign owner incurred fines and costs equating to more than £500K.

3 – Unqualified electricians (or sign fitters) carrying out electrical work

It’s fairly simple.  Electrical work should be done by qualified electricians, or sign engineers that have relevant qualifications.

Electrical work in signs is critically important and many signs are exposed to extreme weather conditions, fuel or other potentially explosive vapours, and are in close proximity to locations used by the general public, all of which increases the potential risk.

Using unqualified employees to carry out electrical work is to put lives at risk.

4 – Installing a filling station price sign without proper training

The price signs on filling stations – the things that look like tall illuminated towers carrying the price of the fuel on sale, the brand, and sometimes other information – usually weigh more than a tonne and (like many sign components) have sail-like qualities in heavy wind.

Installing them is a skilled task which carries multiple risks (the Xmo Strata website contains a 15 minute video on this topic produced some years ago).

The work calls for a properly qualified slingerAppointed person in charge of lifting operations./signaller working with a Hiab driver.  Relevant training is easily available for this (the NPORS qualification is the one we use).

In Germany, in 2014, a man was hit by a swinging price sign (it was still attached to the Hiab).  He was lucky, in that he got away simply with two fractured legs.

We don’t know the details of that case, or whether qualified employees were being used, and that is not the point of giving the example; the point is that installing price signs is dangerous work and minimising the risks by using properly trained and qualified people is critical.

5 – Fitting a price sign on an inadequate base

A price sign weighing a tonne or more, which (by its very nature) is vulnerable to the wind, must be fixed into adequate foundations.  The foundations are usually a concrete base containing fixing points to which the price sign is bolted.

If a sign replaces an old one it’s a fair bet that the new sign has more function, is more sophisticated, and may be heavier; simply fitting it to a base designed many years ago, for a lighter sign, is not very smart.  At the least, the base should be inspected for signs of damage.

Bases should be oblong in shape, but it’s faster and cheaper to not square off the corners at the bottom of the excavation and make them ‘boat shaped’ – creating straight sides and precision corners takes time and effort.  A ‘boat shaped’ foundation structure makes the price sign far more vulnerable to damage, because the foundation can act like a pivot and rock in heavy winds.

6 – Inadequate fixings on pump spreaders or banners

Pump spreaders, or banners, are the signs which ‘hang over’ fuel dispensers.  They are often very heavy and catch the wind easily.

They are mounted on canopy stanchion columns which are usually around 8mm thick, and because some have gutter drainpipes inside them, corrosion is common.

The spreaders can also be fixed inadequately; the wrong fixings are often used; and they are frequently fitted to rusty (weakened) stanchions. This is a mistake that we have unwittingly made ourselves in the past – the problem was identified, however, and we now have control procedures in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

7 – Canopy fascia inadequately engineered or fitted

We’ve intercepted several designs – provided by the manufacturer – that didn’t meet BS559, or simply weren’t fit for purpose.  The weight of canopies, and the fact that they are located high (and are vulnerable to falling and to wind), makes it critical that basic errors like this are avoided.

8 – Falls through rotten canopy structures

Untrained or complacent canopy engineers can easily fall through a rotten roof structure.

Canopy gutters are often blocked with leaves, and because it is hassle, they may not be routinely maintained.  This will – always –  cause leaks and corrosion.

If an engineer must go on the roof, there should be a safe system of work, preventing a fall or injury; and it must take account of the fact that the canopy may not be structurally sound. It’s not unknown for engineers to enter the canopy void and fall through that – I know of one, working for another company, who caused serious damage to his spleen (and required extensive surgery as a result) whilst doing precisely this.

9 – Vehicle impact

Work on forecourts in particular can often mean closing lanes to keep contractors safe.

This can generate frustration and increased aggression from motorists, and can increase traffic on the other lanes.

We know of several deaths from vehicle impact on filling stations abroad; and we know of one UK contractor who sustained a broken leg because he walked behind a car as an aggravated driver reversed.  It could have been far worse.

10 – Falling canopy sheets

Canopy sheets need to be fitted properly because there is a clear and obvious risk that they will fall.   When they do, people can die; one example – here in the UK – happened when an ‘under’ canopy sheet fell on to a man.

Some companies take the view that once the main structure is in place they can use (cheaper) untrained sign fitters to fix the sheets – but falling sheets can be fatal.  Properly trained staff should be used for this purpose.

In law, the client is duty-bound to ensure that the contractor has the relevant information, instructions, training, and supervision to carry out the work, before a decision is made to appoint them.