Selecting high-visibility PPE
What factors should I consider when choosing high-visibility apparel?
Responding is Keith Baker, product trainer and analyst, MCR Safety, Collierville, TN.
One of the most important questions to consider on any jobsite is “how well can others see me?” Wearing the proper amount of high-visibility apparel and, in many cases, the proper color can mean the difference in going home – or not.
Many applications warrant the use of high-visibility apparel, but the largest consumer group is undoubtedly roadway workers. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, “Forty-five percent of highway contractors had motor vehicles crash into their construction zones during the past year.” As our nation’s highways age, it is estimated that during peak work season, as much as 20 percent of our national highway system may be under construction. This places thousands of individuals in harm’s way, not only from oncoming motorists, but from construction vehicles as well.
Background color and complexities
According to the ANSI 107 standard, acceptable high-visibility colors include fluorescent yellow-green, fluorescent orange-red and fluorescent red. Now, envision one of the many construction zones you have driven through. Chances are you encountered countless orange cones, signs and barrels. Suppose John J. Roadworker needs to stand near or on the roadway, and he puts on an orange vest. Even though he is wearing orange, he may blend in with the orange cones and barrels, so many vehicle operators may not see him as quickly as they need to. Now imagine the same individual wearing a fluorescent yellow-green vest standing by the same orange barrel. All of a sudden he stands out and is noticed much sooner, giving drivers much more time to react to his presence. However, don’t fall into the assumption that all cones, barrels and signs are orange. Many roadway attenuators, cones and signs could be yellow or lime, causing similar problems while wearing fluorescent yellow-green. So, what is the solution if multiple or complex backgrounds may be encountered? Many high-visibility garment manufacturers offer apparel made with multiple and contrasting colors.
As those of us who have worked outdoors know, temperatures can vary greatly throughout the year. Most quality manufacturers offer garments made of breathable mesh materials for hot weather, and solid insulated options for cold temperatures. Some offer insulated garments with zip-out insulation and sleeves so it can be worn in warm weather as well.
Many high-visibility applications may require garments made with flame-resistant materials. Jobs working with or near electrical hazards or oil and gas applications where flash fires could occur are prime examples. Greater burn injuries could occur if individuals wear improper FR garments that continue to burn after the initial hazard has expired. Make certain any garment worn for electrical hazards or flash fire hazards carry the appropriate ratings by performing the proper hazard assessments. Always be sure your apparel meets industry, local, state and federal regulations for your particular application.
Break away/tear away
When working with equipment that has moving pieces, gears or snags, break-away garments are recommended. Many manufacturers have options with hook-and-loop materials incorporated into the front, shoulders and waist that allow the garment to safely rip away from the body should it become entangled in moving machinery.
Most manufacturers offer products with reflective stripes made of glass beads or micro-prismatic materials. Although each has its own advantages, there are distinct differences. The advantage of glass bead striping is that it is often more economical. The disadvantage is that in abrasive environments, the surface may abrade or rub off quicker, losing its reflective properties. Micro-prismatic stripes are often covered by a vinyl-like material that protects the reflective surface from wear. Micro-prismatic also performs better than glass bead material in wet conditions.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.