High visibility clothing is a type of personal protective equipment that includes vests, bibs, coveralls, shirts, pants, head gear and hand gear. It must have highly reflective properties and be in a color that is easily distinguishable from background colors. The purpose of high visibility safety apparel (also known as HVSA for short) is generally to alert motorized vehicle operators and drivers of a worker’s presence. The clothing is usually worn in low light or dark conditions, but many workers will wear the clothing in the middle of the day as well to increase visibility. When part of the worker’s body is covered by a barrier like construction material, trees or leaves, and traffic barriers, head gear is often worn as well. The purpose of the head gear is to provide additional visibility in case the HVSA is covered by the barriers.
Safety clothing needs to meet certain requirements in order to meet regulations that say the clothing will work like it is intended to. In the United States, it’s the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) that determine if the safety gear meets standards and what those standards are.
There are three classifications of ANSI rating for safety apparel. Each class represents the type of clothing that should be worn in a certain situation.
ANSI Class 1: Class 1 reflective clothing forms the basis for all the other classifications of protection which is why it’s the first level of protection. Class 1 safety clothing is suitable for people working as warehouse workers, delivery drivers, road and sidewalk maintenance workers and parking lot attendants. Class 1 safety clothing may also be worn by those walking or jogging in the dark if they’re doing so on a sidewalk or quiet residential street. Basically, it’s the type of safety apparel that’s suitable for workers who are a significant distance away from traffic and motorists. Workers can wear class 1 industrial clothing if the traffic passing them is under 25 miles per hour. Class 1 gear consists of a high visibility vest with a reflective band of at least two inches wide across the chest. If applicable, additional reflective bands should be worn on the head or hard hat, if applicable.
ANSI Class 2: This second class of safety work clothing is suitable for emergency response personnel, school crossing cards, utility workers, airport baggage handler, law enforcement personnel, accident site investigators, high volume parking lot or toll gate workers. These types of workers are generally work in sites where vehicle traffic can travel up to 50 miles per hour. ANSI certified Class 2 safety clothing is sufficient for most roadway work, but not highway work. Class 2 clothing requires full sleeves with reflective bands at the wrists. This helps provide a better outline of the human shape and increases visibility.
ANSI Class 3: This class provides the highest level of visibility and is designed specifically for work areas near high speed traffic. It’s designed to allow the worker to complete tasks free of worry about having to constantly watch traffic. ANSI Class 3 high visibility safety apparel provides visibility for nearly a quarter a mile making. The class adds trousers or coveralls with reflective bands at the waistline and ankles.
In Canada, the requirements for safety clothing are found in the CSA Standard Z96-09. There are similar classifications of safety clothing with the CSA.
HSVA should be worn by anyone who works in poor visibility conditions or low light. This is especially true if you work around moving vehicles that travel on their own power like trucks, cars, backhoes and forklifts. The purpose of high visibility safety apparel is to allow you, and other workers, to easily be seen by drivers of other vehicles before they reach you and potentially injure you or kill you. It makes you visible sooner to reduce the change of accidents.
There have been numerous studies into the way the human eye works and these studies have been used to determine these classifications and what should be worn when and in what work situation. In most cases, people can see bright, contrasting or moving objects much more easily. Bright colors aren’t enough on their own to provide sufficient protection which is why special reflective strips are put on the surface of the clothing. The clothing still must have high color contrast to meet regulations.
While it may seem like common sense when determining when to wear high visibility safety apparel, sometimes an evaluation of the job site may be necessary to figure out which classification of gear should be worn. It’s generally recommended that a hazard assessment being carried out on each job site to determine the level of risk and potential hazards a worker may come across while working.
The process for this is officially called a risk assessment. A risk assessment involves three steps: 1. Identifying the hazards 2. Evaluating or analyzing the risk connected with that hazard and 3. Coming up with appropriate ways to eliminate or limit the exposure to the hazard.
Issues to consider when completing a general risk assessment and figuring out if high visibility safety apparel should be used include the following:
- Whether the workers will be exposed to heat or flames
- The type of work conditions like temperature, traffic flow, traffic volume, work rates and visibility
- The nature of the work being carried out
- The work environment. For example, is it urban, highway, cluttered, open, and if there’s a visual area behind the worker
- The distractions that could draw a worker’s attention away from the area’s hazards
- Taking into consideration any administrative or engineering hazards in place like road barriers
- Lighting conditions and weather conditions. A wind storm that turns up dust may require the use of high visibility safety apparel just as much as working out in the middle of the night would. Fog can also provide significant hazards for workers near fast moving motorized vehicles.