Written by Carl Potter, CSP, CMC
Reflective clothing and vests for workers along highways and on construction sites has been around for many years. The standards used to design the clothing and vests and the proper usage of this personal protective equipment (PPE) is continually improved. I have seen many examples of those who wear it because it is required and not because of what it does for them. Reflective clothing is a mitigation tool to reduce the risk of being struck by moving vehicles and equipment along a roadway or construction site.
ANSI/ISEA has established 3 performance classes for hi-vis PPE and OSHA has adopted those standards for specific uses.
It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. Henry David Thoreau
This type of apparel tends to blend in with the work environment instead of drawing attention to workers and is used when vehicular speeds in the area are 25 MPH or less, backing of equipment and vehicles is not in a complex or congested area, and workers can devote their attention to the motion of vehicles in the area while maintaining separation between themselves and the equipment/vehicles.
Performance Class 2 provides superior visibility for wearers through additional coverage of the torso and is more visible than Performance Class 1. Performance Class 2 is required in situations such as mowing, inspection and maintenance of equipment, road signage installation, surveying, utility operations, toll collecting, and incidental work such a immediate responders to incidents along a roadway, volunteering for road litter pickup, and covering news along a roadway (media and incident management).
Performance Class 3 apparel offers the greatest worker visibility in both complex backgrounds and through a full range of body movements. This type of apparel should be worn when conditions include highly congested areas, complex lane shifts, or complex work zones. Visibility for Class 3 apparel includes background and reflective materials to the arms and/or legs and must include either sleeves or trousers. Typically workers exposed to moving vehicles and equipment must don Performance Class 3 when no physical barrier exists in the presence of moving equipment/vehicles, work is on roadways or in high speed roadways, urban areas, or high-crash areas. Workers should wear Performance Class 3 apparel when conducting flagging operations, setting up or removing temporary traffic control, and nighttime operations on or near a roadway including emergency incident response and utility work.
Being struck by vehicles, heavy equipment, and other objects is the top cause of injuries and the second cause of death for construction workers. Tens of thousands of workers are injured in highway work zone incidents related to vehicular crashes and equipment movement. Knowing about and wearing appropriate PPE is essential to your safety at all times; knowing and waring the right high-viz apparel is crucial to working injury-free on roadways and construction sites.
Once you and your safety personnel have identified and obtained the right high-viz reflective apparel for the job, it’s important to keep it clean and wear it zipped-up or buttoned up so that it provide the maximum visibility. Another thought is that you might want to make sure it fits. Wintertime conditions can find you wearing layers of clothes that can increase your size by 2 times. If you are a 2X size you may need a winter vest that is 4X size. On the other hand you do want a size that is not sloppy or creates a snag hazard. Many companies order customized reflective vests, jackets, and suits for their employees who work in conditions requiring such PPE. Remember, you are representing your company, so keep your PPE looking professional.
Preventing every workplace injury requires everyone to commit to mitigation strategies that reduce the risk of an event that could cause injury or death. Take the time with your team to look each other over and make sure you are wearing the proper reflective clothing, so everyone can go home every day the same way they came to work.