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High Visibility Reflective Clothing: The Basics

High-visibility clothing is used in the workplace where low lighting, weather conditions, an environment with a lot of moving equipment, or other similar conditions are present and where workers need to be more visible to others. Federal regulations require all personnel working on a federally funded highways wear high visibility vests (excluding firefighters, which are required by other standards and regulations to have clothing that is both high visibility and fireproof). This includes police officers, road workers, paramedics, and tow truck operators. OSHA requires the use of high-visibility vests for certain cargo handling operations in shipyards and workers exposed to public vehicular traffic. There are also state and local regulations that require workers wear high-visibility garments for certain activities, particularly during road work or construction. Regardless of regulatory requirements, employers may want to consider high-visibility clothing whenever improving the visibility of workers will contribute to their safety, for example, for emergency responders, surveyors, parking attendants, meter readers, lineman, and warehouse employees, to name a few.

The standard that is generally used by most regulatory agencies for reflective clothing is the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear (ANSI/ISEA 107-2004). The ANSI standard provides design guidelines for reflective garments and specifies the minimum amounts of component materials (retroreflective or high-visibility materials), colors, and placement in order for a garment to provide improved visibility of a worker.

Reflective Garment Selection

Based on the ANSI standard, high-visibility garments should be fluorescent yellow-green, fluorescent orange-red, or fluorescent red. The choice of the background color used should be based on the work being done and the environment it is done in; you should choose the color that will be most conspicuous during daytime use. For example, if you have workers working in and around machinery that is predominantly yellow or around an abundance of vegetation that is green, fluorescent orange-red or red are likely to be more visible than fluorescent yellow-green.

There are three primary classes of high-visibility garments . The classes are determined by the amount of retroreflective material in the garment and distinguish which garments are most appropriate for different work environments.

  • Class 1: These garments provide a minimum amount of material to enhance visibility and so provide less distinction between the worker and the environment. They are for workers working in situations where traffic does not exceed 25 miles per hour (mph) and there's ample separation of traffic. Work where Class 1 garments would be appropriate includes parking attendants and warehouse workers.
  • Class 2: These garments make workers more conspicuous than Class 1. Workers working near roadways where traffic exceeds 25 mph and those that need visibility in inclement weather should use these garments. Class 2 garments are generally appropriate for railway workers, school crossing guards and personnel directing traffic, and airport ground crews.
  • Class 3: Class 3 garments provide the highest level of visibility. These garments are meant for workers where traffic exceeds 50 mph and in a wide range of weather conditions. Workers who generally need Class 3 garments are road construction workers, utility workers, survey crews, tow truck operators, and emergency responders.
  • Class E: Class E isn't a stand-alone class of high-visibility garment. Class E garments are those like pants and shorts that are combined with Class 2 or 3 garments to make an ensemble. When Class E bottoms are combined with Class 2 or 3 garments, the overall classification is Class 3.

When buying high-visibility garments, select those that provide the wearer with the best possible degree of comfort at the required level of protection (that is, Class 1, 2, or 3). Also, make sure that they are free from sharp edges or roughness that will irritate (for example, under arms and at necklines and waist bands), especially if workers are wearing garments for long periods of time. In addition, make sure that you provide sizes that fit your work force properly. Garments that don't fit properly, especially if they are overly large, can actually become a hazard.

Reflective Garment Care

Dirt and damage can reduce the visibility that is offered by a reflective garment . Always check manufacturer's instructions on how to keep the garment clean. When garments are excessively worn or damaged or cannot be properly cleaned, they should be replaced.