When I got to the site, I realized I left my safety vest in the truck. I was only going to be there for a few minutes, so I didn't want to walk all the way back for it. But when I was talking to the on-site supervisor, a car whizzed by and narrowly missed me. Between the fog and me not wearing the vest, I'm not sure the driver could see me.
Hi-visibility safety apparel refers to clothing that workers can wear to improve how well others see them. Under the right circumstances, it can make the difference between life and death.
Consider this: according to OSHA, there is one work zone fatality every eight hours and one work zone injury every nine minutes. And who is most at risk? Unsurprisingly, it’s those working in and around vehicles and traffic (learn more about Work Zone Awareness).
When Is Hi-Visibility PPE Necessary?
Hi-vis safety apparel is essential for workers in low light and poor visibility and those who work around moving vehicles like cars, trucks, forklifts, and backhoes. ANSI standard 107 mandates 360-degree visibility to ensure the worker can be seen from all sides. The type of apparel required (classified as O, R, or P) will vary depending on the task and worksite (more on this below).
It’s important to begin by conducting a thorough risk assessment to determine the exact nature of the hazards on the work site and how to best manage them with hi-visibility gear. Assessments should consider:
- The nature of the work being carried out
- Whether workers might be exposed to heat or flames (necessitating flame-resistant PPE)
- Temperature, visibility, and traffic flow, speed, and volume
- Duration of exposure to traffic hazards
- Background (e.g. simple, complex, rural, highway)
- Vehicle operator sightlines, particularly when moving in reverse
- Engineering controls and administrative controls already in place (such as barriers to separate workers from traffic)
A Guide for Employers
Employers are responsible for providing appropriate PPE for the work being carried out – and this includes hi-visibility clothing. But if your workers aren’t wearing the right hi-vis gear for the application, they may not be as safe as you think.
There are three key classes of hi-visibility safety apparel:
- Class 1 provides low levels of coverage with good visibility
- Class 2 provides moderate body coverage and superior visibility
- Class 3 provides the most body coverage and offers visibility in poor lighting conditions and at great distances
Here’s a handy reference chart to help you determine what type of hi-vis clothing your workers might require.
Type O (off-road or non-roadway)
|Activities that allow full and undivided attention to oncoming traffic|
Ample separation between worker and traffic
Simple backgrounds that allow for optimal visibility of workers
Slow-moving vehicles (less than 25 mph)
Parking lot attendants
Workers retrieving shopping carts from parking lots
Sidewalk maintenance workers
Shipping and receiving operations
Type R or P (roadway or public safety)
Tasks that divert attention away from oncoming traffic
Inclement weather conditions or low light
Complex work backgrounds
Activities in or near moving vehicle traffic
Vehicles or equipment moving 25-50 mph
Parking or toll gate workers
Airport baggage handlers and ground crews
Emergency response personnel
Accident site investigators
Type R or P (roadway or public safety)
Activities requiring worker to be easily visible through full range of body motions at 1,280 feet away
Activities in low light or night-time
Activities with workers on foot and vehicle operators with high task loads
Vehicles traveling over 50 mph
Road construction workers
In addition to providing gear, it’s a good idea to teach workers about when to wear it, how to wear it, and any specific care instructions that may help maintain its quality. Engaging workers is key to ensuring compliance with safety rules and regulations, so make it fun and interactive for them – it will pay off.
How Workers Can Protect Themselves
One of the most important things workers can do is to wear the PPE that they are provided with. While it seems obvious, non-compliance costs lives every year.
Workers should also pay attention and participate fully in training sessions that are offered. Particularly important points include:
- When to use hi-vis clothing
- How to find the right fit
- Limitations of hi-vis apparel
- Storing and maintaining apparel
- Checking for signs of wear and tear
- How to properly clean hi-vis apparel
We see those reflective vests and jackets so often that we start taking them for granted, but hi-visibility safety apparel can mean the difference between a worker making it home safely and a tragic event on the worksite.
Whether it’s warehouse work or road construction, identifying the job hazards, determining the level of visibility necessary, and training workers on the proper use and care of hi-vis PPE can help ensure your employees complete their shifts without a hitch.