There is no one size fits all when it comes to safety vests. It would be great if a single type of vest could keep your workers safe and sound in all situations. But when it comes to keeping workers visible, you need the right hi-vis gear for the conditions they work in.

When it's time to figure out how to outfit your team, what should you do? It's important to consider all aspects of the work environment. This ranges from the speed of nearby traffic to the weather. It also includes the lighting conditions.

Many industries and job operations have to face varying lighting conditions. One example is a road crew working throughout the day to repair a stretch of highway. Construction workers who spend eight or more hours on site deal with this issue too. Further, emergency responders on call over a long shift also encounter inconsistent lighting. They all need to know that their hi-vis equipment will keep them safe and visible. Their gear should be as effective in the darkening evening as it is in the bright mid-day sunlight.

Daylight visibility and low light visibility offer unique safety challenges. What works for one might not work for the other. But with the info we'll provide you in this article, you'll be able to give your workers the hi-vis gear they need... no matter the lighting.

Standards for Hi-Vis Workwear

Equipping your crew for visibility should not be your first step. First, you must consider the type of work of work performed.

OSHA emphasizes the need to consider low light visibility. This need is as important as considering daylight visibility. They provided clarification on the ANSI/ISEA standard for high-visibility clothing. They require high-visibility protection for anyone working near public vehicular traffic. This type of apparel is also needed by those working near machinery used by their own crew.

Both of these job operations introduce the risk of struck-by incidents. And visibility gear is a primary safety measure when it comes to protecting against them.

There are three main classifications for hi-vis workwear. The classes depend on the type of work done and the level of exposure to various degrees of traffic. Each classification requires a different level of protection.

Type O (Off-Road)

These workers may encounter struck-by hazards from nearby equipment and vehicles. But the hazards generally don't involve the public.

Type R (Roadway)

Workers on public roads need daylight, low light, and nighttime visibility gear. The gear should be visible to drivers. It should also provide conspicuity to co-workers operating machines, vehicles, and other equipment.

Type P (Public Safety)

Workers under this classification can encounter any number of hazards. The hazards will depend on the situation they are responding to. These workers are usually law enforcement and emergency response personnel.

Hi-Vis Must-Haves for Daytime Visibility

For all workers operating during daylight hours, the most important thing to consider is the background of the worksite. What's the best way to make workers visible? Providing the highest contrast between them and the environment.

Hi-vis items should fit well enough to highlight the human form. Not only that, the gear should make the worker stand out from the environment. The background material for the items must be one of three fluorescent colors:

  • Yellow-green
  • Orange-red
  • Red

Select whichever color will provide the greatest contrast with the work zone. Yellow-green, for example, won't provide as much contrast as red when working on a road surrounded by trees or fields of tall grass. Be sure to consider not only the surroundings. You must also take into account the color of the machinery and equipment that will be in use.

High Visibility in Low Light

Low light work zones are a whole other matter. Here, color still matters, but it won't be enough. Drivers zooming by at dusk might not immediately notice the fluorescent safety vests. To get real visibility in these conditions, workers will need retroreflective materials.

What you'll need for low light depends, again, on what kind of work your employees are performing.

Performance Class 1

Off-Road workers will need Performance Class 1 gear. This is the minimum level of hi-vis workwear. It generally consists of a vest or shirt with two components. The items should have a fluorescent background and horizontal and vertical retroreflective stripes.

Performance Class 2

For Roadwork and Public Safety workers, you'll need to step things up a notch. They need Performance Class 2 or 3 gear. The class you select will depend on their exposure to additional hazards.

Performance Class 2 gear should be more fitted to the worker. It should have extra materials to create higher visibility options. This is what helps workers stand out more against the background. Again, the most common form of hi-vis workwear in this performance class would be a vest or shirt. The difference is that it will feature contrasting colors for extra visibility.

Performance Class 3

This class gives you the highest level of visibility. The items use a combination of materials and placement across multiple body parts. They offer far more than you would expect from a vest or shirt. Class 3 items should make workers stand out against any background. The gear should keep them safer in every condition. This includes weather, speedy traffic, and, yes, low light.

If your workers need Class 3 protection, consider pairing a hi-vis jacket with hi-vis pants. This will provide full body visibility.

The Bottom Line

The truth is, you can't treat safety gear the same way for indoor workers and outdoor workers. Workers in a factory or a processing plant are in a controlled environment. You know their environmental conditions won't change much over the course of the day.

With outdoor workers, it's a different story. Calm, empty streets turn into serious hazards during rush hour. Heavy downpours can start in an instant. And the lighting is never constant.

When you get hi-vis safety gear for outdoor workers, stay informed. Make sure they're safe in all conditions, day or night.