Health & Safety Institute Blog

August 16, 2017

Safety Comes in Many Colors

You might not think of a construction site as a bright and colorful place, but the orange and yellow safety apparel worn by workers, especially in road work settings, is a common sight throughout the summer construction season. That neon clothing is as much a part of a worker’s personal protective equipment (PPE) as a hardhat or a welder’s mask.

HVSA, or High Visibility Safety Apparel, in shades of neon oranges, yellows and greens, serves an important role in keeping workers safe, and visibility is the name of the game. In the U.S., OSHA requires the use of such bright, reflective clothing:

Road and construction traffic poses an obvious and well-recognized hazard to highway/road construction work zone employees. OSHA standards require such employees to wear high visibility garments in two specific circumstances: when they work as flaggers and when they are exposed to public vehicular traffic in the vicinity of excavations. However, other construction workers in highway/road construction work zones are also exposed to the danger of being struck by the vehicles operating near them. For such workers, section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, 29 U.S.C. §654(a)(1), also known as the General Duty Clause, requires similar protection. 

When selecting the right HVSA for your construction crew, keep in mind these differences between fluorescent and retroreflective materials:

Fluorescent material takes a portion of invisible ultraviolet light from sunlight, and through special pigments, sends it back to the viewer as more visible light. This material only functions where there is a source of natural sunlight – these materials enhance daytime visibility, especially at dawn and dusk – and provide the greatest contrast against most backgrounds.

Retroreflective material is created to return light in the direction of the light's source. This property will let a driver to see the light being reflected from the retroreflective material on a person's garment (as long as the person is standing in the light's beam). While retroreflective materials can still reflect in the daylight, there is little difference between the light reflected from the garment's material and the surrounding environment. This lack of contrast makes retroreflective materials ineffective for enhanced visibility during (sunny) daytime conditions.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers a hazard assessment checklist to help EH&S professionals choose the most visible HSVA for the job, including such considerations as:

  • The type and nature of the work being carried out - including the tasks of both the HVSA wearer and any drivers.
  • The workplace environment and the background workers must be seen in (e.g., is the visual area behind the workers simple, complex, urban, rural, highway, filled with equipment, cluttered).
  • Lighting conditions and how the natural light might be affected by changing weather (sunlight, overcast sky, fog, rain or snow).
  • The sightlines of vehicle operators, especially when vehicles are operated in reverse.
  • If certain jobs, or the function being done, need to be "visually" identifiable from other workers in the area.

From reflective clothing to steel-toe safety boots to heavy-duty gloves, your workers will learn how to select, use and maintain their important safety equipment with Summit’s PPE training courses. Visit our Course Bundles page to learn about our Personal Protection Training programs, along with other industry- and job-related courses.

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