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High visibility clothing: When is it mandated?

August 10, 2017 / by USA Safety Supply

surveyor hi viz gear

Not All High-Visibility Workwear is Equal

In your industrial job, you're sure to come across occasions when compliance is on the line. In these cases, you’ll need protective clothing that meets regulations set by ANSI/ISEA.

If you're responsible for employees who work in locations where there is moving traffic, you want them to be seen. This is true whether they're roadside construction crews, police officers, or emergency responders. And that means getting them the most visible, non-restricting clothing possible.

But what about all those situations that don't fall under the regulations? In some of those cases, worker safety might still be a genuine concern. Even when not mandated, hi-vis apparel can add an extra layer of defense to your safety program.


Better Visual Protection for All Workers – The ANSI Standard

Nearing the turn of the Millennium, ANSI approved a voluntary standard for high-visibility apparel. Before this, guidelines for design had been quite sketchy.

A few addressed safety for those working on roads and directing traffic, for instance. But those guidelines were ambiguous. They only advised these workers to wear “a red or orange warning garment while flagging.” They also made the vague statement that the material should be “reflectorized."

It was obvious that this wasn’t strong enough in this line of work. Something better would have to take its place to prevent further fatalities. The previous year, a total of 104 individuals employed on roads died while working.

June 1999 saw the approval of the American National Standard for High-Visibility Apparel (ANSI/ISEA 107-1999). The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) was the secretariat for the guidance. They have been updating the legislation ever since. This even includes its latest version, the ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 standard.

The changes didn't help to protect only construction workers. These updates recommended that all employees working near vehicle traffic wear high-visibility clothing. This apparel can include vests, hi-vis jackets, harnesses, coveralls, or rain jackets/pants.

The latest standard takes into account many professions.

It addresses the needs of railway workers and police officers. It provides guidance to emergency response teams and airport controls too. Why? Studies have shown that drivers have a faster reaction time if they spot a worker wearing reflective apparel in the distance.


 shutterstock_291941375-702004-edited-762695-edited.jpgColors Aren’t Uniform When It Comes to Visibility Garments

Your choice of the standard fluorescent colors (yellow/green, orange/red, or red) doesn’t only depend on the task performed. They also vary by the work location.

For instance, a yellow/green vest wouldn’t work well in many rural areas. These locations often have green trees or a field of yellow sunflowers as a backdrop. Likewise, red wouldn’t always work in the heart of a city where it’s a popular color for trucks and other motor vehicles.

The watchword when it comes to hi-vis color options is "constrast." The last thing you want your workers to wear are colors that blend in with their surroundings. If they do, it doesn't matter how many reflective bands they wear. They're not likely to be seen by distracted drivers or co-workers concentrated on a task.

When hi-viz is a choice and not a mandate, you can find additional colors that can ensure your workers are seen. Some women's high visibility cothing comes in bright pink. There are other options for different shades of green and color combinations that may be a perfect fit for a job where increased visibility is a good idea, but not required to meet regulations. 

Pro tip: Implementing only the most minimal safety procedures because they are mandated is not considered a best practice.

Scope out the surroundings ahead of time if you can. Pay attention to the background colors. Make sure your workers' safety garments contrast with them. Their gear should make them visible, even at a distance. 

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Fabric Choice Matters, Too

And what about fabric? The color and retroreflective bands are what stand out when you look at hi-vis clothing. So, it's easy to forget that the fabric also plays an important role in keeping your workers visible.

The ANSI standards recommend polyester, nylon, and acrylic. They might not seem like anything special on their own. But they can have a fluorescent effect when they're woven. That means mesh and cotton alone, even though they can be cooling in the summer months, are out.

But using this fabric blend doesn't mean your workers can't be comfortable when it gets hot. Our own ST21-3 Class 3 Long Sleeve T-Shirts, for example, use Maxi-Dry technology. This keeps workers dry and comfortable in warm temperatures. There's also two inch silver reflective tape at various points to improve visibility.

 Design Options Are Available

These days, you can do a lot more than throw on a vest to ensure visibility while working. Apart from the standard vest, t-shirt, and jacket, you can buy hi-vis apparel in many fashionable styles.

Hi-vis hoodies are available for workers looking for comfort and weather. Those who work in inclement weather might also prefer to wear hi-vis bomber jackets. And to deal with both the bright, hot sun and the occasional rain, workers can try out hi-vis ranger hats.


standards.jpgHi-Vis Workwear: Who Are You Required to Equip

OSHA issued an interpretation of the guidelines in their High-Visibility Garment Interpretation Letter. The letter released on August 5, 2009. It points to three clauses relevant for workers in hazardous situations around moving vehicles:

  • Flaggers in traffic should always wear high-visibility garments 29 CFR 1926.201(1)
  • Road workers around excavation sites should also wear them 29 CFR 1926.651(d)
  • Other workers employed in highway/road construction zones should wear them as well 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, 29 U.S.C. §654(a)(1).

You Don't Need to Work Around Traffic or Moving Machinery to Benefit from High Visibility Clothing

Sometimes, it helps to have your workers be more conspicuous even if it isn't a safety issue. Hi-vis t-shirts and jackets are an easy way for workers stand out when they're working among or near the general public.

Crews making repairs to the exterior wall of a shopping mall, for instance, may work near a lot of foot traffic. With a hi-vis jacket on, no one will mistake a member of the crew for a passerby. Further, workers will be able to identify a pedestrian who has stepped over the caution tape and into the work zone.


Extra visibility in any situation gives your workers a little boost of safety.

Being seen reduces accidents. So, the next time you need to equip your workers with jackets, raincoats, or work pants, why not make sure they're hi-vis? It might prevent an injury on your jobsite.


Let’s face it, if hi-vis workwear prevents even one injury on your jobsite, that’s a major return on your investment.


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Topics: hi viz, high visibility clothing