High-visibility clothing is considered a type of personal productive equipment (PPE). In many industries, it is mandated by federal law for worker safety. Federal Regulation 23 CFR 634 requires “All workers within the right-of-way of a federal-aid highway who are exposed to either traffic (vehicles using the highway for purposes of travel) or construction equipment within the work area shall wear high-visibility safety apparel.” The Federal Highway Administration states, “High visibility is one of the most prominent needs for workers who must perform tasks near moving vehicles or equipment. The need to be seen by those who drive or operate vehicles or equipment is recognized as a critical issue for worker safety. The sooner a worker in or near the path of travel is seen, the more time the operator has to avoid an accident.”
Research has shown the importance of reflectors such as reflective emblems and patches in pedestrian safety. A car going 60 mph needs 260 feet to stop. According to the FHWA, a person wearing dark clothing at night can only be seen at 55 feet. A person wearing white clothing in the dark is seen by a driver at 180 feet. Neither provides enough distance for a driver to stop before striking the pedestrian. Reflectors, however, increase visibility so that the pedestrian is seen from 500 feet away. The right reflective identification or apparel can ensure there’s ample time for a vehicle to stop.
Motor vehicle-related incidents are consistently a leading cause of work-related fatalities. A significant portion of these are pedestrian workers being struck by a motor vehicle. According to the FHWA, nearly half of fatal pedestrian crashes occur in low-light or dark conditions. A study by the European Transport Safety Council, “Preventing Road Accidents and Injuries for the Safety of Employees,” reports that one in five road workers suffers injury caused by passing vehicles in the course of their careers. More than half experience a near miss.
Firefighters, police officers, emergency responders, construction workers, tow truck operators, school crossing guards, public works employees, surveyors, railroad crews, miners, dock workers, and national and state forestry personnel all benefit from high-visibility apparel and identification when their activities expose them to moving vehicles or heavy equipment. Consider also others who encounter low light or nighttime situations while on duty, including security guards walking the grounds of a corporate complex, valets parking cars at a restaurant, volunteers directing attendees to park at an outdoor event and farmers operating heavy equipment in a field.
High-contrast, fluorescent and reflective materials are an effective defense in all these situations. A person wearing contrasting colors stands out more than a person wearing a single color. Fluorescent colors reflect more light than they absorb and are more visible in daytime. Reflective material bounces light back to a driver when headlights shine directly at a person wearing it, particularly at night. Combining these measures achieves the most conspicuity. Numerous manufacturers and clothing suppliers provide an array of garments that fit the definition of PPE to meet high-visibility needs. Gloves, jackets, vests, overalls, pants, shirts and headgear can all be designed with fluorescent colors that stand out in daylight and are enhanced by reflective stripes or patches for nighttime safety.
Reflective and/or fluorescent emblems and transfers add an extra measure of safety to high-visibility uniforms. Most organizations have a need for identification and brand reinforcement. When identity is combined with high visibility, it provides yet another surface to alert oncoming traffic of a worker’s presence. Penn Emblem, for example, manufactures reflective emblems with Scotchlite by 3M to ensure maximum protection for uniformed workers in low light and dark conditions.
A variety of reflective thread colors make it possible to match an organization’s identity with its needs for a high level of visibility. By using 100 percent polyester thread in neon safety colors, employers can increase the conspicuity of their workers. Another benefit is that emblems, transfers and patches can be placed strategically in multiple locations. A combination of positions such as left chest, back of shirt and shoulder sleeve provide reflectivity for the wearer whether he faces traffic from the front, side or back.
As with all patches and transfers, the materials used must be up to tough working conditions so that they remain effective for the long term. Penn Emblem finishes its identification products with a PennBond industrial backing, allowing the emblems to be heat sealed or sewn onto garments and making them suitable for industrial laundering. For buyers in industries where workers are exposed to fire hazards and electrical sparks, the reflective Flame Resistant Emblem is a necessary alternative. Penn Emblem manufacturers its high-visibility FR emblems with 100 percent Dupont Nomex so that workers are both easily identified in smokey conditions and protected from fire.
Uniform buyers should confirm that the garment and emblematic identification they purchase complies with the appropriate ANSI/ISEA standards. ANSI/ISEA 107-2010 is the American National Standard for high-visibility safety apparel and headwear. It establishes criteria for three performance classes of garments based on the wearer’s activities and determines by the total area of background and reflective materials used. ANSI/ISEA 207-2011 is the authoritative document for the design, performance specifications and use of high-visibility vests specifically worn by public safety employees including law enforcement, firefighters and incident command personnel.
The International Safety Equipment Association explains that to comply with ANSI/ISEA 107-2010, for example, a garment’s background material and retroreflective or combined-performance material must be tested and certified by an independent, accredited third-party laboratory. The manufacturer of the finished item then verifies that the garment or headwear meets all the requirements of the standard and provides a certificate of compliance for each model. Uniform buyers can refer to a useful list of frequently asked questions provided by the ISEA at https://www.safetyequipment.org/c/hiviz-faq.cfm. In addition to requesting a certificate of compliance to ensure adherence to ANSI/ISEA standards, buyers should inquire whether the supplier is a certified minority- or woman-owned business. A Women’s Business Enterprise National Council like Penn Emblem Co. satisfies criteria for federal bids that favor supplier diversity.
Finally, it is prudent to regularly review high-visibility uniforms and identification for effectiveness. If the garment or emblem becomes too faded, torn or soiled to be visible during the day or night at 1,000 feet, it should be replaced.
When it comes to worker safety, every detail matters. Choose high-visibility solutions that leverage the human tool of vision. Increasing the odds that employees are seen even in the worst conditions provides peace of mind for the employer and employee.
About the Author
Randi Blumenthal-Joseph is president of Penn Emblem Co., a leading manufacturer and distributor of personalization and identification solutions that include patches, emblems and transfers. Randi can be contacted at