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High visibility safety vests at first glance appear to be the same now as they have been for many years. But there have been many improvements and variations made to make reflective safety vests more effective and comfortable for workers. Depending on the estimated potential hazards of your job, the type of vest you wear may or may not be American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) approved.
Non-ANSI approved traffic safety vests are used in what is termed Class 1 environments, which are low traffic areas, like those faced by parking lot attendants. The most often used colors:
Class 3 (ANSI approved) traffic safety vests must use the same colors for daytime work. But Class 2 and 3 ANSI safety vests, using highly reflective material, can also be white or silver, for high night work.
You have three primary choices of material for your safety vest. You could wear a 100% polyester model for most situations. In warm conditions or climates, a mesh safety vest helps keep you cooler during your workday. For reasons of cost and at least the illusion of high reflective ability, vinyl safety vests are also available.
For night work, which greatly increases the potential hazards, you can now wear a lighted safety vest. One type has a light source that makes your vest or the stripes on your vest glow for higher visibility. Another, the LED safety vest (light emitting diode) , that lights you up while you're working.
There are three basic classes of visibility safety vests depending on the environment in which they work.
At the construction site, the visibility of flaggers is key to their safety. Construction safety vests are not only ideal, but can fulfill a requirement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to OSHA, garments for flaggers can be a variety of fluorescent colors, including orange, yellow or yellow green. These garments can be construction safety vests, shirts or jackets. Flaggers working at night should wear construction safety vests or comparable garments with a retro reflective material. The retro reflective material can be numerous colors, including orange, yellow, white, or a fluorescent color. OSHA requires that the reflective material be visible to a distance of 1,000 feet away.
The standards for construction safety vests differ somewhat depending on whether they are to be used during daylight or nighttime hours. The prime criterion is that visibility during nighttime hours should equal that of traffic safety vests during the daytime. This goal is accomplished in one or more of the following ways.
Depending on your job duties and working conditions, there are some enhancements available for construction safety vests. From a variety of styles to more or less visibility, you might find one or more of the following helpful to you in your workplace.
One version of the reflective safety vest is the surveyor's vest. These traffic safety vests commonly have a zippered front closure and may be available in a solid material, such as cotton or a mesh fabric. Higher traffic areas call for class 2 or class 3 versions of the traffic safety vests. Class 2 and class 3 traffic safety vests are suitable for high traffic areas where speeds exceed 55 miles per hour. Class 2 and Class 3 safety vests must meet minimum standards for square inches of material, so extras, like outside pockets, are sometimes not an option. Class 3 traffic safety vests carry more square inches of material than Class 2 vests. However, you can still get away with imprinting logos on most Class 2 and Class 3 vests.
Unlike many other items of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety apparel, there are few choices of reflective safety vests designed expressly for women. Because of the nature of a traffic safety vest, a non-fitted item that simply fits over one's clothing, manufacturers believe there is little need to tailor ANSI safety vests to different genders.
Women still need not look foolish nor be uncomfortable while wearing a safety vest. They can be purchased in different sizes (S, M, L, etc.). Therefore, even if she is surrounded by a group of co-workers that could easily suit up for a professional football team and, at least, look the part, a female worker, wearing a small or medium sized safety vest can still be comfortable and effective.
With all the choices available, expandable for cold weather, mesh material for warm conditions, short sleeves or no sleeves, etc., a woman can wear the most effective reflective safety vests available and still look professional at her jobsite.
Both Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) publish standards based on minimum protection levels for reflective safety vests. When discussing OSHA and ANSI standards for workplace safety and personal protective equipment (PPE), it should be noted that ANSI does not directly set standards and OSHA normally uses ANSI data. They approve a variety of independent testing sources to perform laboratory and real world evaluations of items and practices. The data collected and the results they derive are analyzed by ANSI and standards are then published.
OSHA, on the other hand, also analyzes volumes of data regarding workplace safety and PPE. However, in the protective equipment area, OSHA most often takes ANSI standards and uses them as their own. For instance, ANSI safety vests, approved because a high visibility safety vest meets both reflective and observed visibility minimums, will also be OSHA safety vests. This leaves OSHA to both recommend PPE standards and integrate how they should be used to promote worksite safety and accident avoidance.
For example, ANSI recommends that traffic safety vests be orange, yellow, or lime green as their base colors. If their standards are clear, concise, and understandable, OSHA will normally adopt this position as its own. If, however, ANSI stated that “green safety vests” were acceptable, OSHA might work with ANSI to clarify their position and change this to “lime green” or “yellow green” to avoid a company from making errors or a worker from using a hunter green (dark) vest, which has low visibility.
Another example are traffic “flaggers”, which OSHA decided should be primarily clothed in red or orange only, to help drivers quickly recognize they may have to slow or stop because of highway activity. Had ANSI not addressed this issue, OSHA would work with them to coordinate their standards to eliminate confusion and increase worker safety. Be aware that some confusion can still exist. In this case, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommendations state that a flagger's vest, shirt, or jacket should be orange, yellow, or lime/yellow green.
While orange, yellow, and lime green (or yellow-green) are the standard colors for traffic safety vests, blue safety vests are used for a very important, specific purpose. Blue safety vests are worn be emergency response personnel. The royal blue color quickly differentiates medical and paramedical personnel from other individuals at the scene of a traffic accident, fire, or other emergency.
Often, you will see words imprinted on the horizontal reflective stripes of a blue safety vest. It may simply state “EMS” or “EMT” to further identify the wearer as an emergency medical professional. At times, you might see a title emblazoned on the horizontal stripe, such as “incident commander,” “triage director,” or similar words. If an emergency that involves many injuries has occurred, it can not only be helpful, but may save lives if the professional in charge of triage (determining the extent of injuries so the order in which patients should be treated makes sense) can be identified quickly.
Even if no titles are displayed, should you find yourself at the scene of an emergency that involves personal injuries, look for the people wearing royal blue safety vests if you need medical assistance or are aware of another who is in need. It could save your life or theirs.
For nighttime protection, you have options when it comes to selecting reflective safety vests. Reflective safety vests are available in an array of colors. Orange and lime are the most common choices. Reflective safety vests come available with a single, double, or chevron striped pattern. Silver and fluorescent colored stripes are widely used. One version of the reflective safety vest features a convenient front Velcro closure and elasticized side straps which make it easy to take on or off. The chevron safety vest comes with a wrap around Velcro belt for closure. Vests often come in a vinyl polyester material with or without PVC coating. The reflective stripe often varies from 1” to 1-1/2 “ wide.