From parking lots and highways to airports and emergency scenes, making sure workers are easy to spot, especially by those operating moving vehicles and equipment, is essential for worker safety. The need for reflective gear becomes increasingly important as visibility decreases, such as in low light, nighttime and inclement weather conditions.

Look no further than the construction site, where more fatal workplace injuries occur than on any other work site, to understand the relevance of high visibility garments. Between 2003-2007, 639 fatal injuries happened on construction sites. Of that total, 305 were due to a worker being struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment. Of that 305, 38% were killed by construction equipment and 33% by cars, vans and tractors. The use of high visibility clothing provides an essential strategy for reducing these numbers.

High visibility garments hold two main purposes: They should make the wearer more visible to vehicular traffic and more discernible against their background environment. They accomplish these goals through two main design criteria: highly visible background fabric (usually orange or yellow) and retro-reflective tape. The specific amount of visible fabric and retro-reflective tape recommended depends on the specific work site situation.

Standards & Classes for High Visibility Garments

The American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI)/International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) standards define three classes of high-visibility garments for protecting workers. Higher levels of risk result in an increased requirement in amount of visibility.

In addition to the basic standards (ANSI/ISEA 107-2004), a revision (ANSI/ISEA 207-2006) accommodates the needs of public safety workers such as law enforcement and emergency responders. Also included in the standards is a Class E requirement which provides recommendations for the highest standard in visibility.

  • Class 1 – This class involves situations with a low hazard from slow-moving vehicles (under 25MPS), where ample room exists between workers and moving traffic, and where the attention of workers is not easily diverting from oncoming traffic. In addition, a Class 1 situation means workers are easily discernible from their background environment.

Examples of workers who might wear Class 1 garments include parking lot attendants, people retrieving shopping carts, warehouse workers and sidewalk maintenance workers.

  • Class 2 – This class involves medium level hazards from vehicles exceeding 25MPH, when higher visibility is needed (such as during inclement weather), and when the attention of the worker is more easily diverted from approaching traffic. In addition, a Class 2 situation involves less room between workers and moving vehicles and settings where workers are less discernible from their background environments.

Examples of workers who might wear Class 2 garments include railway workers, school crossing guards, roadway construction workers, utility workers, forestry operation workers, airport baggage handlers/ground crew, trash collection and individuals in survey crews.

  • Public Safety Vests – Requirements for high visibility public safety vests fall between Class 1 and Class 2. The lesser background area requirement allows for a shorter design to give tactical access to equipment belts. The retro-reflective area requirements are the same as for Class 2. This revision allows for flexible optional features such as breakaway design for easy removal (for example, if caught on a passing vehicle), cut-out sides for weapon access, larger sizes to wear over uniforms (such as a firefighter’s coat) and radio and badge pockets/holders. Additional options include colored identifiers for different types of public safety workers (red for fire fighters, blue for police), which allows for law enforcement and emergency responders to have a visual distinction from each other and avoids interchangeability with other types of high visibility vests.
  • Class 3 – This class involves high level hazards from vehicles exceeding 50MPH and/or in reduced sight instances. Class 3 situations also usually involve workers and/or operators with high task loads, which means attention is easily drawn away from moving vehicles. The purpose of the Class 3 requirements is to assure workers are completely visible through a full range of body motion and easily identifiable as a person. The visibility of Class 3 garments are enhanced beyond Class 2 by adding background and retro-reflective material to arms and legs.

Examples of workers who might wear Class 3 high visibility garments include highway construction workers and flaggers, utility workers, survey crews and emergency responders.

  • Class E – The highest class for visibility standards, Class E combines a Class 2 or 3 vests with Class E high-visibility pants.

Examples of application for Class E standards is a high visibility vest during the day and adding high visibility pants at night to increase visibility. Such ensembles are likely worn by nighttime highway construction workers and first responders.

Additional considerations when choosing high visibility garments include assessing the need for fire resistant clothing or for a more snug fit (to avoid getting caught on moving equipment). Reflective hatsreflective safety eyewear and reflective gloves can also add another level of safety for workers in night and low-light conditions.

Also, high visibility clothing should be checked often for fading of fluorescence due to sun exposure, dirty material, and torn or missing reflective tape. Garments should fit properly and not be modified in any way to avoid voiding the class certification and, most importantly, to keep workers as safe as possible.

To ensure a worker is wearing the proper high-visibility apparel for the situation, labels on garments should clearly show class, standards compliance and care instruction. Do not wear the garment to meet OSHA requirements if it does not have this information.

Please read the following resources for additional details about meeting OSHA/ANSI standards for high visibility garments in the workplace:

Voluntary Standards Cover the Spectrum: from High Visibility to Product Safety Information by ANSI News and Publications

High Visibility Clothing for Heavy & Highway Construction by alliance, and OSHA Cooperative Program

Standards for High Visibility Safety Apparel Frequently Asked Questions and Concerns