High-Vis Regulations: Potential for Confusion?

In November, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved a new performance standard that establishes criteria for highly visible vests that are used by public safety officials. According to one expert, the standard's overlap with a new Federal Highway Administration rule could pose a potential for confusion.

ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 – the American National Standard for High-Visibility Public Safety Vests – is a new standard that is based on an earlier high-visibility standard – ANSI/ISEA 107-2004, the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear – with some modifications for public safety officials. ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 includes design criteria that allow public safety vests to provide access to belt-mounted equipment (such as guns and radios) and allow vests to have the ability tear away from the body.

Gary Pearson, marketing manager for 3M Visibility and Insulation Solutions, told OccupationalHazards.com that both standards require vests to have the same amount of reflective material. However, because ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 allows for shorter vests that offer users access to their tactical equipment, the new standard essentially creates a vest that falls in between an ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 Class 1 and Class 2 vest.

"An ANSI 107 Class 2 vest requires 775 square inches of background fluorescent material, whereas ANSI 207 requires 450 square inches of background fluorescent material," Pearson said. "In ANSI 107, a Class 1 vest is 217 inches, so [the new public safety vest] kind of falls in between. It's a shorter design still covering the torso but allowing for tactical capabilities."

The new standard primarily is geared for the law enforcement and emergency response communities, who had expressed concern "that ANSI 107 wasn't flexible enough in terms of designs and in a way that would provide tactical capability," Pearson said.

While Pearson noted that the gist of ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 is fairly straightforward, he asserted that the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) recent promulgation of a rule on worker visibility could cause some confusion.

Guidance Needed

On Nov. 24, FHWA – under the direction of Congress – issued a final rule that requires workers who are on or near interstate highways to wear high-visibility safety apparel. The rule (29 CFR Part 634) mandates that such apparel must meet the Class 2 or Class 3 performance requirements of ANSI/ISEA 107-2004.

The final rule defines workers as "people on foot whose duties place them within the right-of-way of a federal-aid highway," including construction and maintenance workers, survey crews, utility crews, "responders to incidents within the highway right-of-way and law enforcement personnel when directing traffic, investigating crashes and handling lane closures, obstructed roadways and disasters within the right-of-way of a federal-aid highway."

FHWA is giving stakeholders until Nov. 24, 2008, to comply with the rule.

Pearson asserted that the final rule will "create some discussion," because "nowhere does it mention" ANSI/ISEA 207-2006. That ambiguity, Pearson said, will raise questions particularly for law enforcement officials, who, for example, might wonder if a routine traffic stop calls for a 107 or 207 vest – or "is there a choice?"

"It seems to me that law enforcement isn't going to issue different garments that meet different standards – they're going to go with one or the other," Pearson said. "That would be more practical. But they could really use some guidance there."

A Question for Law Enforcement

According to FHWA's final rule announcement in the Nov. 24 Federal Register, the law enforcement community, during the public comment period for the rule, "indicated a strong need for recognizing the many roles that law enforcement personnel serve when working on highways,"

Law enforcement stakeholders commented that FHWA's worker visibility rule "needed to allow more flexibility for law enforcement to determine, based on their own standard operating procedures, when it was appropriate to use high-visibility clothing."

"Their primary concern," FHWA said, "was that a highly reflective garment would make them a better target if a gunfight develops, especially in nighttime conditions."

Regardless, Pearson said that FHWA needs to clarify where the agency's new highway worker visibility rule applies and where ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 applies.

"That's going to be a question for law enforcement," Pearson said. "My guess is that when it comes to torso protection, law enforcement is going to go with one [standard] or the other. But the point is [FHWA] should provide some guidance, and it can be expected that they will."

As 2007 approaches, OccupationalHazards.com is examining some of the major issues impacting the EHS community. This is the fourth in a series of online articles. For more, read "Safety Issues on the Table" in the December issue of OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS.

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