Make Visibility a Priority

March 17, 2003
Do the emergency response personnel under your command practice "conspicuity?" If not, they could be at additional risk.

by Dan Shipp, President, International Safety Equipment Association

For the emergency responder, danger is part of the job. Whether it's a fire, a motor vehicle accident, a natural disaster, an act of terrorism or some other kind of rescue, they have to work quickly in difficult, if not chaotic, situations. Lives are at stake.

This applies to everyone working at an incident scene. Think of a large disaster, like a major storm or building explosion. After the fires are out and the injured are evacuated, there will have to be workers on the scene investigating the incident, controlling the perimeter, directing traffic, restoring utility service and cleaning up. This phase can go on for weeks or months.

All these responders must focus on their mission, so it's important that they have protective clothing and equipment that will enable them to work without putting themselves at additional risk. They need the proper suits, boots and gloves; respirators; head, face and hearing protection. And they need to be seen.

They need to be highly visible, under any light conditions, day or night. They need to be visible in smoke, dust and haze. They need to be visible to other workers, to drivers of vehicles both on the site and on adjacent streets and highways, to operators of heavy machinery, and even to members of the public. Responders need what is called "conspicuity."

There are also special needs in response situations. Workers perform highly specialized jobs – firefighters, police officers, search and rescue teams, hazmat teams – require a way to be quickly identified and differentiated from the population, and in some cases from other responders.

Daylight visibility demands that workers' clothing be bright, and colored to provide contrast with the ambient background against which it is seen. This is accomplished through the use of high-performance materials in fluorescent colors. For nighttime use, the garments need to incorporate retroreflective material that will not only reflect light, but also readily identify the source of the reflection as a person.

For many workers, conspicuity is part of their normal protective ensemble. Utility and construction workers, for example, routinely wear high-visibility vests or jackets. Other responders can wear vests over their protective suits or uniforms. In fact, high visibility may be part of a uniform, as when reflective material is used to identifying the worker as POLICE, HAZMAT or TRAFFIC CONTROL. Other PPE, such as hard hats, gloves and fall protection harnesses, may incorporate high-visibility materials.

High-visibility Standard

The best way to ensure adequate visibility is to equip workers with garments that meet the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel, ANSI/ISEA 107-1999. Garments that meet this standard are widely used in highway workzones and other construction jobsites, as well as transportation, industry and public safety.

Performance requirements in the standard focus on the color of garments relative to the work environment, and the combined use of fluorescent and retroreflective materials to make a person more conspicuous. This standard provides performance criteria for the materials to be used in high-visibility apparel, specifies minimum areas of material to be used, and recommends placement of the materials.

Garments that meet the 107 standard are vital to advancing the safety and visibility of workers because one garment provides visibility in all light conditions, day or night. Great variability in work site illumination exists in daytime or nighttime because of weather, daylight saving time and worker overtime shifts – especially in the construction trades, where project delays may necessitate additional hours of work. A worker no longer needs to be concerned if a project or shipment is delayed, requiring them to work into dusk or evening. The same garment that provides visibility during the day will illuminate at night under approaching headlights or work zone lighting.

Class Rankings

The standard offers performance guidelines for three classes, based on visibility performance. As a general guideline, the higher the class, the greater the amount of background and retroreflective material.

Class 1 is for occupational activities that are not complex, and where the wearer can pay attention to equipment and traffic that is moving slowly, and there is ample separation between the worker and vehicle traffic. Many of the familiar "construction crew" vests are Class 1. Many police departments use Class 1 vests when working within a secure or controlled perimeter.

Class 2 garments, more visible than Class 1, are for situations where greater conspicuity is needed because of inclement weather, complex backgrounds and tasks, and work activities that are close to moving traffic and equipment. This class would typically be used by utility workers and survey crews, law enforcement personnel and incident site investigators.

Class 3 garments are conspicuous through the full range of body motions at a minimum of 1,280 feet. They are intended to provide visibility to the arms and/or legs, in work areas where there is high-speed traffic and workers are performing complex tasks. Class 3 garments are appropriate for workers who are exposed to greater danger because of night work, very close proximity to high speed traffic, complex work environments and high task loads.

According to Janice Comer Bradley, CSP, technical director for the International Safety Equipment Association, the recommendations for use of the various classes are evolving to meet user needs.

For example, the appendix to the standard lists the three conspicuity classes and work situations applicable to each. "We're now looking at revising that appendix to start with work scenarios, and then suggesting appropriate classes of garment for each," she noted. This gives the user the flexibility to specify the class of garment best suited to the conditions and job.

"It's like choosing any other personal protective equipment," Bradley said. "You do a hazard assessment and pick the combination of PPE that meets your needs."

There are some specialized requirements applicable to responders. For example, firefighters' turnout gear has to be heat- and flame-resistant, hazmat teams need protection against chemicals and police officers may need ballistic protection. Manufacturers are working to provide fabrics, retroreflective materials and garments that provide enhanced visibility while meeting these special needs.

The ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 standard is available from ISEA. Please visit for more information. You can also receive an informative free booklet - Products to Keep You Visible Day or Night in Any Light, which explains the standard and high-visibility garments in more detail. Also see the Web site for links to manufacturers of high-visibility personal protective equipment.

Arlington, Va.-based ISEA represents some 80 manufacturers of safety and personal protective equipment. Established in 1933, ISEA supports its members in manufacturing and marketing the highest-quality products to protect the safety and health of individuals who may be exposed to hazardous and potentially harmful environments while working on the job or at home.

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