A few years ago, if you drove down a Maryland road with a maintenance crew at work, you would most likely observe workers wearing bright orange vests over a T-shirt or sweatshirt. Today, you're more likely to see the workers, and they'll be wearing a fluorescent yellow-green t-shirt or, if there's a chill in the air, a fluorescent yellow-green jacket marked with large, reflective strips on the arms, chest and back. It won't matter if it's day or night; they'll stand out in contrast to a surrounding environment of orange cones and signs.
The change is a positive reflection on the Maryland State Highway Administration's (SHA) commitment to worker and motorist safety. Long before the new highway safety standard was passed, the Maryland Department of Transportation was looking at how to improve safety. By incorporating high-visibility materials into primary apparel and offering choices to workers, they are helping to ensure that their workers are in conformance with today's ANSI recommended high-visibility apparel standards, such as ANSI/ISEA 107-2004, which will become regulations by the end of 2008 as a result of adoption of 23 CFR Part 634: Worker Visibility.
Safety is SHA's number one priority, so it was no surprise when the Safety Management team, working under the direction of Deputy Administrator/ Chief Engineer for Operations Douglas R. Rose, evaluated the work apparel being worn by maintenance crews working on Maryland roads. (This first sentence does not make sense. The clause at the beginning is distracting. Safety . . .so it is?) As is typical along many highways, workers were wearing an orange vest over mostly non-ANSI garments supplied through the existing garment program. While these vests provided the minimum Class 2 protection, the non-ANSI garments – primarily orange t-shirts – were fading, so they provided little visibility benefits.
With the goal of having workers in compliance and dressed to be as visible as possible from the time they leave their home for work until the time they return, SHA considered how they could improve apparel offered through their program and, in turn, help improve worker visibility.
Driving the Process
A series of meetings with visibility experts at 3M led to the development of a proposal that addressed both the requirements of the more stringent safety legislation on the horizon and the specific needs of the maintenance workers in Maryland. In addition to recognizing that high-visibility garments have an impact on the safety of employees who work on highways and rights-of-way, it was concluded that high-visibility garments may help make highway workers more visible to the motorists, which ultimately can improve traffic safety for everyone.
“Our safety management team is uncompromising when it comes to improving safety for the thousands of men and women working along Maryland roads, so we were very quick to embrace a new high-visibility garment policy,” explains State Highway Administrator and Governor's Highway Safety Representative Neil J. Pedersen.
It also became apparent that offering workers choices would be integral to successfully promoting compliance, and that the selection would need to take into consideration variations in weather and workers' personal preferences.
The safety management team and clothing committee evaluated apparel options, by looking at fabrics, background colors, and a full spectrum of reflective materials available. They then developed customized specifications so that production could be bid out to different manufacturers.
“Our first priority is to inform customers about the visibility standards and the substantial benefits of widespread adoption of high visibility garments,” says Gary Pearson, marketing manager for 3M Visibility and Insulation Solutions. “We then bring in different garments to show what solutions manufacturers have come up with for a whole range of primary apparel, so organizations can choose a manufacturer or work with a manufacturer to create garments customized to their needs.”
The New Policy
Today's SHA clothing program includes Class 2 ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 T-shirts, sweatshirts and pants, and Class 3 ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 jackets. The new policy requires SHA employees working on State highways and rights-of-way to wear a minimum of Class 2 apparel with a fluorescent yellow-green background material color as the outermost garment. The policy also extends to non-SHA employees who must wear approved Class 2 apparel that has either fluorescent orange-red or fluorescent yellow-green background material color as the outermost garment. Retroreflective material must either be orange, yellow, white, silver, yellow-green, or a fluorescent version of these colors, and shall be visible at a minimum distance of 1,000 feet. It also states that all retro reflective safety apparel shall be designed to clearly recognize and differentiate the wearer from the surrounding work environment. To ensure widespread understanding and compliance with the mandate, high visibility awareness training for employees was included in the new policy.
The Results and Looking Ahead
Now that the program is fully adopted and new garments have been deployed , SHA reports positive results.
“Since adopting high visibility primary apparel in 2005, we've seen dramatic improvements in how workers are dressed and how much more visible they are, versus when they simply were asked to don a vest over non-compliance garments,” says Samuel P. Hall, SHA Safety Management Consultant “Now we're going into the field to continuously evaluate our apparel needs and any changes we need to put into place.”
While more than 35 state transportation departments have adopted policies that workers exposed to moving vehicular traffic – not just those working on federally funded highways – wear Class 2 or 3 ANSI/ISEA- compliant garments, Maryland sets a new standard. By placing value first and foremost on its workers, motorists and the environment, SHA guided the development and implementation of a primary apparel policy that helps improve visibility for everyone.