Incorporating high-visibility features into regular workwear like shirts and coveralls enhances comfort and performance compared to a common supplementary vest, which though meeting minimum compliance is considered an entry-level “personal protective equipment” solution. A significant body of published science confirms that vests don't perform as well as apparel with high-visibility materials on the end of the limbs. Photo: 3M

It used to be that only employees working on federally subsidized projects had to wear “personal protective equipment” (PPE). But beginning Jan. 1, 2012, any employee working in the public right of way who's not wearing appropriate apparel when injured on the job opens the door to higher insurance premiums for a city, county, township, special district, or state.

Unfortunately, you can't just slap retroreflective tape on an off-the-rack shirt or vest and call it a day.

High-visibility safety apparel is a niche market that requires manufacturers to certify garments are designed and made from materials that meet federally specified performance requirements. Like all products, price increases with durability and complexity. Higher-end garments cost more but they're more stylish and fit better, two traits that make employees much more likely to continue wearing them once they're out of your sight.

Also unfortunate is the level of detail a specifier must wade through to determine what garments and features to require for a particular job classification.

Over the years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have promulgated regulations, tweaked standards, and issued interpretations depending on the needs of various and sundry constituents. Failing to meet a requirement of the various agencies could increase liability.

The new year rings in another twist to the dress code discussion: having a “qualified safety professional” prepare a “worker safety plan” for each classification of employee on each jobsite. The MUTCD says agencies “should” perform a hazards assessment, but OSHA 1910.132(d)(1) requires one.

“My understanding is that OSHA looks favorably on organizations that strive to do more than achieve the minimum,” says Tim Gardner, who's responsible for ensuring 3M's Occupational Health & Environmental Safety products conform to regulatory guidelines. “They like employers who demonstrate understanding of the hazards. In the event of an incident or investigation, you're in a much stronger legal position if you document and can show you've rationally tried to select apparel that protects workers as well as known technology reasonably allows.”

We've boiled the details down to several rules of thumb. The following definitions are generalizations, not specific directions; use them to facilitate discussions with legal counsel and suppliers.

Compliant garment. When in doubt, use ANSI/ISEA 107-2010 requirements for Class 2 and 3 garments.

The requirements address design, background and combined-performance retroreflective materials, ret-roreflective material photometric and physical performance, and care labeling. (The article below explains the reasoning behind colors and configurations.) Designed to ensure a worker is seen from 360 degrees, they require retroreflective material in the shoulder area; more clearly define “waterproof,” “water resistant,” and “water repellant;” and provide rigorous standards for garments that claim to be flame-resistant.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, the following employee classifications must wear high-visibility garments per the Federal Highway Administration's 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Section 6D.03: All workers operating on or near a public access roadway, including emergency and incident responders
Section 6E.03: Flaggers
Section 7D.04: Adult crossing guards

The 2009 MUTCD requires ANSI/ ISEA 107-2004 or “equivalent revisions.” 107-2010 garments are fine if they perform like 107-2004 garments.

Tip: When writing specifications, require domestically made garments. You'll get a higher-quality, longer-lasting garment instead of something that meets lowest-cost requirements.

Worker. Any employee working on any infrastructure project in any publicly accessible right of way, even if it's part of private property. Everyone on the jobsite — supervisor to surveyor to flagger — must wear a garment appropriate to the dangers their job classification represents.

Federal Express and UPS tied themselves in knots trying to decide whether or not drivers must wear high-visibility apparel. While FHWA doesn't consider delivery drivers to be “workers,” you should complete a hazard assessment to determine if certain routes and activities — for example, solid waste collection or catch basin inspection — require high-visibility apparel.

Tip: Follow 3M's “Five steps to federal compliance” to conduct a risk assessment, calculate clothing replacement cost, prepare a hazards checklist for each job function, identify options for each, and write a compliant specification.

Qualified safety professional. Certification is available through organizations like the Board of Certified Safety Professionals and National Association of Safety Professionals, but not required.

Tip: Make sure someone who understands your operation's various work environments is involved in garment selection and deployment.

Finally, telling employees not just what they're expected to wear, but also why and how your operation decided on a particular specification, makes them much more likely to always don the garment.


Click here to download 3M's step-by-step process for evaluating your team's safety apparel needs.