The Importance of Wearing Workplace Safety Vests

High visibility safety vests at first glance appear to be the same now as they have been for many years. But there have been many improvements and variations made to make reflective safety vests more effective and comfortable for workers.

Depending on the estimated potential hazards of your job, the type of vest you wear may or may not be American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) approved.

Non-ANSI approved traffic safety vests are used in what is termed Class 1 environments, which are low traffic areas, like those faced by parking lot attendants.

The most often used colours are:

  • Orange safety vest
  • Yellow safety vest
  • Lime green safety vest

Class 2 (ANSI approved) reflective safety vests are used by workers in higher traffic areas, but where speeds are usually 25 mph or less.

A Class 2 vest looks like those often worn by traffic police or crossing guards.

Approved colours for this level vest are orange, yellow, and lime green. Unlike Class 1 products, other variations are not permitted.


Class 3 (ANSI approved) traffic safety vests must use the same colours for daytime work. But Class 2 and 3 ANSI safety vests, using a highly reflective material, can also be white or silver, for high night work.

You have three primary choices of material for your safety vest. You could wear a 100% polyester model for most situations.

In warm conditions or climates, a mesh safety vest helps keep you cooler during your workday. For reasons of cost and at least the illusion of high reflective ability, vinyl safety vests are also available.

For night work, which greatly increases the potential hazards, you can now wear a lighted safety vest.

One type has a light source that makes your vest or the stripes on your vest glow for higher visibility. Another, the LED safety vest (light emitting diode), that lights you up while you're working.


Basic Categories of Safety Vests


There are three basic classes of visibility safety vests depending on the environment in which they work.

  • Class 1  used in low traffic areas by off-road maintenance workers and parking lot attendants – these don't need American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approval.
  • Class 2  designed for use where speeds are 25 mph or less, these ANSI safety vests are often used by crossing guards and traffic control officers.
  • Class 3  also needing ANSI approval, these traffic safety vests are normally used by highway construction workers in environments where speeds regularly exceed 50 mph.


In addition to pure reflective safety vests, there are other safety vests for different purposes.

  • Lighted safety vest  both reflective for high visibility but also including a light source to increase visibility and assist job performance.
  • Water-related safety  from providing high visibility during water activities to professional quality vests that may include life-saving capabilities.
  • Rainwear  normal visibility drops during rain so using highway safety vests designed for high visibility in rainy conditions are available.
  • Construction safety vest  provides high visibility on larger construction sites, particularly when heavy machinery is employed.
  • Safety harness vest  varieties of this product are used in air and sea operations along with different types of construction operations.

Be sure that, if required, you wear ANSI and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) safety vests since they have been tested in both laboratory and real-world settings.


Construction Safety Vests For Flaggers


At the construction site, the visibility of flaggers is key to their safety. Construction safety vests are not only ideal but can fulfil a requirement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

According to OSHA, garments for flaggers can be a variety of fluorescent colours, including orange, yellow or yellow-green. These garments can be construction safety vests, shirts or jackets.

Flaggers working at night should wear construction safety vests or comparable garments with a retroreflective material.

The retroreflective material can be numerous colours, including orange, yellow, white, or a fluorescent colour. OSHA requires that the reflective material be visible to a distance of 1,000 feet away. 


Standards for Safety Vests Used During the Day Versus Those Used at Night


The standards for construction safety vests differ somewhat depending on whether they are to be used during daylight or nighttime hours.

The prime criterion is that visibility during nighttime hours should equal that of traffic safety vests during the daytime.

This goal is accomplished in one or more of the following ways.

  • Totally reflective safety vests  using highly reflective material on both the vest itself and all horizontal, vertical, or angular stripes sewn into the vest - the material is bright during the day and, in the evening, when headlights or work lights are on, all material becomes reflective.
  • Highly reflective stripes or designs on the vest  using this method, even white and silver can be added to the usual orange, yellow, and lime green as acceptable colors – the vest is made of high color material for daytime visibility but the stripes are made of mirror-like material that shines at night when exposed to a light source.
  • Lighted safety vests  infusing a light source in the vest that makes the stripes or entire vest glow when faced with a light at night, these safety vests are highly visible in the dark.

Regardless of the specific design, most traffic safety vests incorporate material and reflection that allows them to be used both in daylight and at night.

As both a cost and flexibility consideration, having multi-use construction safety vests allows the worker to eliminate the concern that, in the winter when daylight is minimal or when finishing a project into the evening, they are no longer visible and need to change vests.


Valuable Variations on the Classic Safety Vest


Depending on your job duties and working conditions, there are some enhancements available for construction safety vests.

From a variety of styles to more or less visibility, you might find one or more of the following helpful to you in your workplace.

  • Safety vest with pockets  particularly useful if you are a surveyor, use walkie-talkie communications or performing a job requiring you to keep small objects or tools close at hand.
  • Expandable safety vest  if you work in a climate that is cold in winter yet quite warm in summer, this vest expands when you're required to wear heavy outer clothing and contracts for lightweight summer work wear.
  • Tear away safety vest  if your workday involves being on site, then off-site, then on site again, a tear away vest might help you save time and aggravation.
  • Flame retardant vest  should you work in a situation that poses a potential fire danger, you are safer with one of these.
  • Lighted safety vest  gives you higher visibility for dusk and night work, the light emitters make you glow in the dark.

One or more of these vest enhancements might help you perform your job duties both more efficiently and in a safer fashion.

The lightweight construction of modern traffic safety vests also poses less of a burden or distraction to you while working.


Traffic Safety Vests


One version of the reflective safety vest is the surveyor's vest. These traffic safety vests commonly have a zippered front closure and may be available in a solid material, such as cotton or a mesh fabric.

Higher traffic areas call for class 2 or class 3 versions of the traffic safety vests.

Class 2 and class 3 traffic safety vests are suitable for high traffic areas where speeds exceed 55 miles per hour.

Class 2 and Class 3 safety vests must meet minimum standards for square inches of material, so extras, like outside pockets, are sometimes not an option.

Class 3 traffic safety vests carry more square inches of material than Class 2 vests. However, you can still get away with imprinting logos on most Class 2 and Class 3 vests.


Blue Safety Vests

While orange, yellow, and lime green (or yellow-green) are the standard colors for traffic safety vests, blue safety vests are used for a very important, specific purpose. Blue safety vests are worn be emergency response personnel. The royal blue color quickly differentiates medical and paramedical personnel from other individuals at the scene of a traffic accident, fire, or other emergencies.

Often, you will see words imprinted on the horizontal reflective stripes of a blue safety vest. It may simply state “EMS” or “EMT” to further identify the wearer as an emergency medical professional. At times, you might see a title emblazoned on the horizontal stripe, such as “incident commander,” “triage director,” or similar words. If an emergency that involves many injuries has occurred, it can not only be helpful but may save lives if the professional in charge of triage (determining the extent of injuries so the order in which patients should be treated makes sense) can be identified quickly.

Even if no titles are displayed, should you find yourself at the scene of an emergency that involves personal injuries, look for the people wearing royal blue safety vests if you need medical assistance or are aware of another who is in need. It could save your life or theirs.

Reflective Safety Vests

For nighttime protection, you have options when it comes to selecting reflective safety vests. Reflective safety vests are available in an array of colours. Orange and lime are the most common choices. Reflective safety vests come available with a single, double, or chevron striped pattern. Silver and fluorescent coloured stripes are widely used. One version of the reflective safety vest features a convenient front Velcro closure and elasticized side straps which make it easy to take on or off. The chevron safety vest comes with a wrap-around Velcro belt for closure. Vests often come in a vinyl polyester material with or without PVC coating. The reflective stripe often varies from 1” to 1-1/2 “ wide.





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