High-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) is clothing (e.g. vests, bibs or coveralls) that workers can wear to improve how well other people "see" them (their visibility). Most often, high-visibility clothing is worn to alert drivers and other vehicle operators of a worker's presence, especially in low light and dark conditions. High-visibility headwear can also be worn to increase the visibility of the wearer in situations where part or all of the wearer's body could be obscured (e.g., leaves/trees, traffic barriers, construction materials, etc.).
Requirements for high-visibility safety clothing for Canadian workers are found in the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard Z96-09 "High-Visibility Safety Apparel" and in the related guideline "CSA Z96.1, Guideline on selection, use, and care of high-visibility safety apparel." In the United States, see the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 American National Standard for High-visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear.
High-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) is needed if you work when there is low light and poor visibility, especially if you are working around moving vehicles (cars, trucks or other machinery traveling under their own power - e.g. forklifts, backhoes, etc). High-visibility items allow you to be seen by the drivers of those vehicles sooner and more readily. This fact increases your safety at work. The human eye responds best to large, contrasting, bright or moving objects. Worker visibility is enhanced by high colour contrast between clothing and the work environment against which it is seen.
The CSA Standard recommends that a hazard assessment be carried out on each job site to evaluate the workplace or work site for known or potential hazards a worker can encounter while performing a job or task. This assessment helps determine the risk to workers of being hit by moving vehicles and the environmental conditions under which work is performed. For more information about risk assessments, please see the OSH Answers document Risk Assessment.
When doing a hazard assessment where HVSA might be required, be sure to consider:
Once a hazard assessment is complete, the employer can select appropriate controls. The first line of defence for workers' safety would be to control the design of the workplace and reduce the exposure of workers to moving vehicles (e.g., through the use of physical barriers and other engineering and administrative controls). Using high-visibility apparel would be the last line of defence against accidents by providing more warning to vehicle operators that workers are on foot in the area.
Fluorescent material takes a portion of invisible ultraviolet light from sunlight, and through special pigments, sends it back to the viewer as more visible light. This material only functions where there is a source of natural sunlight. Fluorescent material will appear brighter than the same coloured non-fluorescent material, especially under low natural light (e.g., cloud cover, fog, dusk, dawn, etc.). This property offers daytime visibility enhancement not present with other colours. These materials enhance daytime visibility, especially at dawn and dusk. Fluorescent colours provide the greatest contrast against most backgrounds.
Retroreflective material is created to return light in the direction of the light's source. This property will let a driver to see the light being reflected from the retroreflective material on a person's garment (as long as the person is standing in the light's beam). Retroreflective materials are most effective under low-light level conditions. While retroreflective materials can still reflect in the daylight, there is little difference between the light reflected from the garment's material and the surrounding environment. This lack of contrast makes retroreflective materials ineffective for enhanced visibility during (sunny) daytime conditions.
In contrast, reflective materials bounce light off of its surface so that it can be seen. While the term "reflective" is not used in the CSA standard, it is typically defined as a material or object that has the ability to "throw back" light (or sound). Most surfaces are already light reflective.
Combined-performance retroreflective material is a retroreflective material that is also a fluorescent material. Not all retroreflective materials are fluorescent, however, and not all fluorescent materials are retroreflective.
Employers should select the colour and stripe combination that provides the preferred contrast and visual indication of movement.
To comply with the CSA Standard, the HVSA should meet the following criteria:
a) a symmetric "X" on the back extending from the shoulders to the waist,
b) two vertical stripes on the front passing over the shoulders and down to the waist; and
c) a waist-level horizontal stripe extending entirely around the back to the bottom of the vertical stripes on the front. This horizontal stripe may continue between the front vertical stripes (optional). For Class 3 apparel, stripes/bands encircling both arms and both legs are added.
The CSA Z96-09 High-Visibility Safety Apparel Standard specifies three colours for background materials and contrasting-colour stripes to provide options that are intended to create visibility against most work environments. The stripes should be either retroreflective or combined-performance.
The CSA Standard Z96-09 High-visibility Safety Apparel sets out levels of retroreflective performance (i.e., the effectiveness of material in returning light to its source), the colours and luminosity of background materials, and how much of the body that should be covered by the high-visibility components. There are also special requirements for garments that to provide electrical flash and flame protection. Note that although specifications for apparel Classes are similar to those in ANSI/ISEA 107, these CSA Classes differ in that they specify body coverage rather than minimum areas.
CSA lists three classes of garments based on body coverage provided. Each class covers the torso (waist to neck) and/or limbs according to the minimum body coverage areas specified for each class.
Details for each of the classes are listed below. For more details on the exact specifications, please refer to the Standard. (Note: While the Standard does not provide specifications for the application of high-visibility apparel to specific job types, the Guide does provide some examples of jobs where the different classes may be appropriate.)
Apparel consists of a basic harness or stripes/bands over the shoulder(s) and encircling the waist. The center portion of the front torso band between the two vertical bands is optional. See Figure 1 for examples of Class 1 apparel.
Examples of situations where you may use Class 1:
Examples of jobs include:
Provides wearer with more visibility than Class 1. Apparel has full coverage of the upper torso (front, back, sides, and over the shoulders) and includes bib-style overalls. Stripes/bands are composed of retroreflective or combined performance materials. See Figure 2 for examples of Class 2 apparel.
Examples of situations where you may use Class 2:
Examples of jobs include:
Provides the greatest visibility for the wearer under poor light conditions and at great distances. Apparel meets the same requirements as Class 2 with the addition of bands around both arms and legs. These bands are made up of combined performance stripes/bands or a combination of retroreflective and background material. Background material can cover the whole garment or a portion of the garment. See Figure 3 for examples of Class 3 apparel.
Examples of situations where you may use Class 3:
Examples of jobs include:
From CSA Standard Z96-09 High-Visibility Safety Apparel (Table 1 and Annex B), CSA Z96.1, Guideline on selection, use, and care of high-visibility safety apparel, and "Choosing the Best High-Visibility Apparel in a Variety of Roadway Scenarios" (2005), American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).
As with any personal protective equipment, workers should be given appropriate training in the use and care of the equipment. The following minimum information should be provided to workers wearing high-visibility apparel:
(a) when to use the high-visibility apparel,
(b) fitting instructions, including how to put on and take off the apparel, if relevant,
(c) the importance of using the apparel only in the specified way,
(d) limitations of use,
(e) how to store and maintain the apparel correctly,
(f) how to check for wear and tear, and
(g) how to clean or decontaminate the apparel correctly, with complete washing and/or dry cleaning instructions.
Document last updated on February 19, 2010