Whenever working conditions include low light or nighttime conditions, the loss of visibility amplifies hazard potentials, making injuries more likely to occur and cause injury. When considering night work for road construction crews, the low light conditions mixed with motor vehicle traffic creates a potentially lethal hazard. Keeping workers visible to motorists is absolutely essential when creating a safe work environment.
Some crews might think that wearing lightly or brightly colored industrial clothing is enough to keep workers visible to oncoming traffic. However, a worker wearing bright clothing can be seen from about 250 feet away, which is less distance than a football field. Vehicles driving at about 25 mph need a total of 600 feet to come to a complete stop. Currently, at highway speeds, vehicles need about 1,200 feet of stopping distance, and trucks and semis need much more room than that.
Clearly, this situation is a great hazard that requires a solution. Roadside construction crews will face this hazard on an almost daily basis since much of the roadway work is done on active routes.
High Visibility Industrial Clothing
The solution to visibility issues on construction sites is retro-reflective materials. Typically, when a beam of light, for example from a set of headlights, hits a worker, the light energy is scattered away in every direction. Retro-reflective materials instead concentrate the light energy and reflect it directly back to its source. This material is able to actually increase a worker’s visibility dramatically in ways that regular industrial clothing cannot.
The Federal Highway Worker Visibility Rule has been written into law with these concerns in mind to ensure road crew safety. While the law specifically applies to federally funded job sites, the guidelines established are industry best practices to keep workers and work sites safe. The law uses ANSI standards for determining what industrial products are sufficient for overall worker safety.
Let us examine the three ANSI classes and how they apply to road construction safety.
ANSI Definitions And Benefits
In order to meet the standards, retro-reflective materials must be incorporated into personal protective equipment and industrial products. In addition, industrial clothing with retro-reflective bands affixed to them is not sufficient to meet the guideline. PPE must have a fluorescent background color, such as lime green, yellow, orange, or red, and then have retro-reflective bands attached.
Overall, increased worker visibility will prevent accidents that can occur from motor vehicles that pass near or through active work sites. In addition, they will also help reduce hazards on the work site itself by making workers more easily seen by construction vehicle operators. Even during the day, low light conditions can persist due to dust or dirt clouds, as well as overcast weather.
The first level of protection, Class 1, is used when workers are well separated from traffic and passing motorists. Traffic that is present on the job site has to be traveling under 25 mph. As such, it is not acceptable for roadway crews. However, it does form the basis from which all of the higher classes build upon. Specifically, Class 1 consists of a high visibility vest with a retro-reflective band at least two inches wide across the chest in addition to reflective industrial products worn on the head or affixed to a hardhat. This class is appropriate for people working in jobs such as parking lot attendants, warehouse workers, delivery vehicle drivers, shopping cart retrievers, and roadside and sidewalk maintenance workers.
Class 2 is allowable for work sites that are near vehicular traffic between 25 mph and 50 mph. This is appropriate for most roadway work, but is quite insufficient on high-speed interstates. Class 2 adds full sleeves and an additional reflective band at the waist to provide a better outline for the human shape. This enhanced class provides the proper protection level for some roadway construction and utility workers, survey crews, law enforcement personnel, school crossing guards, high-volume parking lot or toll-gate personnel, airport baggage handlers and ground crews, railway workers, emergency response personnel, and accident site investigators.
Finally, Class 3 provides visibility up to 1,280 feet, nearly a quarter mile, for workers, making them safe for work sites near highway speed traffic. In addition to Class 2 requirements, Class 3 adds trousers or coveralls that will complete the outline of the human form with retro-reflective bands at the waistline and ankles
When it comes to road construction safety, high visibility industrial products and industrial clothing offer the best protection and compliance with federal law and industry best practices.