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Choosing the Correct High Visibility Clothing for Roadway Worker Safety

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jun 7, 2010 8:52:43 AM

During a recent visit to a construction project, I came across a very common and unsettling problem, improper roadway protection and inappropriate high visibility clothing.  A worker wearing an open-weave reflective vest (over a blue t-shirt) was working inside an active temporary traffic work zone; he was removing concrete curbing using a jackhammer with his back turned to oncoming traffic, and the work area lacked roadway protection. More often than not, construction workers and supervisors do not realize the importance of establishing adequate roadway protection, procedure implementation, and proper visibility garments until it is too late

How can workzone accidents be prevented?

First, understand what the law requires. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is published by the Department of Transportation (USDOT), provides guidance on control devices, as well as what procedures to follow on roadways all roads open to public travel.  MUTCD* recommends high-visibility garments be selected by a trained person designated by the employer. It also states that workers exposed to the risks of moving roadway traffic or construction equipment must wear Class II or III high-visibility safety garments while on roads open to public travel. Additionally, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has published a Letter of Interpretation which requires the use of high-visibility safety garments by workers on road/highway work zones.

Second, consult a safety professional with experience in roadway work zones. Contractors should be encouraged to evaluate engineering controls first (e.g. traffic barriers and intrusion warning devices) and work zone procedures (e.g. spotters and training on how to work next to motor vehicle traffic), in addition to the use of Personal Protective Equipment (e.g. high-visibility garments).

Below are some tips for the selection of adequate roadway protection and high visibility clothing:

  • Assess the work zone activities, conduct a hazard analysis then draft a worker safety plan which includes methods of roadway protection and high visibility clothing requirements. This plan should be developed by a competent person.

  • Select clothing in compliance with the ANSI/ISEA 107 standard. Many “cool” garments do not comply with these requirements, which include retroreflectivity (light reflection) and brightness.

  • Make sure high visibility garments are properly maintained and replaced when unserviceable (click HERE for guidance).

Three Specific ANSI Classes of Garments

Class I:  These are for personnel NOT working on the open road ways (parking lot attendants and sidewalk maintenance workers are examples of personnel who would use this type of apparel).  These garments should be used

  • When the wearers activities and focus are never  diverted from approaching traffic

  • When there is ample separation between the worker and traffic

  • Traffic speed are NOT above 25 miles per hour

Class II:  These are considered the minimum level of personnel protection on projects where roads are open to public travel. Examples of activities during which personnel who can wear Class II include ship and cargo operations, roadway construction and maintenance, surveying, law enforcement, and railroad maintenance.  These garments should be used

  • During inclement weather or in work environments that pose a greater risk than those of Class I

  • During activities that may shift a worker’s focus away from the approaching traffic

  • When workers are in close proximity to passing vehicles traveling between 25 to 50 miles per hour

Class III:  These garments are for the maximum protection and should be worn by personnel (e.g., roadway construction, survey crews and law enforcement response) performing activities under the following conditions:

  • There are serious hazards and tasks that would take the workers attention away from vehicular traffic  (e.g. paving and saw cutting concrete)

  • Traffic speeds exceed 50 miles per hour,

  • Work is performed during nighttime operations and /or there are reduced sight distances

Note about Emergency Responders: The 2009 version of the MUTCD addresses exempts firefighters or other emergency responders working within the roadway and engaged in emergency operations that directly expose them to flame, fire, heat, and/or hazardous materials from wearing high visibility safety apparel. They may wear retroreflective turnout gear that is specified and regulated by other organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association; however, if they are just working within the roadway, then wear high-visibility safety apparel must be worn (for more information please refer to Chapter 6D of the 2009 MUTCD).

Roadway work zones are extremely dangerous and accidents usually yield disastrous consequences. For this reason, contractors should always make sure that proper work zone protection is provided, and we should always slow down around construction zones and respect signals, give them a brake!

* As per 23 CFR§ 655.603,  the MUTCD, approved by the Federal Highway Administrator is the national standard for all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 109(d) and 402(a).

Topics: DOT, Personal Protective Equipment, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, worker safety, Occupational Safety

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