Working around construction equipment, or working in active traffic areas where there are vehicles going by on a regular basis, puts the worker at risk. A vehicle never comes off second-best in a collision with workers. NIOSH reports, about 123 workers are killed on average per year at road construction sites – and that’s not considering other non-roadway sites. There are many ways to prevent these incidents, especially when it comes to driver conduct.
But we’re not here to talk about that today. We need to focus on what we can do as an industry to lessen the likelihood of these incidents. By increasing visibility of team members, and increasing visibility around the site as a whole, we can make it easier for drivers to see and avoid workers. It all starts with safety vests.
Understanding Safety Vests
Brightly colored and reflective, safety vests are worn as the top layer by workers on the site. There are three different classes of safety vest, each geared towards specific situations. As with almost every safety situation, there is nothing wrong with opting for a vest that is a higher class than the minimum requirements for the work zone.
Class 1 Safety Vests: These are for the lowest-risk areas. It could be situations where the work is taking place a safe distance from the active roadway, but there is still potential for an incident. It could be where traffic is traveling no faster than 25 miles per hour. These are used in common construction zones, working on sidewalks and in landscaping, and general construction where visibility is handy. They have a safety yellow or safety orange background, and a minimum of 155 square inches of reflective strips around the middle of the vest, as well as over the shoulders. They are lightweight, and usually sit over a t-shirt, covering only the torso.
Class 2 Safety Vests: Larger than Class 1 vests, Class 2 vests incorporate a specific amount of background material into the mix. To be a Class 2 vest, it must have no less than 775 square inches of safety yellow or safety orange background material to it. There must also be no less than 201 square inches of reflective striping across the vest. These are required for roadway and traffic zones where traffic is moving no faster than 50 miles per hour – they are common for surveyors and work crews, as well as other jobs such as airport tarmac crews.
Class 3 Safety Vests: For the most dangerous environments where visibility is paramount, the Class 3 vest provides the most background material and the most striping. In many cases, it is more like a t-shirt than a vest. Used by emergency personnel, tow truck operators, and most road crew, these are needed in roadways where traffic can travel in excess of 50 miles per hour. These vests must have, at minimum, 1,240 square inches of safety yellow or safety orange background, and at least 310 square inches of reflective striping.There are also other visibility components that fall into the category of personal protective equipment (PPE). For instance, high-visibility hard hats, or high-visibility reflective pants offer even greater visibility, and are particularly desirable for crews working at dawn, dusk, and during the night. For colder weather, a high-visibility sweat shirt keeps workers warm while retaining the visibility of a vest. Class 3 rain gear keeps workers visible and dry – and as rain can affect reaction time for drivers, you’ll want the extra visibility.
Selecting the Right Safety Vest
Understanding the classes is one thing, but you’ll also need to consider the specifics of your worksite when it comes to choosing the best class-rated vest for your team members. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with going with a Class 3 Vest for every site – greater visibility is never a bad thing.
Consider the lighting and shade in your work site, how far from high-speed traffic your workers will be, and if there are physical barriers between the workers and traffic. A Class 2 vest is perfect for utility operations and volunteer work, but not good enough for flagging operations. A Class 3 vest is necessary for incident response, particularly at night, but is overkill for a landscaper. A Class 1 vest is never good enough to be worn within the right-of-way of a high-speed highway.
You should also opt for color that differentiates the worker from the environment. Safety yellow isn’t going to stick out against a bright yellow or light green environment, just as safety orange won’t stick out as much in a sand or desert environment.
One thing to note, as with all personal protective equipment, proper maintenance ins important. The reflective qualities of the vests can diminish over time – sun can fade them, they can get dirty, and the reflective material can rub away through heavy use. Most daily-wear vests have a service life of 6 months or so, while moderate-use could last up to three years. If a vest is torn, dirt, soiled, worn or faded, it needs to be replaced before going on site.
Beyond the Vest – Work Zone Visibility Tips
While the appropriate class-rated vests are a great start for visibility on the work site, and cover the individual, there is so much more you can do to protect your workers in traffic-heavy work zones.
- Create site plans and share them with your workers. Internal and external traffic -control plans, developed to take into account the conditions of every worksite and the traffic and workers, should be created and followed.
- Make sure the area is well lit, at day as well as at night. Install temporary lighting, and remember that even during the day, shadows can hide your workers, so they need to be illuminated.
- Utilize appropriate channeling devices to direct traffic away from your workers and around work spaces. Cones, drums, barricades, pavement markings, and portable signage all serve as warnings and alerts for drivers.
- Consider intrusion devices that can sound alarms when toppled by equipment and vehicles deviating from traffic corridors. They can alert workers that may not be able to see the intrusion.
- Educate your workers on how to act and react within your work zone, dangers to look for, and general or site-specific procedures. This includes teaching them about operator blind spots for construction equipment, how to act around heavy equipment, and how to respond if something goes wrong.
Work zone safety is paramount to us here at PowerPak, and our team members are standing by to help you find the most efficient and cost-effective solution to preventing incidents stemming from poor visibility on your work site. Contact our team, they are here to help keep you and your team members safe and sound!