OHS Canada Magazine

Colour Me Safe

October 1, 2009
By Jason Contant
Health & Safety

New technology is often eagerly anticipated, while concurrently viewed with scepticism -- that is, at least until any wrinkles have been ironed out.

New technology is often eagerly anticipated, while concurrently viewed with scepticism — that is, at least until any wrinkles have been ironed out.

That scenario may be apt for individuals required to wear high-visibility gear (high-vis) as part of day-to-day work duties. In fact, less than six months after the May release of the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) Z96-09, its latest guidance on high-visibility safety apparel, products are already hitting the market that may not fulfill the standard’s testing procedures.

Consider segmented trim, also known as triple trim or patterned stripes. Specific designs– such as Xs and Os, stars or even company logos — are engraved into the retro-reflective stripes designed to help make hi-vis apparel hi-vis.

These designs are generally only visible when viewed “close up” at night, but it remains an outstanding issue, says CSA project manager Dave Shanahan. “Some people have very exotic patterns out there being etched into retroreflective stripes for whatever reason,” Shanahan says, pointing out that CSA’s current testing procedures are meant for solid stripes. “And so, people wanted us to consider how we can adjust the testing procedures and performance requirements to be able to allow patterned stripes as well,” he says.

Darrin Husack, the environmental health and safety manager for Con-Drain Company (1983) Ltd., a sewer and water main contractor based in Concord, Ontario, reports “it appears that some people are using the segmented or triple trim… but they’re not necessarily following the guideline.”


Al Wolfram, a safety manager at Manitoba Hydro, describes the segmented trim as “a stripe that has holes in it so your reflective material is broken up with the fluorescent background material.” Although workers at the utility do not use the trim, Wolfram says he has seen it being used elsewhere.

“There needs to be more education” related to the latest edition of the standard, he recommends. “A lot of times I see people walking around wearing striping configurations that don’t meet the standard,” Wolfram contends.


For example, he points out that CSA Z96-09 calls for the total width of retro-reflective stripes or bands to be no less than 50 millimetres. Yet he reports having seen slimmer-than-required retro-reflective material used in combination with a background material that is non-reflective.

Shanahan points out there are additional products that have entered the marketplace that “will have to be brought into the standard as well.”

These include retro-reflective stripes that reflect back colour, similar to a coloured light bulb (previously, regardless of the stripe colour, it reflected light back as white). “They have new materials out that reflect back in colour. Those have to be brought into the standard as well,” he says.

Shanahan further reports that there are “self-illuminating” portions of garments — such as stripes and trim — that use battery packs or LED lights to appear highly visible. The CSA has been asked to consider those as part of a future edition of the standard.

“That is one of the things that we struggle with when we look at products,” Shanahan says. “We say there are so many ways to achieve that end. We have to say, is this something we can standardize?”

EASY AS 1, 2, 3

For now, the current edition of Z96 and its complementary user guideline offer input on what is considered hi-vis safety apparel. For starters, the standard breaks down the gear into three classes: 1, 2 and 3.

“The classes refer to the amount of coverage of the body,” Shanahan relays. The gear may be coveralls, vests, harnesses and jackets — all with background material and just the basic retro-reflective stripes. “They move up to the ones that cover the whole upper torso to the ones that cover the whole body, arms and legs,” he says.

Minimal areas of coverage to achieve compliance are also spelled out in the standard:

• a basic harness or stripes/bands over the shoulder(s) and encircling the waist for Class 1;

• full coverage of the upper torso (front, back, sides and over the shoulders), except with bib-style overalls, for Class 2; and,

• full coverage of the upper torso and bands encircling both arms and both legs for Class 3.

As just one of many examples, Shanahan notes the appropriate class of gear can be based on speed zones in which work is being done: 40 kilometres/hour (km/h) or less for Class 1, 41 to 80 km/h for Class 2, and more than 80 km/h for Class 3.

Depending on location, Wolfram says, individuals performing utility work on the side of a highway where vehicle speeds are in excess of 80 km/h would “have to have bands on the arms and legs as well.”

It is also critical, he notes, that required protective gear — say a safety harness — does not conceal any features that make a garment hi-vis. “We have to be careful with the place- ment of the striping on the garments” so it is not covered by protective gear, he says.


As per the CSA standard, users have a choice of three high-visibility colour ranges: fluorescent yellow-green, fluorescent orange-red and fluorescent red. The bright red option was eliminated as a recognized hi-vis colour in the latest edition of the standard, Shanahan says, noting that when the related technical committee began looking at acceptable hues of red, some came across as too deep a colour to be considered hi-vis.

“On one side,” Shanahan points out, “the reds just weren’t bright enough to be considered hi-vis and on the other side, they weren’t being used in the marketplace.” In its place, the orange-red range of colours was expanded.


Clearly, not seeing a worker sporting hi-vis gear, typically composed of modacrylic materials, defeats its purpose.

Retro-reflective stripes or bands placed near the wrist and ankles play a crucial role in low-light conditions because they create the impression of movement, says Shanahan. Citing demonstrations under very dark conditions, “all you see is the retro-reflective stripes. You don’t see the person, you don’t see the rest of the clothing, the outlines, all you see is the stripes,” he says. It is movement that provides a visual cue that what is being looked at is, in fact, a person.

Being able to see a worker is critical to his or her safety, regardless of where work is being done: road construction, utility facilities, airports, gas and oil plants, forestry settings or mine operations. Andrew Wirts, director of marketing for Nasco Industries, Inc., in Washington, Indiana, says a key consideration when selecting hi-vis apparel is what colour contrast can be created between the worker and the work zone. “If all of the signage and cones and equipment is orange, then to put the worker in orange just makes him look like a cone or a piece of equipment,” Wirts suggests.

While the choice of hi-vis hue ultimately comes down to user preference, certain industries seem to have gravitated to certain colours. Con-Drain Company’s Husack says the nature of his company’s work — building subdivisions and other construction projects — prompted the selection of lime green. “The orange vest didn’t seem to work as well as the lime green did,” he says. “For some reason, the lime green just seems to pop out that much more.”

At Manitoba Hydro, however, Wolfram says employees working on transmission or distribution lines, for example, primarily wear (Class 3) orange as a hi-vis background colour. When he carries out inspections, though, Wolfram says he dons a lime-green jacket that is non-flame-resistant (FR).


Even geography may play a role in colour choice, suggests Chantal Zorad, a marketing manager with Ranpro Inc. in Simcoe, Ontario. “Lime yellow is very popular in British Columbia and Alberta and getting to be in Ontario as well,” Zorad says.

For Manitoba Hydro employees who work as l
inemen, electricians and fitters, or on pressurized gas pipelines, Wolfram says there is a need to “combine their requirements for high-visibility with their requirements to protect them from electrical arc or flash fire.” One problem, he suggests, is that FR, high-visibility apparel is simply not bright enough.

“When you have an FR orange or green, it’s just not quite as bright as non-FR,” he argues.FR rainwear is available that meets the fluorescent quality, Wolfram acknowledges, but “you just couldn’t wear it all day.” Because these materials are often not very breathable, Zorad likens the option to “wearing a plastic bag.”

The latest edition of Z96 makes allowances for FR clothing by expanding the number of FR-compliant products, says Shanahan. But before the change, he adds that “a number of manufacturers said there’s no way this type of FR clothing can meet your standard.”

One positive may be that companies currently offering hi-vis FR products “get better and better at making materials that will accept a very fluorescent-type material,” says Wolfram.

For example, Nasco Industries offers one product designed specifically for utility workers who may be exposed to electric arcs. The lightweight, waterproof gear provides arc-and flame-resistance in addition to limited chemical splash resistance, says a product information sheet from the company.

There are different materials that can be used, Wirts adds, such as polyester. Polyurethane coatings are difficult to dye to a colour that would be fluorescent, he says, but polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a very common coating that can be coated “to a number of different subtrates and have a high-visibility package,” Wirts maintains.

“One thing that the market has been in need of is a product that is not only high-visibility, but also arc-resistant and flash fire-resistant,” he contends, adding that Nasco Industries will be releasing just that later this year. The product will feature a waterproof jacket, bib overalls and pants that can be insulated for winter wear, Wirts says.

It will also be breathable, meaning it is “a waterproof product where you have a coated membrane and it has to be able to be tested to show there is moisture vapour transmission that can pass through the material.”

Superior Glove Ltd. in Acton, Ontario offers a lightweight, durable rain-wear product in a high-visibility lime-green colour with reflective tape.

Zorad emphasizes that making fabric breathable and garments more comfortable is very important. When that’s the case, workers are “not distracted by the discomfort that they have, they are happier and more energized at the end of the day,” she says.


Despite advancements in materials and design techniques, one major problem persists with high-visibility safety apparel: when has the gear faded enough to no longer be compliant? “That’s probably the biggest weakness in the two standards,” Wirts argues, referring to both CSA Z96 and the American National Standards Institute’s standard for high-visibility safety apparel, ANSI/ ISEA 107-2004.

“With a dielectric glove, if it has a hole in it, you know it doesn’t work. With high-visibility safety apparel, you have something that might be out in the field for a day or two and the dirt and grime that is associated with that particular job might render that product no longer compliant with the standard or regulation,” Wirts says.

The sun’s rays, he notes, can break down the colour and cause fading. “That’s something that both committees will be looking at for the next revision.”

Wolfram agrees clothing does deteriorate and it is up to supervisors to determine when it should be replaced. “There is really no way of field testing to know if it meets the standard. It’s a judgement call made by the employee and supervisor,” he says.

Con-Drain Company’s Husack says his employees deal with heavy dirt, grease and “maybe a splash of concrete” — and the gear does get worn out. “With our industry, you can tell pretty quick,” he says.

Husack reports the company has continued to work with its manufacturer to scoop out the neck a bit more, adjust abrasion parts and move pockets to reduce wear and tear as much as possible. “We’ve pretty much got it down to where the guys are all happy with it,” he says of the apparel.

High-visibility gear comes in a variety of styles, including vests, coveralls, parkas, bomber jackets and even headwear. Glove Guard LP, based in Highlands, Texas, offers another non-traditional hi-vis product: clips that hold gloves on a worker’s belt. Featuring a patented emergency safety breakaway device, the products — including a version for use in extreme-heat situations — are available in hi-vis yellow and lime green options, says Glove Guard manager Shelia Vermil- lion. “What I have heard from out at the plants is if they are up walking high on the platform… you can see that small products will sometimes show up,” Vermillion says.


The annexes of CSA Z96-09 offer selection guidelines for gear. But they can be used for other applications as well.

Consider Ranpro Select, an on-line software tool that allows users to design customized high-visibility and corporate protective outerwear. “Depending on the design, there could be one colour, two different colours or each panel a different colour,” says Zorad.

Fabric colours include black, red, grey, navy blue, royal blue, light blue, olive, dark green, green, light green, maroon, dark red, purple, orange, gold, brown, copper, tan, white, hi-vis yellow and hi-vis orange. The company reports the garments are certified to Canadian and European standards.

It works like this: after a user completes his or her garment design from a range of 21 colours and accessories (such as linings), the company creates a three-dimensional version of the garment and sends it to the customer by e-mail for approval. The user is then sent a pre-production item followed by a final product, Zorad says.

Shanahan notes that Z96 allows for a range of colour hues for background materials: everything from cherry red to red-orange to orange-red to bright orange, and sunny yellow to lime-green.

Product makers of background materials, however, are required to test the “chromicity” of their offerings in accordance with the E 1164 standard from the American Society for Testing and Materials (now ASTM International). Garment manufacturers are further obliged to indicate on the garment label that the product complies with Z96 and its class.

“It would be difficult and expensive for the purchaser to test the colour of the background material,” Shanahan suggests. “However, non-hi-vis colours such as white, blue, blue-green, purple, red-purple and various shades of brown should be obvious as non-permitted colours for Class 2 and Class 3 apparel,” he says.

Whatever the gear, Wolfram emphasizes it must have been tested and certified by CSA. He cautions that absent appropriate enforcement by regulators, “they can wear whatever they want.”

Looking forward, the CSA’s Shanahan says the agency and its partners will explore not only the outstanding issue of segmented trim and self-illuminating garments, but any special hi-vis requirements for emergency responders. This would include different patterns and colours for fire, police and emergency medical service responders.

“The concept is there ought to be a way to distinguish the various services when you are at a large disaster site. It makes it easier to see where the different emergency people are deployed,” Shanahan says.

And in the end, being able to clearly see a worker at night or in low-light conditions may spell the difference between safety and harm.




Making the best decision about what hi-vis gear is needed for the work demands that a number of issues, conditions and considerations be ke
pt in mind:

• results of a risk assessment for a particular job;

• higher contrast between background and a worker’s apparel provides greater conspicuity;

• environmental conditions (such as lightning, rain, fog and snow) significantly affect garment prominence;

• clothing or equipment (say, glove gauntlets, equipment belts and high-cut boots) should not obscure hi-vis materials on the garments;

• garments are fit to the individual (taking account of clothing to be worn underneath) to promote safety and best performance;

• maintenance of garments are in line with the instructions of the manufacturer;

• replacing garments that no longer provide minimum acceptable levels of conspicuity (as a result of wear and tear, soiling, contamination or age) since they present a false sense of safety; and,

• equipment features, including its flame resistance, thermal performance, durability, launderability, comfort, flexibility and sizing.

* Adapted from the Canadian Standards Association’s CSA Z96-09, High-visibility safety apparel


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