By Stacey Simmons, Bullard
Americans are so accustomed to road construction projects that we often fail to notice the signs or even see where workers are working. For most of us, those orange barrels and signs are part of our daily lives. How often do you reduce your speed from 65 mph to 45 mph, as directed by construction zone signs? With all the worksite perils, what can we do to protect our workers?
One of the easiest ways to keep workers safe is to make them visible. Low visibility is one of the most serious dangers on a jobsite, with workers sometimes standing less than 10 feet away from high-speed traffic, and other workers operating heavy equipment.
The most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation, recorded in 2012, shows 609 work zone fatalities. This number is 19 fatalities more than in 2011. Based on the data, speeding was a factor in 35 percent of the fatal work zone crashes. This is a statistic that can drop if we are mindful of workers while traveling through work zones.
Three key strategies to keep workers safe on the job include increasing public awareness, offering worker training, and providing the best Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available. Thanks to organizations like the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), public awareness of highway worker safety issues has been increasing. Both these organizations sponsor national advertising campaigns that urge careful driving in work zones. In addition, most states are cracking down by doubling fines for vehicles that speed through construction zones.
What more can be done to protect workers? Employers can help reduce risks by educating their workers on hazards in the workplace and training workers to protect themselves. Remember, the unaware, speeding driver is not the only work hazard on a work site; other workers operating machinery or carrying heavy loads can just as easily cause injuries. The dangers of not being seen by another employee can be deadly. Safety directors need to ensure that all workers understand the hazards on the job, are trained on how to protect themselves, and comply by using PPE at all times, when it is required.
The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) developed an American National Standard for High Visibility Apparel and Headwear ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 that offers a uniform, authoritative guide for the design, performance specifications, and use of high-visibility and reflective apparel and headwear. Required apparel must provide 360-degree visibility, day and night, to give workers a high level of conspicuity through the use of combined fluorescent and retroreflective materials.
Many employers think they are providing their workers with the best high-visibility products available, only to find that under certain conditions, visibility is drastically reduced. For instance, a safety vest that provides reflectivity only on the back and torso does not help a worker who is being viewed from the side. Likewise, fluorescent garments that make a worker highly visible during the day but nearly invisible at dusk, if not marked with the proper reflective striping, also represent an insufficient visibility for the worker. Visibility around the clock is more important than ever before as more highway projects take place at night to avoid disturbing traffic flow.
Although road construction crews are the most obvious group to benefit from this standard, many others will also benefit. For example, loggers in sort yards and landings, as well as emergency response personnel, face low-visibility hazards. To help workers in a wide array of job applications, the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard covers, but is not limited to, high-visibility and reflective vests, jackets and trousers. Headwear covered by the standard includes, but is not limited to, items such as ball caps and knit caps.
Three classifications of apparel are defined in ANSI/ISEA 107-2004. They are shown below:
Performance Class 1: For occupational activities that permit full and undivided attention to approaching traffic with vehicle and moving equipment speeds not exceeding 25 mph. These folks include: parking attendants, shopping cart retrievers, warehouse workers with equipment traffic, sidewalk maintenance workers, or delivery vehicle drivers.
Performance Class 2: For occupational activities where employees are performing tasks which divert attention from approaching vehicle traffic with vehicle and moving equipment speeds exceeding 25 mph or work activities taking place in a close proximity to traffic. These folks include: railway workers, forestry workers, school crossing guards, airport crews, law enforcement personnel directing traffic, roadway workers, utility workers and accident site investigators.
Performance Class 3: For occupational activities where workers are exposed to significantly higher vehicle speeds and/or reduced sight-distances and the wearer must be conspicuous through the full range of body motions at a minimum of 390m, and must be identified as a person. These folks include: roadway construction personnel, utility workers, survey crews, emergency response personnel, and flagging crews
Providing workers with apparel that meets the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard is voluntary. However, OSHA requires that workers who are exposed to certain hazards be equipped with some type of high-reflective gear.
Head protection is not specifically covered by the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard, although hard hats are one of the most recognized and visible pieces of safety equipment on the worksite. Hard hats are required on almost every worksite, and there are more than 12 million hard hats in use in North America. With several high-visibility options available, a hard hat can help workers be seen by coworkers and by drivers.
One option for increasing the visibility of your hard hat is using a high-visibility shell color. Orange is a common hi-visibility color, however, with the need to have workers stand out from safety barrels and signs that are typically orange, other colors are recommended, such as green and yellow. Hard hats that meet the non-mandatory requirements for high-visibility (ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2014) are marked “HV” by the manufacturer.
Workers need to carefully monitor high-visibility hard hat color stability during prolonged daylight exposure. Caps should be replaced as soon as fading is evident to ensure uncompromised worker visibility and safety. Ultraviolet rays degrade colorants, so hard hats should not be stored in direct sunlight when not in use.
On a hard hat, striping can serve as decoration, or as a means of differentiating workers. Many hard hats are striped specifically for decoration, with striping in blue, red, orange, or green that has such a low CPL (candelas/lux/square meter) or “candle power,” that it should only be considered decorative.
By using striping that is reflective and/or fluorescent in color, hard hats can provide enhanced worker visibility. The same highly reflective striping that is applied to clothing to meet the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard also can be applied to hard hats. To achieve improved retroreflectance, use striping with a high CPL number. To achieve 360-degree reflectivity, add striping all the way around the brim of your hard hat. Many hard hat manufacturers will custom decorate caps by applying striping as well as custom logos.
In order to protect workers on a jobsite, worker safety must continue to remain on the public’s conscience. The ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard is a good beginning, but will only have impact on worker safety if employers and employees comply with it. Company safety directors must make sure that workers understand workplace hazards and are trained to avoid them while wearing the correct PPE. Manufacturers offer several options to help workers be more recognizable on the jobsite. Check with your safety equipment provider for information on the latest high-visibility products available. When it comes to keeping workers safe, high-visibility products do save lives.
Stacey Simmons is the Product Manager for Industrial Head and Face Protection Products at Bullard, a leading manufacturer of personal protective equipment and systems worldwide. Her product responsibilities include Head and Face Protection and Body Temperature Management