By Dené Sarrette and ISEA

The origins of high-visibility apparel began in the 1930’s. Bob Switzer’s dreams of becoming a doctor were cut short when he was injured unloading crates at the Heinz Ketchup factory in Berkeley, California. Switzer tripped and fell, knocking his head hard enough to put him in a coma. When he woke up, doctors told him his vision would be permanently damaged and instructed him to remain in a dark room until he recovered.

Bob’s brother, Joe, had been researching how fluorescent chemicals could enhance his magic shows and used them to entertain Bob while he was sick. The brothers passed the time by waving these chemicals in the air to create patterns. Once Bob recovered, he continued experimenting, mixing the chemicals with wood varnish in the bathtub at home. It wasn’t long before Bob and Joe had invented the world’s very first fluorescent paint, which they coined ‘Day-Glo’ to parallel its ability to “glow” in daylight. Bob enthusiastically used this paint on his wife’s wedding dress, which inadvertently created the first piece of high visibility clothing. Bob and Joe were quickly given the moniker “The Day-Glo Brothers”, taking to magic and stage shows, and marketing their products for use in movie posters.

High-Visibility in World War II

The U.S. Government took notice and began utilizing this technology to increase soldiers’ visibility and reduce friendly fire casualties in World War II. The Government found additional benefit creating fabric panels to send signals from the ground that could be recognized from thousands of feet in the air. Aircraft crewmen donned suits of fluorescent, highlighted by ultraviolet lamps to direct pilots. Buoys were coated with paints indicating areas that had been scanned for floating explosives.

Today, there are organizations in place to govern the clearly defined standards with which high-visibility (hi-vis) personal protective equipment (PPE) must comply—the ultimate purpose of which is worker safety. In high-traffic areas and those with low visibility (i.e., inclement weather), hi-vis clothing could mean the difference between life and death.

High-Visibility Clothing Defined

High-Visibility apparel is defined as clothing with the purpose of making the wearer more visible. It falls in the category of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and will have an ANSI/ISEA label defining garment characteristics including manufacturer info as well as product designation and the corresponding ANSI/ISEA class standard. High-Visibility clothing increases conspicuity of workers that may be exposed to hazardous situations under both day and evening low-light conditions. Very bright colors are used in apparel designed to provide maximum conspicuity during daylight hours. The reflective material is added to apparel for workers in traffic and where other light sources reflect.

ANSI and ISEA

The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) is a recognized, established, and highly respected leader in the development of safety equipment standards in the U.S. and around the world. Partnering with Congress and government agencies, ISEA serves to inform policy makers whose decisions directly impact the industry. Additionally, ISEA acts as a forum for information sharing and serves as valuable resource for industry professionals. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) establishes and oversees guidelines for all aspects in the conformity of standards in safety, as well as the health of consumers and environmental protection.

ANSI/ISEA 107 Standard

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The ANSI/ISEA 107 standard quickly gained ubiquitous influence and was deemed the most effective protective method with which to ensure worker conspicuity. The January 2010 revision of the Standard represents ISEA’s commitment to collaborate with industry professionals in updating the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear (ANSI /ISEA 107-2010) in accordance with inevitable industry changes. ISEA states all “ANSI procedures require that some formal action – revision, reaffirmation or withdrawal – be taken on ANSI standards every five years.” A revision to the 2010 version is thus expected by the end of this year. While it has not been stated what the ANSI 107-2010 revision will entail, it is important that safety managers be cognizant of any changes and relay them to employees.

Note: ANSI/ISEA 107-2010 is not to be confused with ANSI/ISEA 207-2011, which is the American National Standard for High Visibility Public Safety Vests. ANSI 207 was designed to accommodate public safety personnel including EMS, fire fighters & police officers. ANSI 207 allows for less background material at 450 in.² as opposed to the ANSI Class 2 standard of 775 in.² of background material. This allows for a shorter waist so first responders have easy access to utility belts. Further, other identifying trim colors may be used to differentiate public safety personnel. As an example, Blue trim for Police, Red for Fire Fighters, or Green for EMS. For more information on ANSI/ISEA 207-2011, please contact ISEA.