Not All Safety Garments Are Created Equal

The threat of being hit by a motorist is a constant danger for many waste industry employees. There were 30 transportation-related fatalities among sanitation workers in 1999, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, D.C. Of these deaths, about one-third of them were workers struck by vehicles.

One way to protect these at-risk workers is through high-visibility safety apparel. Although safety garments are nothing new, a movement to standardize this type of clothing has begun. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Washington, D.C., teamed with the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), Arlington, Va., to approve the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel (ANSI/ISEA 107-1999) in June 1999.

ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 is a voluntary standard that provides consistent, authoritative guidelines for the selection and use of high-visibility apparel within the United States. It offers performance specifications for background and retroreflective materials, minimum material requirements and retroreflective material placement recommendations, as well as information on test methods and care labeling. ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 aims to adequately protect workers from the hazards from workplaces with low visibility.

In effect for more than a year, the standard created three garment classes, which are differentiated by the amount of background material and reflective material. Typically, Class I and Class II garments are safety vests. Class II garments provide superior visibility for workers and are more conspicuous than Class I garments. Class III garments cover the arms, legs and torso, and are intended to offer the greatest visibility to workers in high-risk environments. Class III garments typically include pants with a safety vest, uniforms, jackets, coveralls and rainwear.

Many employers just are beginning to conform to ANSI/ISEA 107-1999. But it is likely that companies using the standards for the first time will find the technical provisions challenging. For example, employers may find it difficult to select an appropriate garment class if there's any confusion as to what level of risks their workers are exposed to.

Along with considering the class, employers also should examine the worker's fit and comfort. For example, the hazard assessment may call for a Class II garment. But because garment class and the wearer's size determine the area of a garment, smaller clothing sizes often require different designs to meet the standard. In some situations, workers may prefer a short-sleeved design. However, it may be necessary to select half or full sleeves for some workers to improve fit and comfort.

Other design requirements also may need to be considered. For example, in some sanitation-work environments, it may be critical that workers not be fitted with garments that have loose-fitting or excess material, which can catch in machinery. Designs may need to incorporate “break-away” attachments at the shoulder and arm areas.

To ensure safety, employers should conduct an onsite visibility demonstration that compares current garment performance with compliant ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 garment designs. These visibility demonstrations are an effective way to illustrate the impact of an ANSI-compliant garment.

The following steps also can provide a starting point for selecting appropriate ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 material.

“Ultimately, it is the employer's responsibility to provide workers with the most suitable high-visibility apparel for their environment. Using the standard alone will not ensure workplace safety.”

  • Contact a safety consultant to conduct a risk assessment of the work environment.

  • Select the appropriate garment type and class. The ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 standard provides an appendix of design examples, but compliant designs are not limited to these types. It's a good idea to view at least two garment designs in a visibility demonstration before choosing a design.

  • Specify the garment to meet ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 performance.

  • Select a garment manufacturer who will label the garment as specified in ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 and use certified background material, retroreflective material and design guidelines to meet the appropriate garment class requirements.

  • Ultimately, it is the employer's responsibility to provide workers with the most suitable high-visibility safety apparel for their environment. Using the standard alone will not ensure workplace safety. Employers should use tools such as risk assessment to evaluate work conditions, personal protection and worker comfort. Selecting safety apparel also should include an assessment of site hazards associated with moving equipment and road traffic. For employees who work near traffic and equipment, an assessment should consider worker duties, the vehicle volume and speed, the complexity of the work site and the probability of vehicle and operator distractions.

    A copy of the standard can be purchased from ISEA by visiting For more information about ANSI/ISEA 107-1999, call the ISEA at (703) 525-1695. For more information about safety, visit