Safety Vests

Creating cost effective safety solutions

CarolinaFireJournal - Juan Gomez
Juan Gomez
10/10/2014 -

The benefits of increased visibility for first responders on the job have been well-documented over the years: in fact, the goal of increased roadway safety for emergency response teams led to the passing of the 2008 federal regulation in the United States — the “Worker Visibility Rule” — mandating that anyone working in the right-of-way of a federal-aid highway must be wearing high visibility (reflective) clothing. Similar laws and standards exist in Canada as well as the European Union (EU) for the same reason they do in the U.S.: the rate of on-the-job injury is much higher when people who work in roadway areas — whether they’re emergency responders or road construction crews — are not highly visible.


Retroreflective material is created to return light in the direction of the light’s source, which will allow a driver to see the light being reflected from the retroreflective material on a person’s garment — as long as the person is standing in the light’s beam and is less than 250 feet away from the light source.

Industry data underpinned these federal regulations: The Virginia Transportation Research Council found that fluorescent colors enhanced the daytime visibility of highway worker’s clothing, and various studies at the University of Michigan concluded that reduced visibility contributes significantly to pedestrian accidents
at night.

Based on the long-standing demonstrated benefits to increased visibility, safety professionals around the globe have consistently recommended different types of clothing depending on lighting conditions, job responsibilities, and background — and thus was born high-visibility safety apparel (HVSA).

What is the definition of HVSA? As an industry standard, HVSA is clothing (e.g. vests, bibs or coveralls) that workers can wear to improve how well other people “see” them. Most often, high-visibility clothing is worn to alert drivers and other vehicle operators of a worker’s presence, especially in low light and dark conditions, and is typically made of either florescent or retroreflective material — or both, to pack a greater punch and address both day and night time visibility challenges.

Fluorescent material takes a portion of invisible ultraviolet light from sunlight, and through special pigments, sends it back to the viewer as more visible light, and only functions where there is a source of natural sunlight. Fluorescent material will appear brighter than the same colored non-fluorescent material, especially under low natural light (i.e. cloud cover, fog, dusk, dawn). This property offers daytime visibility enhancement not present with other colors by providing the greatest contrast against most backgrounds.

Retroreflective material is created to return light in the direction of the light’s source, which will allow a driver to see the light being reflected from the retroreflective material on a person’s garment — as long as the person is standing in the light’s beam and is less than 250 feet away from the light source. Retroreflective materials are most effective under low-light level conditions. While retroreflective materials can still reflect in the daylight, there is little difference between the light reflected from the garment’s material and the surrounding environment, which makes them ineffective for enhanced visibility during (sunny) daytime conditions.

Today, HVSA is standard fare for emergency responders — from firefighters to EMT personnel to police officers — an addition to the job “tool belt” that maintains high degrees of approval from emergency personnel themselves. In fact, a study completed in 2007 by the Institute for Police Research (IPR), found that police officers wanted and needed increased visibility — at some times — on the job. “According the officers surveyed, a significant majority of the officers in all five agencies expressed a desire for high visibility when conducting roadblocks, directing traffic, assisting motorists (stabilizing scene), and assisting motorists (taking down accident scene).”

The benefits to HVSA are well documented, and the use of them has gone a long way toward improving the on-the-job safety of emergency responders by reducing injury and death related to roadway accidents.

But off the roads, visibility and recognition are still necessary for emergency responders and other professionals:

  • Firefighters working together in a smoke-filled environment need ways to see one another
  • Civilians in a crowded park at night often can’t tell who is or isn’t a police officer in moments of distress
  • Construction crews working below the surface of the street can’t always see one another to locate other members of their team

The above are just a few common professional situations when additional official lighting could be critical — and where HVSA clothing isn’t required to be worn by law or professional standard. In those instances, retroreflective and fluorescent clothing would also be of little to no help, as light sources aren’t present to activate the HVSA benefits.

In addition, there are times when emergency responders want the benefit of extra visibility, but don’t want to be hindered by extra clothing. Or they want to be able to activate their own personal light source when and where they need it.

All of which underscores the ability of small personal lighted devices to compliment other personal safety devices for first responders. Adding to a professional “tool belt,” personal light bars can provide enhanced safety and visibility for the wearer — and serve as a valuable compliment to HVSA in the following ways:

  • Personal light bars provide greater enhanced light that can be seen from more than two miles away, from above, and from a nearly 360-degree radius around the wearer, adding volumes to the visibility provided by HVSA.
  • With myriad color combinations, wearers can reflect the official colors of their professional establishments on their person using a personal light bar — with combinations such as read and blue for police officers, for example, or red and white for fire departments.
  • Rechargeable, long-lasting batteries help ensure a personal light bar can be used in tandem with HVSA for more than 90 hours of continuous use – equal to more than 10 professional emergency responder work shifts, or more than two standard work weeks.
  • A rugged exterior should house the personal light bar, to prevent damage in extreme working conditions — e.g. water and fire resistant and capable of withstanding even the most punishing weather conditions.
  • Myriad mounting options for the personal light bar, to ensure it can be utilized in whatever ways professionals need them — e.g. various uniform mounts, as well as also options such as window mount, bicycle or motorcycle mount, duty belt mount, or alternative metal-surface mount.

Ultimately, using resources such as a personal light bar allows emergency responders and other professionals to augment HVSA and other on-the-job safety benefits, ensuring all possible safety tools are being utilized.

Juan Gomez is the president and co-founder of 425 Inc. Prior to his work with 425 Inc., Mr. Gomez worked at SC Johnson as an environmental technician and industrial firefighter for more than six years, and has been serving as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army Reserve for more than 18 years. He has a degree in finance and earned several firefighting, workplace safety and HAZMAT certifications. 

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Issue 33.4 | Spring 2019

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