High Visibility Clothing: A Different Kind of Body Armor for 1st Responders
As you may know from previous pieces, I was a police officer in the Los Angeles County area for eight years, from 2005 until 2013. In that time, nationwide, approximately 1,349 officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Would it surprise you to know that 568 of those occurred due to automobile collisions or being struck by vehicles on the road? In my time as a first responder, cars killed more cops than guns.
Some of these deaths were tragically unavoidable, but many occurred because it's tough to see cops wearing dark clothing at night, standing on black asphalt. In order to prevent further loss of life, many departments, including my own, began issuing high visibility vests to personnel who might find themselves standing in the roadway. In the last decade, the use of high visibility clothing has skyrocketed among law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical responders, security officers, and thousands of other workers tasked with protecting public health and safety, especially in the United Kingdom.
What is High Visibility Clothing?
High-visibility (or hi-vis) clothing is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that has highly reflective properties or a color that is easily discernible from any background. A common example would be bright yellow jackets or vests worn by highway workers. As the name indicates, the purpose of wearing high visibility safety products is so that people can see you sooner and more easily in low light situations.
The human eye has a much easier time responding to large, contrasting, bright or moving objects. Whether your job site is a factory, a refinery, a warehouse, or the streets of Los Angeles, hi vis clothing helps you stand out so that people around you can see you earlier and have more time to react to prevent an injury. 3M has a great PDF about ANSI standards for the classification and care of high visibility clothing.
Things To Consider
Does your agency have a high visibility clothing policy?
Do they issue high visibility clothing?
If not, why not?
Most agencies want their workers to be safe, but in times of tightened budgets or administrative upheaval, certain aspects of job safety can fall through the cracks. First responders tend to arrive on the scene in cars, ambulances, and trucks with bright flashing lights. Agencies that think this is sufficient for worker visibility may be forgetting one thing: when people see flashing lights, they look at the lights, not at the people on the road. This isn't limited to first responders either; if you're on a maintenance crew, if you tend to be landscaping around highways, if you tow cars or paint address on gutters, if you spend any amount of time at work standing in a roadway, you can't rely on flashers and blinkers to protect you.
If your agency doesn't have a policy in place or doesn't issue hi-vis clothing, step up and say something. Cops wouldn't let themselves go out on patrol without a ballistic vest, firefighters wouldn't go out without a helmet and a respirator, and EMTs wouldn't leave headquarters without rubber gloves. High visibility gear is as important as any of those when it comes to protecting yourself out there.
Clothing That Serves and Protects
After my department made wearing hi-vis vests mandatory during traffic control and traffic collision investigations, the biggest complaint that came from some of my fellow officers was that the clothing was ugly and just got in the way. To the first complaint, I would simply say that casts, bandages, and hospital gowns are much less fashionable than a yellow vest.
To the second complaint, I'd like to point out that, more than ever, you can find high visibility clothing that is functional, comfortable, and aids your work rather than hinders it. For example, ORR sells a Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU) jacket that’s Class 3 ANSI compliant, breathable, water resistant and windproof, with a warm brushed fleece liner. Another good choice is a fleece-lined bomber jacket that offers more mobility and comes with a concealed, detachable hood and slash pockets so you don’t have to worry about removing your gloves in the dead of night.
However, let me be frank: I don't really care where you buy your life-saving equipment just as long as you do! If your agency or department doesn't have a Hi Vis PPE program or if they do and you'd like to make sure it's covering all your bases, we're always available for a no-pressure educational chat. ORR Safety is driven by an obsessive desire to get workers home to their families and it would be an honor to do just that for the brave souls protecting our health and well-being out there. Drop us a line anytime.