On November 24 of this year, new federal regulations will dramatically increase the number of workers required to wear high-visibility apparel. Regulation (23 CFR 634) states that, “all workers within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway who are exposed either to traffic (vehicles using the highway for purposes of travel) or to construction equipment within the work area shall wear high-visibility safety apparel.”

The regulation specifically incorporates and specifies the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 “National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear” requirements for the purposes of determining what is and is not compliant apparel, and requires workers to meet ANSI Class 2 or Class 3 standards.

While the current version of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices recommends ANSI-compliant safety apparel in construction zones, the new standards represent the first time a nationwide mandate has been enacted to regulate high-visibility safety apparel. These new regulations are certain to create significant challenges for safety officers, workers and employers, both in terms of the size of the potential workplaces covered and in the variety of workers to whom the new regulation applies.

Expanded definitions
The regulation’s definition of “workers” is far broader than the traditional core segment of highway construction workers, encompassing virtually all “people on foot whose duties place them within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway.”

As examples, the regulation lists “highway construction and maintenance forces, survey crews, utility crews, responders to incidents within the highway right-of-way, and law enforcement personnel when directing traffic, investigating crashes, and handling lane closures, obstructed roadways, and disasters within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway.”

A significant complexity for workers and safety officers is the meaning of the term, “responders to incidents.” The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) seems to be defining the phrase very broadly; in fact, at one point during the public comment phase of the regulation history, it was suggested that “tow truck drivers or other roadside vehicle service responders, media representatives when covering news events or similar actions within highway rights-of-way, military personnel when on foot, and commercial drivers on foot within the right-of-way who are with disabled trucks or motor coaches” would be considered “responders to incidents” and thus within the scope of the regulation.

Virtually the only category of workers specifically exempted from 23 CFR 634 compliance would be law enforcement officers “engaged in law enforcement activities, such as traffic stops and pursuit and apprehension of suspects.”

Adding to the complexity of the regulation is the fact that U.S. Federal-aid highways comprise 975,000 miles of roads and their associated rights-of-way — almost one out of every four miles of all American roads combined, and approximately twice the distance to the moon and back. Since determining what roadway is or is not “Federal-aid” can be extremely difficult, many companies are planning to assume that all roads are covered under the regulation in order to avoid inadvertent noncompliance.

Selecting & maintaining compliant clothing
Due to these new regulations, significant numbers of workers, safety officers and business owners who never had to select ANSI-compliant high-visibility apparel will need to become familiar with the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard as well as with the specific demands of wearing and maintaining compliant clothing.

For instance, under the standard the retroreflective taping of compliant apparel is only required to maintain minimum effectiveness through five washings. While many manufacturers design for higher durability, this minimum standard requires safety officers to constantly test high-visibility apparel that is maintained through home or industrial washings for continued compliance.

Workers and safety officers must also understand the different classes of ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 and where each applies to specific work functions, environments and even weather conditions. While Class 2 compliance can be achieved with a compliant safety vest, Class 3 is more comprehensive, and compliance cannot be achieved with a vest alone.

Style and comfort increase compliance
Providing options for style and comfort will increase compliance, especially with workers who may be working on their own on a roadside, away from the immediate oversight of a safety officer. Fortunately for these newly ANSI/ISEA 107-2004-dependent workers and employers, safety apparel manufacturers have been developing broad ranges of compliant safety apparel that go beyond the traditional vest and meet or exceed the standard.

Workers and companies can select from a variety of compliant apparel and accessory options that include t-shirts, sweatshirts, foul-weather outerwear, hats, gloves and, of course, the traditional vest, all in ANSI-compliant fabrics, colors and retroreflective taping patterns.

National standards offer consistency
The FHWA’s regulation was created under the mandate of the 2005 “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users” law that directed the agency to “decrease the likelihood of worker injury and maintain the free flow of vehicular traffic.” While that may be small comfort for workers and safety teams reading up on the complex ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard, in the long run workers will be safer as a result.