The night sky is foggy as rain pours down onto the ramp. Several yards out a man stands barely visible despite his brightlycolored rain slicker and lighted wands. As the wind blows the rain, the man becomes even less visible to the naked eye. The possibility for an accident to occur is much higher now, but what can be done to lessen the chances of an incident in this situation? While nothing is 100 percent certain, wearing high visibility or reflective clothing can lower the chances of accidents and injuries.
Seen in Day or Night
High visibility clothing comes in many different designs and colors ranging from the bright orange to electric yellow to neon green. Reflective tape is usually added to increase the visibility of the garment. While a vest is the standard, many companies make shirts, trousers, coveralls, hats, jackets, and gloves.
"Basically, in daytime, visibility is enhanced by fluorescent colors that are not found in nature and are high contrast so they stand out from the background. At night, retro-reflective materials should be worn because they reflect light back to the light source," says Rich McNeely, Vice President-Safety Products at AW Direct in Berlin, CT. "Retro-reflective materials work well for high visibility clothing because it returns the light from the headlights of an approaching vehicle back to the driver, allowing the worker to be seen at greater distances than a worker without retro-reflective materials. This increases the driver's ability to see roadside workers more easily, improving everyone's safety."
There are no federal regulations in the United States covering the design and performance specifications for high visibility clothing. However, in 1999, the Airport Council International-North America (ACI-NA), in response to manufacturer and consumer needs, adopted the first U.S. standards called the American National Standard for High Visibility Safety Apparel or ANSI-ISEA 107-1999. This standard addresses requirements for day and night conditions, colors, retro-reflection, placement of materials, physical properties of background materials, and test methods.
McNeely is a member of this committee and worked on these voluntary standards, which are based on required regulations in Europe. When the European Union was being formed, countries came together to standardize regulations and published high visibility regulations known as EN471 in 1995. The British Airport Authority requires that airport apron workers wear high visibility clothing at all times in areas where aircraft and vehicles maneuver.
The standard identifies three classes of high visibility clothing and ground support workers fall into the Conspicuity Class 2, which is used when the work environment requires greater visibility during inclement weather conditions or when employees are performing tasks that divert attention from approaching vehicular traffic, or moving equipment speeds exceed 25 mph, McNeely says.
In 2000, Section 520 of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century required the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a study to determine the number of persons working at airports who are injured or killed as a result of being struck by a moving vehicle while on an airport tarmac, the seriousness of the injury, and whether or not reflective safety vests or other actions should be required to enhance the safety of such workers. While reviewing records of the FAA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Bureau of Labor, it was found that since August 2000, 11 workers were fatally injured when struck by vehicles on airport aprons, however, only two occurred between 1995 and 2000.
Although no conclusive evidence could be found that high visibility clothing would have definitely prevented certain accidents, it was suggested that a ramp safety program that includes this type of clothing would enhance the occupational safety of airport apron workers.
Making it Safe and Comfortable
One problem that many companies have even after they require the use of high visibility clothing is getting workers to use the products consistently. Depending on weather conditions, this extra clothing could make a worker more uncomfortable. Silver Eagle Outfitters of Huntsville, AL has created a high visibility vest that follows regulations, but also keeps the wearer cool through an evaporative cooling material in the middle of its three layers.
"Since the ANSI/ISEA 1999 standards for Class 3 garments require that the background material (not just the reflective tape) must have some amount of reflectivity of its own, the vests that are generally available are made of polyester or nylon," says Angela Jackman, Customer Service Manager at Silver Eagle Outfitters. "Alone, these materials are quite hot. Because we have used a 150 Denier hi-visibility polyester outer-shell on our cooling garments, we offer the required reflectivity as well as relief from the heat that some of these workers are being subjected to on runways and other work environments."
Innovations like these are important in keeping high visibility clothing on workers and therefore, keeping them safe. Finding out what sorts of problems or accidents occur concerning high visibility clothing and workers is not that easy to come by. In August 2000, ACI-NA distributed a questionnaire to 60 airport operators and found that between 1994 and 1999, there were 84 non-fatal, struck-by injuries. Many of the operators stated that these numbers are not as high as they could have been because of training, awareness, reduced speeds, and the use of high visibility clothing.
Individual airlines or airports can also take up the idea for themselves and designate their own rules. The Chicago Department of Aviation adopted reflective vest rules and regulations for O'Hare International and Midway Airports. In April 1999, high visibility clothing became required to enhance the visibility and safety of personnel working in ramp areas. Chicago established requirements for vest material and construction that specify color, fluorescent trim, luminance, snaps, design variations, and other design elements.
In the 2002 FAA report to Congress, officials at the Chicago airports stated that they did not have enough data to analyze the effectiveness of the new requirements but believed the program has been a success and that high visibility clothing is an important preventative measure.
From what reports have shown, it seems that high visibility clothing is doing its job of keeping struck-by accidents down, but that does not mean this is the time to ease up. Wearing high visibility and retro-reflective clothing any time of day or night on the ramp provides another way to keep ground support workers visibly safe.