Every year, people are killed in construction and roadside jobs in America. In 2015 there were 13 deaths a day among America’s workers. One of the best ways we have of minimizing deaths on the job in these cases is safety workwear and high visibility clothing. Here’s the lowdown on what hi vis work shirts are all about.

Understanding the Human Eye

Sense of Sight

You probably know how amazing a dog’s nose is and how much of a dog’s brain is dedicated to processing the sense of smell. While human beings are a bit more rounded in processing our five major senses, there’s no doubt that for most people sight is the primary sense. More of our brain is devoted to processing sight than any other sense.

The Brain and Sight

Our amazing sight helps our brain to process information quickly and efficiently, and one of the things that humans are best at is ignoring nonessential information and tossing it out so that our enormous brains can focus on what they think are important. If we were to process every single thing, color, depth, and movement that our eyes are able to sense from moment to moment, we would be completely overwhelmed.


What does this have to do with high visibility clothing? As we drive down the road, our eyes are taking in more information than your desktop computer is capable of processing. Our amazing brains are continually tossing out the unimportant. There are certain things that we are accustomed to see on the road, and our brains are not looking for the unexpected in that situation. We don’t expect to see a human being walking down the side of a busy highway, so when one does we are unlikely to see that person. Certain things, however, such as bright reflective colors, easily catch our eye and force our brain to pay attention. High visibility clothing makes us see that person on the side of the road.

Does it Really Work?

Before the National Standard

One way of evaluating how well high visibility clothing works is to look at the regulations before America established a national standard for high visibility workwear. There had been guidelines for a long time, but most simply mandated that those working on the side of the road wear some sort of warning garment in red or orange. There were many deaths. In 1998, hundred and four workers were killed in roadside work areas. The situation was so serious that OSHA began inspecting road construction and sending representatives to Europe to find out how they did high visibility clothing.

National Standards

This situation continued until the adoption of the American National Standard for High-Visibility Apparel in 1999. These new regulations applied not only to those working at roadside construction but to anyone who might find themselves along the side of a busy road: EMTs and law enforcement, airport ground crews, utility workers, etc. The regulations applied to all kinds of clothing from vests to jackets, harnesses to winter and raingear.

What’s Different?

The new standards focus on making a worker visible from all sides. One of the problems with the previous gear was that a worker would only really be visible from the front or back. A worker whose side was turned toward traffic could not be seen any more easily than a person in normal street clothes. The new clothes are visible from all around, have fluorescent properties so that they can be seen easily even in the bright daylight, and are retroreflective so as to shine back into the lights of cars at night. This also means that workers don’t have to stop at dusk and change over from daytime gear to nighttime gear.


The new standards require certain colors for certain areas. If working in a wooded area, a worker cannot use green. If working in an area with lots of orange barrels, a worker cannot wear orange or red. The point is to draw attention to the human being.

Since the adoption of better national standards, death and injury have been minimized for workers on our roads. We’re always trying to invent better high visibility clothing, and the ultimate goal is that no workers be killed in a roadside accident ever again.