Humans didn’t evolve to work and move around in the darkness, and we definitely didn’t evolve to do so while in proximity to moving heavy equipment. Fortunately, we’re an adaptable species, and we can compensate for our lack of night vision by being smart about how we work at night.
But that means you need to be informed about the key safety precautions for improving your visibility when working at night. Your visibility level determines how easy it is for drivers and heavy equipment operators to see you at night, and visibility is a critical part of safety when performing night work on a construction site or road maintenance project.
So what should you be doing to ensure that you’re easily visible while on the job at night? Is a reflective vest enough, or should you go further? What kind of safety precautions should you demand from your employer? We’ll break down six ways to improve your nighttime visibility that will answer those questions for you.
#1: Wear ANSI-Rated High Visibility Clothing with Retro Reflective Features
For job site visibility at night, proper high visibility safety work clothes should always be your first line of defense. Professional-level hi vis clothing combines two visibility technologies that help make a human body easier to see at night: fluorescent colors and retroreflective tape.
- Fluorescent colors are bright yellows, greens and oranges that reflect more of the light spectrum than other colors, making them more easily visible.
- Retroreflective tape is a shiny, metallicized tape that reflects light — such as vehicle headlights — back in the direction it came from using glass beads, prisms or other reflective surfaces.
The American National Standards Institute, which creates safety standards for many different kinds of workplaces, has a safety standard called ANSI 107 that rates the performance of high visibility retroreflective clothing. ANSI 107 dictates which colors are effective for use in hi vis clothing and specifies the amount of reflective material that differentiates levels of hi vis workwear.
Thus, the first factor you should determine is which ANSI hi vis level is required for your work site. Generally, an ANSI class 3 or ANSI class 3 ensemble is the standard for night construction work, but needs can vary by site and work conditions.
#2: Attach LED Flashers to Your Outfit
If you’d like to add another visibility element to your hi vis clothing, consider attaching one or more small flashing LED lights to your outfit. Extra lights can make a big difference in your visibility, which is why you often see runners and bicyclists wearing them at night. But they can be similarly effective for construction and maintenance workers for increased visibility during nighttime work.
LED light flashers also have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive, as well as easy to find and install. However, LED lights are no substitute for real high visibility gear, so use them with hi vis reflective vests and jackets, not instead of them. Also, not every employer may allow them, so make sure to check with your management before you make a purchase.
#3: Consider High Contrast Stripes on Your Hi Vis Workwear
High contrast stripes are another excellent way to make yourself stand out more in a dark environment. These vibrant patterns mix and match multiple hi vis colors together to create striping patterns that are even more visible than normal hi vis workwear, potentially boosting motorists and equipment operators’ ability to pick you out of the background.
Most hi vis workwear companies now offer high contrast options, whether they are vests, jackets, pants or another hi vis garment. If you’re worried that normal hi vis workwear might not be enough, high contrast might be the answer you’re looking for.
#4: Know the Highest Visibility Routes Available and Use them Whenever Possible
Some areas of your workspace may be more brightly lit than others. Additionally, some areas may also have features such as blind corners that limit visibility. Everyone should know where these areas are and stick to the safer, more well-lit routes as much as possible.
Hopefully, your site management has taken the effort to design job sites that are well-lit and easy to navigate. Areas with fall hazards, electrical hazards, machinery hazards or other major dangers should be especially well lit. When you’re in one of these areas, make sure to avoid sudden movements as much as possible and move with purpose while you’re there.
#5: Add Retroreflective Tape to Your Work Equipment
Most people use various types of tools and equipment to do their jobs, and another way you can improve your visibility is to modify your equipment by attaching retroreflective tape to it. Retroreflective tape is widely available from safety equipment suppliers in rugged and durable designs that last for years.
Applying the tape is usually fairly simple. Find a surface at least a few inches long where you can attach the tape without obstructing any of the tool’s functions, and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Alternatively, you might try something like wrapping a flashlight handle with reflective tape.
#6: Demand job site lighting from your employer.
Any site where night work takes place needs to be properly lit. That’s not just our opinion, either; that’s the law under OSHA. In fact, OSHA has specific standards for the illumination levels that have to be present in various types of work areas.
If you’re concerned about the level of lighting at your worksite, bring it up with your employer and contact your state’s Department of Labor if your employer isn’t responsive. Every employee deserves a work environment with enough lighting to safely do their job.
Sometimes, getting things done means getting them done in the dark. And, although we face different dangers from the darkness than our ancestors did, we also have many more-sophisticated tools to face them. Making use of those tools is what will get you home safely.