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Archive for February 24th, 2010

highly visible

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Broadway near Steinway Street – photo by Mitch Waxman

As your humble narrator scuttles from place to place, turning over rocks to see what blind albino abnormalities might lurk beneath, a significant amount of road construction is encountered. New York is always in a state of near collapse and an army of municipal and contractor labor is kept busy filling in the cracks. Conflicted over sneaking pictures of these folks, I nevertheless find them fascinating, for the high visibility colors they wear excite the eye.


Title: ANSI/ISEA 107-2004: Revised American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and HeadwearAbstract: This standard provides a uniform, authoritative guide for the design, performance specifications, and use of high-visibility and reflective apparel including vests, jackets, bib/jumpsuit coveralls, trousers and harnesses. Garments that meet this standard can be worn 24 hours a day to provide users with a high level of conspicuity through the use of combined fluorescent and retroreflective materials. The revised version of the standard expands the product coverage to include high-visibility headwear. It also contains additional testing procedures for knitted fabrics used as background material, and eliminates tests from the previous edition that added no value. Publisher: International Safety Equipment Association

Third Avenue Manhattan – photo by Mitch Waxman

If it won’t blind or distract the crews, don’t forget that this is heavy industry and quite dangerous work, try turning on the camera flash when photographing them. The reflective fabrics, technically retroreflective fabrics (which function like a Cat’s eyeshine), will blaze up and be the brightest point in the photo. New York City street signs also function in a similar fashion, and even the weakest flash will light them up from blocks away. Try it, especially on a dark and stormy day, the effects are somewhat unpredictable and often produce a prismatic and surreal photo.


Class 1: needs to be conspicuous and use retroreflective materials not less than 25mm in width.

  • Used when workers are well separated from traffic
  • Vehicle speeds of less than 25 mph
  • Parking attendants
  • Shopping cart retrievers
  • Warehouse workers
  • Roadside/sidewalk maintenance workers
  • Delivery vehicle drivers

Class 2: maintains superior visibility and are more conspicuous than the Class 1 garments. Minimum width of retroreflective material used on these is not less than 35mm.

  • Used when workers are on or near roadways
  • Vehicle speeds of 25 to 50 mph
  • Roadway construction workers
  • Utility workers
  • Survey crews
  • Law enforcement personnel
  • Crossing guards
  • High-volume parking lot or toll-gate attendants
  • Airport baggage handlers and ground crews
  • Railway workers
  • Emergency response personnel
  • Accident site investigators

Class 3: has greatest visibility. Maintains more retroreflective material than Class 2 and must have sleeves with retroreflective material between the shoulders and elbows. Not less than 50mm wide of retroreflective material.

  • Used for workers in high risk situations
  • Allows them to be seen from a minimum distance of 1,280 ft.
  • Vehicle speeds of greater than 50 mph
  • Roadway construction workers
  • Utility workers
  • Survey crews
  • Emergency response personnel

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

All of the municipal and construction rules are meant to conform to the national OSHA specifications, but individual city organizations have their own wrinkle on safety gear. MTA workers, for instance, are often observed wearing goggles and ear protection as they work. No doubt, this is due to individual union agreements and task specific requirements.


All DOT employees, contractor employees and visitors must wear protective helmets and high visibility construction apparel while working within a highway right of way or contract limits.  Flaggers must wear high visibility traffic control apparel when directing or spotting traffic.  High-visibility apparel is not required for employees and visitors when they are within a completely enclosed cab constructed of steel frame and glass, or inside a motor vehicle.

37th avenue, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

NYFD, of course, has the most stringent series of rules for its crews. In the shot above, a 5 alarm fire at an industrial warehouse was belching black smoke into the street, but the firefighters are clearly identifiable through the murk- due to camera flash. Be careful around NYFD however, as they’re kind of busy people, and you don’t want to distract them. Also, should there be any piezoelectric activated equipment in use- DO NOT use your flash for fear of activating something.


Back in November of 2008, there was a lot of confusion about the use of high-visibility vests at roadway incidents due to a new Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Rule.  The new regulation, Rule 634, stated 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.”

That regulation created a dilemma for fire departments who were truly interested in protecting their personnel.  The training classes and material used by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI) for years has suggested the use of high-visibility garments for public safety personnel when working around traffic.  NFPA 1500, the Firefighter Health and Safety Standard has included a requirement for firefighters to wear safety vests at traffic incidents in the last two most recent editions.  NIOSH Line of Duty Death Investigations have also included recommendations for responders to wear highly visible flagger vests when exposed to moving traffic.  In the fire service community it was generally understood that the vests were not appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for personnel who were actively engaged in firefighting operations because those garments are not designed for exposure to fire, heat flame or hazardous materials.  Rule 634, as originally published however did not outline any exemptions for firefighters engaged in direct firefighting operations and that created the dilemma.

Bridge Plaza North, Queens Plaza – photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is fascinating to me, for reasons that have little to do with the safety equipment exhibited. The trench that this trio is working in is down by Queens Plaza, and the cutaway shows a historical record. Notice the top layer of asphalt, then two distinct layers of cobblestones, then dirt and rock fill. Asphalt- modern, cobbles 1- the construction of the Queensboro bridge and associated roadways, cobbles 2- the pre bridge street, dirt and fill- that’s a 19th century, civil war era street. I’d love to have an archaeologist sift through this trench, but there’s nothing of historic importance in Queens… according to the City.

Note- the Charles Rudebaker wiki quote below… I’m a little squirrely on this particular wikipedia entry. The only info I could find on Rudebaker, a New Yorker who supposedly invented the Traffic Cone, parroted this exact wording all across the net. Take it with a grain of salt, until I can find out more. It very well might be a “false meme” which is a sort of “Lulz“.

from wikipedia

Traffic cones, also called road cones, highway cones, safety cones or construction cones, are usually cone-shaped markers that are placed on roads or footpaths to temporarily redirect traffic in a safe manner. They are often used to create separation or merge lanes during road construction projects or automobile accidents, although heavier, more permanent markers or signs are used if the diversion is to stay in place for a long period of time.

Traffic cones were invented in 1914 by Charles P. Rudebaker. Although originally made of concrete, today’s versions are more commonly brightly-coloured thermoplastic or rubber cones. Not all traffic cones are conical. Pillar shaped movable bollards fulfil a similar function.

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