Hi-Vis Safety: Orange or Yellow?
When evaluating high visibility safety apparel, how does one choose between yellow and orange safety vests or work wear? Which color provides the best protection? Our sensitivity to color, the work environment and subconscious responses contribute to our opinion as to which color provides the best protection. When comparing the two colors, many people will say that yellow appears “brighter.” This is true when considering the color of the garment alone, but there are other variables. To answer the question of whether orange or yellow is safer, we will explore a few additional factors and their impact on overall conspicuity, or visibility.
Conspicuity refers to the ability of an object to come to the attention of an observer. This is especially important in complex environments with competing objects - for example, a crew working on a utility pole at a busy urban cross street, or a First Responder on scene at a highway accident. Drivers have so many objects competing for their attention during their daily drive: how do we ensure workers adjacent to the roadway are noticed? We make them conspicuous through contrast and recognition.
Contrast for Detection
Detection can be achieved by using a fluorescent color against a contrasting background. Contrast may also be achieved by combining “high contrast” colors in one garment. For instance, both black and fluorescent yellow in high visibility PPE creates a sharp contrast that may be more noticeable in competing back grounds.
Recently while travelling I observed road work and lane closures on a highway with average speeds of 70mph. The barrels were Orange, the workers wore fluorescent yellow and the center median was green grass. From a distance the barrels were much more noticeable in Orange because of the high contrast with the green background. The workers who were in fluorescent yellow high visibility safety apparel blended into the green background. Until the vehicle was within 50 yards they were not even noticeable. Orange against the green grass median created a high contrast for easy detection.
Recognition for Conspicuity
A subconscious response to color is a form of recognition. Colors can help drivers and equipment operators recognize workers. While fluorescent yellow is the brightest color on the chromaticity scale and the most widely used, orange hi-vis PPE has strong recognition as a hazard identifier - orange means “caution” or “watch out.”
Orange has been widely used in road construction signs, cones, barrels and delineators. Orange is also featured in the auto warning triangle. In road construction, orange may be the color of recognition for a driver because it is associated with roadside work. Orange also has a strong position in identifying humans while hunting.
Orange is the required safety color to allow hunters to be recognized by one another in complex backgrounds that are often green or brown. Because this man-made color does not occur naturally in the forest, it is easier for the human mind to recognize fluorescent orange as marking a human figure. Advocates began promoting wearing orange while hunting in the 1960s, as it was the easiest color to see and recognize in the hunting environment.
Which Color Provides the Best Protection?
We get this question a lot - yellow or orange? It depends. Conspicuity is a combination of detection and recognition. When purchasing protective apparel for workers that are exposed to visibility hazards – whether standard hi-vis workwear or FR hi-vis - keep the job site environment and current visibility regulations in mind. Contrast for detection, ANSI visibility standards and recognition for conspicuity should be considerations for the selection of the appropriate hi-vis apparel for your team.
To explore more variables on the question of ‘Which Color Provides the Best Protection?’, read our white paper Choosing Between Orange and Yellow High Visibility Apparel – Which is Safer?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dionne Lemer brings more than thirty years of experience in safety product knowledge and training. Starting in the family business, Safety & Supply Company in the 80s, Dionne developed her passion for product knowledge and training. She served the industry on the Washington State Construction Safety Council, ASSE and Labor & Industry. She has conducted training programs in fall protection, respiratory fit testing, gas detection and calibration and hearing conservation and has assisted users in many industries in proper selection and application of fall protection systems, gas detection systems, arc-rated / flame resistant clothing and rainwear and high visibility safety apparel. Dionne joined National Safety Apparel in 2013, bringing her passion and knowledge for High Visibility and FR fabrics to a Product Manager position.
Today, as Senior Product Manager for High Visibility and Rainwear at National Safety Apparel, Dionne develops new products, provides field sales support and product training. With her team, she collaborates to improve customer experiences by providing solutions to the ever-changing needs in flame resistant and standard workwear high-visibility and rainwear. Dionne is currently serving on the ISEA High Visibility Products Group (ANSI 107 Committee).