It’s a new way of looking at colour and safety.
“Sometimes the colour you have on makes a big difference,” says Dionne Murray Lemer, senior product manager for National Safety Apparel, a U.S. manufacturer of industrial safety workwear.
“It isn’t just how bright the colour, it’s also driver or operator recognition so they can divert their course.”
Generally, yellow has been the first choice for the vast majority of high-visibility safety apparel. Yellow appears to be the brightest colour in the spectrum and it’s the easiest colour to dye to a florescent hue for clothing or reflective trim.
Orange has been an under-looked option, says Murray Lemer.
Worker visibility is enhanced by high colour contrast between clothing and the job environment against which it is seen.
“It’s part of the risk assessment and based on where you work. It’s not necessarily the industry you are working in, it’s the location. The same company doing the same work in different locations should maybe have yellow at an urban site and orange at another in a rural area.”
Overall conspicuity contributes to the choice of the best colour for high visibility. Yellow shows up best against black or grey backgrounds. But it can start to blend in against green fields, woods or grassy meridians. Orange contrasts best in green and blue environments.
“What colour is the background? What other colours are competing for attention? What colour is the other equipment — at a lot of job sites that equipment is all yellow. It’s those kinds of things to consider,” says Murray Lemer.
“It’s not that one colour is best. It’s really up to the safety professional to determine the best colour for the worksite.”
Up until now, there has not been a flame-resistant orange reflective trim available that meets all Canadian and American standards in both high-visibility and flame-resistant categories.
“I really feel there is a lack of choice and that is to the detriment of safety.”
Murray Lemer is excited about a new product Davey Textiles Solutions (DTS) is bringing to the marketplace.
“I was really so excited they developed a FR orange trim,” she says.
“This trim from Davey allows orange to be incorporated into more flame-resistant solutions for contrast.”
Murray Lemer is leading an education program about the role of colour contrast in safety apparel.
“My plan is to educate the distributors and end-users to evaluate their workplace and understand the best option for them. That is why I wrote a paper Orange versus Yellow,” says Murray Lemer. “Our goal is to provide solutions to solve problems for customers.”
Being customer driven is what originally led Lelia Lawson, research and development specialist at DTS, to create the new product.
A client needed their trim to pass a laundry test — while still being flame resistant — to meet the full safety standards for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI 107) on its clothing. The trim is washed with different fabrics, including white, as part of the testing and cannot bleed into the fabric.
“It seems kind of silly, because the trim is usually sewn on dark fabrics,” says Lawson. “But that’s what’s required to meet the ANSI regulations. We were meeting Canadian regulations with our trim, just not the U.S. entirely.”
Lawson started brainstorming with her colleagues and over five months they experimented with a blend of polyester, as it has strong colourfastness, and modacrylics. Modacrylics are inherently flame resistant but shrink easily when exposed to high temperatures.
They had to find just the right blend to prevent excessive shrinkage.
“When we submitted the fabric to a lab for testing we had a hit.”
The new fabric has increased colour-fastness, increased durability and increased flame resistance (due to the higher percentage of modacrylic.)
“It outperforms on all points.”
The biggest benefit of this blend is due to the polyester content, which is easy to dye bright fluorescent colours, including orange.
Lawson believes no one else had thought of creating this fabric previously because of its unique combination.
“Most people don’t think of putting polyester into a flame-resistant article.”
DTS has a provisional patent on the new fabric and is in the final stages of obtaining the patent.
“It’s very exciting,” says Lawson.
Companies will be able to use this new fabric to make workwear for industrial use, knowing they will be meeting all Canadian and American standards:
CGSB (Canadian General Standards Board) 155.20
CSA (Canadian Standards Association) Z96
ANSI (American National Standards Institute) 107
NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 2112
Currently, orange makes up only five percent of the reflective trim DTS sells.
“We’ve already been manufacturing it and there is a growing demand. We’ve actually increased production substantially in the past few weeks.”
Lawson, who has worked at Davey Textiles for seven years and has a Master of Science in Human Ecology from the University of Alberta, is still working on perfecting the new fabric.
“It’s an interesting material and we’re learning more about it every day.”
Murray Lemer says the new trim is “awesome” and she expects to have products using it in her catalogue by the end of the year.
“It gives us more options to create solutions for people.”
Barb Wilkinson is a freelance writer and editor based in Edmonton