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Bright Colors for Safe Business

Posted on 05/05/14
Safety VestsAnyone working in an environment with large equipment should equip themselves with highly visible vests. This is also true for those working near heavy traffic, especially at night, because high-contrast colors can help prevent accidents both in and near the workplace. Let's take a look at what science tells us about color contrast, what colors the eyes see best, and how this results in these colorful safety vests. Just what are the OSHA requirements for vest colors, and why are they all so bright?

Color Theory: It All Comes Down to Cones

Color is what "happens" when our visual systems respond to light throughout our environment. The point of color? We probably evolved to see color to help us determine sources of good food and to find healthy mates. Oddly enough, color isn't exactly an intrinsic feature of our world; rather, it's based completely on perception of our environment, and it depends on the light that shines on an object due to time of day and other factors.

The part of your eye that determines color is made up of photoreceptors called cones. When you look at an object, let's say a red apple, wavelengths of around 700 nanometers bounce back at you. Those are the wavelengths that communicate the color red to the eyes. The wavelengths reach your retina, all the way at the back of the eye, where the cones are located. We have up to 7 million of these tiny cells, and not all are created equal. Roughly 64% of cones respond mostly to red light; roughly 33% deal with green light; and a measly 2% respond most strongly to blue.

We see color better than most other mammals, but a number of birds, fish, and even insects have us beat. These animals have an extra type of cone that allows them to perceive ultraviolet light, which is invisible to us.

OSHA Safety Vest Requirements

What do these color facts have to do with workplace safety? Well, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, requires that workers wear safety gear to reduce the risk of automobile accidents at night. Safety gear means reflective vests that are colored orange, bright yellow-green (think of a highlighter), white, or silver.These bright colors are most likely to stand out in the dark and will reflect light that hits them - whether it's a flashlight or a car's headlight - providing extra safety for the workers wearing them.

Author: Robert Stillman CEO

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