Safety Articles

Article # 5102

The Power of Color In Compliance

A green light means go; a red rose means love; and a white flag means surrender. In industry, color has just as many diverse and important roles.

For many years, color has aided plant workers in the identification and location of physical hazards and equipment. Advances in printing, dyeing, and textile technologies have created unique and innovative uses of color in a variety of industries.

No Blue Chicken
In the poultry industry, latex gloves are important personal protection equipment. Line workers wear gloves (with wire mesh underneath) to protect their hands from cuts and other hazards. Eventually, however, chicken fats break down latex, and pieces of the glove could fall into the chicken. Historically, latex gloves were clear or white, and they blended in with the chicken being processed. To make it easy for inspectors to separate the latex from the chicken, Magid recommends blue latex gloves just for the poultry industry.

At a chicken processing plant, where they process more than 72,000 chickens each year, blue gloves are worn by every line worker. "We have 60 workers wearing blue gloves," says Julie Klingbeil, a nurse at the plant. "From time-to-time, a piece of the glove breaks off and falls into the meat. With the highly-visible blue color, the glove fragment is easily spotted and removed."

At another leading chicken processor, they've taken the use of colored latex gloves one step further. According to the plant's Personnel Manager, Gina Thomas, the company uses blue gloves in the canning (or raw) area and green latex gloves in the cooked area to help insure that material used in each area remains separate. In this instance, color does double duty: it makes it easy for inspectors to find missing gloves fragments, and it makes it easy for plant managers to separate two distinct functions.

A major turkey processing company uses color another way. The day shift wears white aprons, and the night shift wears blue aprons. In this way, supervisors can tell which workers are on overtime pay and make scheduling changes as necessary.

Like the chicken processors, the turkey processing company also relies on blue gloves to make it easy for their inspectors to find missing gloves fragments. Furthermore, many employees, according to the turkey processing company's Kimberly Landau, wear green tape on their wrists and fingers for additional support and protection. The green colored tape is also essential for easy identification should it fall into the meat.

Thinking Caps
In industry - as it was in the Old West - you can often determine a worker's role by the color of his hat. While you're not likely to see a black or white Stetson in a steel mill these days, you are likely to know that anyone with a white hard hat is a supervisor. That is, if you work at a leading steel manufacturer. In fact, according to James Ireland, OSHA coordinator for one of the company's locations, the company uses three hat colors to distinguish the role of the wearer.

"We use three colors - high-vis orange, yellow, and white - for our hard hat color scheme, " says Ireland. "On each side of the hat and on the back, there is a colored stripe, which is baked into the hat to identify the wearer's trade. In this manner, we can quickly and easily determine someone's role in the plant without having to ask. Therefore, if you need a millwright, electrician, operator, or field service person, you simply look for someone with the appropriate color stripe on his cap."

Ireland continues, "If a person is new to the plant, we put contrasting stripes (three yellow stripes across the top of an orange hard hat) on the hard hat. After 30 days, the employee can remove the stripes, if he chooses."

The plant is a virtual color cornucopia. In addition to using color-coded hard hats, the facility also relies on colorcoded, flame retardant clothing to keep those that work in the highly regulated coke battery from entering other parts of the plant.

"Coke emissions are regulated, so we need a method of assuring that those who work in the coke area do not walk into other areas of the plant before changing clothes," explains Ireland.

To help supervisors identify coke workers, the workers are supplied with orange flame retardant clothing, while the rest of the plant's workers wear green or blue flame retardant clothes.

This steel manufacturer is not alone in its use of colored clothing to segment its workforce. At the turkey processing company, they use different color bump caps to not only differentiate a worker's role, but also his level of training. For instance, some workers have markings on their bump cap that indicate that they have special training or skills, such as first aid training or the ability to drive a fork lift. "The use of color for this purpose works well for us," says Landau, "because we can quickly call on someone with special training or a special skill without having to ask questions or know them by name."

We order special decals for our bump caps from Magid," Landau continues, "because we are in a wet/damp environment, and we can't wear anything pinned to our clothing. The decals stick to bump caps, and we don't have to worry about them falling off."

"Color-coding definitely works," Ireland concludes. It makes everything consistent, and it gives everyone a sense of security."