Skip to Content

What is the orange color for safety?

What is the orange color for safety?

Orange is a bright and vibrant color that has become strongly associated with safety and high visibility. When used appropriately, the color orange can quickly grab attention, convey critical safety information, and help prevent accidents and injuries. In this article, we’ll explore why orange is often used for safety applications, look at some key examples, and discuss research and standards around orange as a safety color.

The Visibility of Orange

One of the main reasons orange is utilized for safety and visibility is its visual properties. Orange is located between red and yellow on the color spectrum. It has a dominant wavelength around 610-620 nanometers. When light in this wavelength range enters our eyes, our retina’s cone cells send strong signal to the brain about seeing “orange.”

This makes orange extremely noticeable, especially against common backgrounds like green foliage, blue sky, gray concrete, or black asphalt. Orange provides high contrast and visual pop. Studies have shown that our eyes discern orange faster than any color other than red.

However, too much red can appear ominous or alarming. Orange maintains excellent visibility while feeling energetic and friendly. The high visibility and strong visual impact of orange, along with its positive associations, make it ideal for drawing quick attention to safety applications.

Use in Work Zone Safety

One of the most prominent uses of orange as a safety color is on work zone apparel and traffic control devices. When construction crews are working on roads, highways, or other infrastructure, high visibility is crucial. Roadwork sites are filled with hazards, and drivers need clear warnings to modify their behavior.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires high-visibility safety apparel at many worksites. Orange shirts, vests, jackets and other gear help workers stand out. Retroreflective silver stripes add nighttime visibility. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has visibility standards for work wear that specify levels of orange and reflective materials.

Traffic cones, barrels, barriers, signs, and flagging are also bright orange. This commands attention from oncoming motorists and forces them to slow down, move over, and proceed cautiously. Orange mesh fencing demarcates active work areas. Drivers associating orange with work zone hazards helps improve work crew safety.

Use in Hunting Gear

Another common use of blaze orange is for hunting apparel. Every year, accidental hunter shootings result in deaths and injuries. Mistaking people for game animals leads to these unnecessary tragedies.

Many states now mandate the use of fluorescent orange by hunters during firearm seasons. Others recommend it as a safety precaution. Orange hats, jackets, and vests are standard gear. This coloration sticks out against the browns, greens, grays and muted hues of forest environments.

Seeing other hunters clearly helps prevent mistakes. It also allows people who aren’t hunting, like hikers, to announce their presence. The aim is preventing risk to both hunters and bystanders. Bright orange clothing has likely saved many lives during hunting season.

Use on Equipment and Machinery

Orange paint and decals are also common on construction equipment and machinery. Heavy equipment like backhoes, excavators, bulldozers, and cranes have excellent visibility from the operator’s seat. But the operator’s perspective can be quite limited. People on the ground don’t always know when machines are moving or turning.

Placing orange on various parts of the equipment improves visibility to workers on foot. This allows them to keep a safer distance. It also highlights pinch points and rotating components so people avoid those hazardous areas.

Manufacturers will often use orange paint or decals to draw attention to specific safety hazards on equipment. Orange strpes on forklifts, for example, tell pedestrians and other drivers to keep back. This simple use of color helps reinforce critical safety information.

Use on Consumer Products

Orange also appears frequently on consumer and commercial products to highlight safety concerns. Orange plastic guards often cover sharp cutting blades. You commonly see orange wrapping around blades on chopsaws, lawnmower blades, hedge trimmers and more.

Many trigger locking devices and barrel blocks that prevent firearms from discharging have orange components. This quickly tells users the gun is disabled and prevents inadvertent handling. Orange plastic bars also prevent many types of industrial machines from activating during maintenance.

Simple and affordable products like orange outlet caps, bright orange tool handles, orange extension cord sheathing, orange ladder feet, and more utilize the color to draw attention to electrical and fall risks. Orange makes product dangers clear at a glance.

Use on Animals

Some animals even utilize orange coloration to signal toxicity and unpalatability. Certain frogs, salamanders, insects, and marine organisms have orange skin or markings to deter predators. The coloration mimics organisms that taste bad or are dangerous to eat.

Bright orange feathers on certain birds also help camouflage them as unappetizing prey for larger animals. The common oriole, tanager, Baltimore oriole, and Bullock’s oriole all have vivid orange plumage that may protect them from predators.

Scientific Research on Orange as a Safety Color

Significant scientific research has gone into studying orange as a safety color. Studies have tested observer reaction times, hazard detection, color visibility against various backgrounds, saturation thresholds, and more.

Research has compared orange against other high-visibility colors like red, green, blue, yellow and lime green. Colors are sometimes ranked for noticeability. Orange consistently performs as one of the most attention-grabbing colors.

Studies have also explored how factors like color luminance, size of objects, distance, ambient lighting, motion, and peripheral vision impact orange’s visibility. This research has helped refine standards for safety apparel, signage, and other warning applications.

Safety Color Standards and Regulations

Extensive regulations and standards govern the use of orange as a safety color. Some key examples include:

  • ANSI/ISEA 107 – High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Equipment
  • ANSI Z535 – Safety Signs and Colors
  • CSA Z96 – High-Visibility Safety Apparel
  • EN ISO 20471 – High-Visibility Clothing
  • UL 94 – Tests for Flammability of Plastic Materials
  • OSHA Rule 1926.201 – High-Visibility Vest Requirements
  • MUTCD – Traffic Control Device Standards

These standards designate specific colors like safety orange, along with required levels of retroreflective elements and illumination. They also provide minimum areas and placement of orange materials for different types of safety garments and equipment.

Retroreflectivity for Nighttime Visibility

While the orange color provides excellent visibility in daylight, additional measures are required for low light conditions. That’s why safety garments, signs, and equipment have retroreflective silver or white stripes added.

Retroreflective materials bounce light from vehicle headlights back to the driver. This makes the orange color persist into the nighttime. Retroreflective bands also add visibility when illuminated by work lights, flashlights, and other nearby light sources.

Studies have confirmed retroreflectivity maintains effective visual performance of safety orange coloration in low ambient light. Using retroreflective materials in tandem with orange makes around-the-clock hazard visibility possible.

Use of Fluorescent Pigments

To maximize the visibility and color consistency of safety orange, fluorescent pigments are typically used. These pigments absorb invisible ultraviolet light and re-emit it as visible orange light.

This makes safety orange brighter and more eye-catching, especially on safety vests, clothing, signs, and equipment. Fluorescent orange paint maintains its chromaticity and luminance across a wide range of illumination conditions.

Fluorescent pigments also resist fading, which is essential for long-lasting visibility outdoors. Safety regulations like ANSI 107 specify using fluorescent orange rather than standard orange pigments.

Specific Hues for Safety Orange

Orange comes in many possible hues, tints and shades. But regulations standardize the specific orange utilized for safety purposes.

OSHA guidance, ANSI Z535, and other standards define safety orange as corresponding to the Munsell Book of Color hue code 7.5YR 6/14. This is a highly chromatic orange with strong visual impact.

Safety orange also corresponds closely to Federal Standard 595b color #12199. Standardized hues ensure consistent visibility performance across different safety garments, signage, equipment and situations.

Combining Orange with Contrasting Colors

While orange on its own is highly visible, combining it with contrasting color blocks can further enhance noticeability. Black, white, gray, blue and yellow are often used alongside orange for maximum contrast.

Traffic barrels and safety cones, for example, commonly feature alternating orange and white stripes. Safety vests may have reflective silver stripes dividing orange sections. The sharp visual contrast helps the orange catch a viewer’s eye.

In some settings, blocks of orange offset by navy blue also create helpful color differentiation. Combinations are designed based on factors like being discernible to colorblind observers.

Support From Color and Vision Science

There is strong scientific support for orange as an effective safety color:

  • High luminance contrast against typical backgrounds
  • Quickly discernible and highly conspicuous
  • Located in peak visibility range of light spectrum
  • Strong chromaticity for good color discrimination
  • Positive effect on peripheral vision and motion detection
  • Retains visibility when glare reduces blue/green contrast

Factors like rod and cone reception in the eye, light wavelengths, visual processing in the brain, and color appearance mechanisms all make orange ideally suited for hazards and warnings.

Cultural Associations With Orange

The prevalent use of orange for safety may stem in part from cultural associations. In the United States and Europe, orange is strongly linked to danger, warnings, caution, and boundaries. Young children quickly learn that orange means be careful.

This is seen in labeling on orange prescription bottles, household cleaners, and dangerous tools or chemicals. Orange surrounds excavation sites, road hazards, high voltage equipment, and other risks. The cultural learning reinforces orange as signaling safety precautions are needed.

Disadvantages and Limitations

While safety orange is highly visible in many conditions, it does have some limitations:

  • Low contrast against similar colors like amber, brown, and brick red
  • Less discernible for some colorblind individuals than red or yellow
  • Less visible in fog than lighter colors
  • Less nighttime contrast than reflective white
  • Orange fabrics can degrade from sun exposure

Combining orange with white or silver reflective materials, using fluorescent pigments, and meeting safety regulations helps compensate for these issues. But additional precautions may be needed in some specific situations.


Orange has established itself as an essential safety color across many industries and applications. Its inherent visibility properties, positive associations, supporting technical research, and major regulations all validate the effectiveness of orange for preventing accidents and injuries.

Careful use of standardized safety orange on clothing, vehicles, equipment, signage, consumer products, and more will continue helping protect workers, the general public, and even wildlife well into the future.

Industry Key Uses of Safety Orange
Construction and Infrastructure Work vests, cones, netting, signage
Transportation and Traffic Barrels, safety garments, truck markings
Manufacturing Machine guards, warning decals, safety tags
Automotive Triangle reflectors, lift arm warnings
Outdoors and Recreation Hunting clothing, life jackets, safety pads
Fire Protection Extinguishers, signage, thermal blankets
Marine and Aviation Flotation devices, hazard markers, seat cushions