Yellow is the new black. The number of people now being required to wear high-visibility yellow safety clothing is becoming ridiculous.
It is destroying the original purpose of alerting people to increased risk or danger.
The yellow, orange or lime green shirts and jackets are becoming the new workplace uniform.
In today’s highly litigious society, companies are insisting workers wear safety clothing to reduce accidents and also, at least in a self-illusionary way, reduce company responsibility and liability in the event of an accident.
In many jobs the hi-vis clothing is sensible, effective and necessary. It is common sense.
The yellow jackets have long been worn in the building industry and road construction and maintenance. For anyone working in exposed areas, using noisy equipment or wearing safety ear muffs, high visibility clothing is appropriate.
But the use of yellow is spreading to a point where it is absurd.
In Australia the yellow safety jacket, or a variation of it, is becoming what the high-buttoned Mao jacket was to Communist China.
Just look around.
They are everywhere. Police, security officers, postal workers, courier drivers, on-foot delivery staff, truck drivers, window cleaners, tree loppers, council workers, cleaners, rubbish collectors, electricity, water and gas maintenance and installation staff, meter readers and parking inspectors are among the many employees now required to wear yellow, orange or lime green clothing.
And the insidious spread continues. Last week I met a city office worker who is required by his management to wear a yellow jacket when he goes outside to have a cigarette or when he walks to the deli to buy lunch.
I know a salesman who has been told to wear a yellow safety jacket when he goes to his car in the office car park. Where will it finish?
Will all people who work outdoors eventually be required to don the dreaded yellow? For example will waiting staff serving outdoor hotel or restaurant dining tables or taxi drivers who put luggage in their boots be forced into yellow?
Will children going to and from school sacrifice school uniforms for yellow? Or street joggers, people walking their dogs, volunteers selling charity stickers or mothers pushing prams?
Should people go to Trims and buy a yellow jacket they can wear when they prune their front hedge or mow the lawn verge?
The application of hi-vis accessories is also spreading. There are raincoats, motorcycle and bicycle clothing, overalls, trousers, hoodies, gloves, hats, ear muffs and lunch boxes.
Some jackets and shirts are best worn during the day, others are designed for night wear and there are models which can be worn at any time.
Some shirts and jackets are made with reflective strips.
There are models to combat the cold of winter or the heat of summer, including materials which prevent sunburn.
Obviously there is wisdom in workers in high-risk jobs wearing high visibility clothing.
There’s no argument that police or ambulance workers attending a road smash at night should show up in the headlights of an approaching vehicle.
But there is a danger that the over-use of the new black is diminishing its effectiveness. Staff may become overconfident, even blase, because they believe hi-vis clothing provides automatic protection.
Wearing yellow is like wearing a Superman suit.
And safety clothing is becoming so common, its use so widespread, that it is effectively becoming invisible.
Safety clothing should automatically alert people to potential danger. But as the use of yellow expands its original purpose as a visible warning diminishes. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. Yellow clothing is becoming so common people no longer see it.
Nobody any longer believes that yellow clothing automatically means there is genuine danger or increased risk.
By all means workers in high or even moderate risk occupations should wear high visibility clothing. But the rest of us should be more sceptical. We just might be doing more harm than good.