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Construction jobs are high-risk jobs, so it is crucial for people working at construction sites to stay alert and visible enough at all times to prevent potentially fatal accidents. Construction equipment is typically in bright colors (such as red, orange, and yellow) for better visibility. However, most construction equipment is yellow — but why so?
Most construction equipment is yellow because Caterpillar decided to paint all their machinery yellow in 1931, and other companies chose to emulate them. Additionally, the choice to use yellow paint on construction equipment is optimal for safety as the color stands out.
Yellow has since been considered the gold standard for nearly anything associated with construction. Read on to find out why most construction equipment is painted yellow, including the science behind it.
Why Construction Equipment Is Yellow
After Caterpillar switched from Battleship Gray to Hi-Way Yellow in 1931, other companies followed suit. In 1957, Case built its first yellow tractor with a loader and a backhoe combination. Then in 1965, Volvo created its own yellow backhoe/excavator loader. Shortly after that, John Deere painted its construction equipment yellow as well.
In 1979, Caterpillar tweaked its paint formula and switched to the patented Caterpillar Yellow that we know today. As such, yellow construction equipment became adopted as the norm.
While Volvo, Case, and John Deere may have picked yellow as a way to piggyback off the success that Caterpillar was experiencing, scientifically, yellow is the best color for construction equipment.
Yellow Means Danger, Stay Away
While Caterpillar receives credit for beginning the yellow construction equipment trend, a big reason why yellow is akin to workplace hazards is due to evolutionary biology. Throughout human history, the color yellow signifies danger within the animal kingdom.
Humans naturally associate animals with the color yellow (or any other bright colors), like spiders, snakes, frogs, wasps, and bees, as poisonous, as this is often the case.
Naturally, humans and many other animals go out of their way to avoid animals that contain the color yellow. Quite simply, yellow means danger; stay away. By evolutionary default, danger and yellow construction equipment go hand in hand.
Even personnel on construction crews must legally wear yellow vests in many nations. The science is clear; yellow stands out the most of any color, giving people the best chance of seeing large machinery.
The Eye Sees Yellow Equipment With Ease
Even out of the corner of the eye, it is easy to identify yellow construction equipment. At night time, yellow is the most noticeable color out of the visible spectrum and is the easiest color to see.
Furthermore, yellow is the easiest color to see when conditions are hazy, foggy, or dusty. In nearly all situations, yellow is most visible, making it the best choice for identifying hazardous objects.
Yellow is the perfect color for construction equipment, as a construction site is often dusty, reducing visibility significantly. Since the color yellow stands out so well, many fire departments switched from painting their fire trucks red to painting them yellow to be seen at night and in smoky conditions.
The Science Behind Yellow’s Visible Nature
Yellow is the brightest color overall due to how our eyes perceive the visible spectrum. Without getting too in-depth, both the red and green cones, the optical structures that allow us to see colors, are activated to see yellow. Yellow is perceived to be the brightest color, both during the day and at night, because it activates two types of cones instead of one.
Additionally, the color yellow is mentally processed faster than other colors, allowing the brain to identify objects painted in yellow milliseconds quicker. Even a difference in milliseconds can be enough to avoid an accident. Scientifically speaking, yellow construction equipment is the safest option available.
Yellow Equals Hazardous
The color yellow is associated with caution in many industries. For instance, the yellow traffic light signifies a driver to either slow down in preparation to stop or proceed with heightened caution. Many health and safety organizations throughout governments worldwide have adopted yellow as the color synonymous with hazardous.
Does Law Mandate Yellow Construction Equipment?
The law does not mandate yellow construction equipment. Certain companies like Hitachi paint their construction equipment safety orange, mainly for branding purposes, and orange stands out. In any case, any color that stands out is crucially essential for safety.
OSHA and ANSI
OSHA has dictated that “yellow indicates caution and is used for physical hazards, including striking against, stumbling, falling, tripping, and caught in between.” ANSI also requires yellow to point out hazards that have the potential to cause injuries.
In the UK, the Health and Safety Regulations have mandated that the color yellow is used on safety signs on construction sites to note the hazard. This law is a natural extension of yellow construction equipment, standardizing the color yellow with anything to do with construction.
While it is not necessarily mandatory to create yellow construction equipment, it is generally common practice for safety. In reality, any bright color that stands out from the background is a good choice for heavy equipment. For instance, tractors are green, red, and blue. While not yellow, any bright colors accomplish the same goal.
Will the Government Mandate All Construction Equipment to Be Yellow?
It is unlikely that the government will mandate all construction equipment to be yellow. That is because nearly all construction equipment today is already yellow. However, there is no better color than yellow to signify construction hazards.
Yellow stands out the most of any color on the spectrum, and the brain responds to yellow the quickest, making it the logical option for construction equipment.
Preventing workplace injuries, especially at night and in hazy conditions, by using bright colors to indicate any danger is only logical and backed by science. Therefore, using yellow construction equipment undoubtedly prevents numerous deaths every year.
Caterpillar was definitely onto something when they decided that yellow was the color of choice for their machinery.
- United States Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- Caterpillar: The Evolving Look of Cat® Machines
- Volvo: Backhoe/Excavator Loaders
- Case: Heritage
- Graphic Products: OSHA and ANSI Safety Colors
- American Psychological Association: Why lime-yellow fire trucks are safer than red
- Very Well Mind: The Color Psychology of Yellow
- Springer Link: Relative speed of processing determines color–word contingency learning
- Legislation: The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996
- Science Buddies: Be Seen After Dark—What Clothes Keep You Safe?