The chances are that wherever you work, high-visibility clothing, also known as ‘Hi-Vis’, is a prominent item of personal protective equipment (PPE). It first came to the UK in 1964, in the form of fluorescent orange vests that were experimented with on the railways in Scotland.
By 1974, new regulations required bosses to guard against potential industrial hazards, ensuring its place in the workplace. There are many sectors that require Hi-Vis clothing, from utilities, roadside, transport, construction, and manufacturing, to emergency services, warehousing and airport runway staff, as Richard Sansom, product and procurement manager of safety equipment provider Arco, explains.
“Hi-Vis clothing is used across almost all industrial sectors and environments,” he says. “Anywhere that requires people to be seen or be more obvious can use Hi-Vis garments to enhance the visibility of their employees. It is especially important where you have moving plant or equipment and a high level of people movement in close proximity.”
UK legal requirement
The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to adequately undertake a risk assessment for any work carried out by an employee. “This risk assessment should identify the risks posed to the employee, and what measures the employer could undertake to mitigate the risk,” says Sansom. He explains that PPE is the last resort in a hazardous environment where there is risk of injury – and included in PPE is Hi-Vis. “This clothing is designed to make the wearer more visible in conditions of daylight, low light and at night when lights are shone on the garments,” he adds.
The standard behind Hi-Vis clothing Standard EN20471 (ISO: 20471:2013), high visibility clothing – test methods and requirements, was last reviewed and confirmed in 2018. “This standard details the requirement of high-visibility clothing which is capable of visually signalling the users presence,” explains Laura Fish, product manager at Strata Protection, a designer and manufacturer of PPE. “The garments are required to provide increased visibility of the wearer in any light conditions when viewed by operators of vehicles during daylight and by headlight from dusk.”
In order to meet these requirements, all garments must be CE marked and certified. The requirement includes specific coloured garments with high-visibility properties, along with retroreflective material, usually in the form of tape.
“The area of high visibility must be adequate in order to achieve certain levels, also known as ‘classes’ of high-visibility,” Fish adds. “The higher the class, the more visible the garment.”
● Class One: Minimum background material: 0.14m², Minimum retro-reflective material: 0.10m² – an example of a situation where Class One garments are required is in low-risk environments where traffic flow does not exceed 25mph, such as service and transportation
● Class Two: Minimum background material: 0.50m², Minimum retro-reflective material: 0.13m² – an example of a situation where Class Two garments would be needed is in mid-risk environments where there is a risk of heavier traffic and of poor weather conditions potentially affecting visibility, such as building and construction
● Class Three: Minimum background material: 0.80m2, Minimum retro-reflective material: 0.20m² – an example of a situation where Class Three garments would be needed is in high risk environments where workers are in close contact with heavy traffic exceeding 50mph, such as on the roadside and by railway lines
“EN20471 also covers the design aspect of a garment. It states that all Class Three garments must cover the torso and have a minimum of both sleeves with reflective bands or full-length trousers with reflective bands. Therefore sleeveless Class Three garments can no longer be CE marked or certified,” Fish says. “Garments can now be CE-marked as an outfit, as opposed to a single garment to fulfil the criteria for a certain performance class.”
Colours, fabrics & garments
When it comes to Hi-Vis colours, there are only three that have been approved – yellow, orange and red. Sansom explains that “no other colour” can be certified to this standard.
“There are many garments available in bright pink, blue and lime green that feature reflective tape; however, these are not certified and should never be used in a professional or hazardous environment unless specifically stated within a risk assessment,” he says.
Fish adds that the colour required is usually determined by the specific industry and fabric variation is usually determined by the job role, for example, most outdoor workers will have a requirement for waterproof garments, whereby the fabric must have water resistant properties.
John Baxter, asset governance manager at E.ON UK Business Heat and Power Solutions, explains, that workers wear flame-retardant overalls at its power plants, which are split between red and yellow with reflective strips. “Basically, the top half is yellow, and the bottom half is red,” Baxter says. “That is something the company chose to do as we have contractors working amongst us that have different colour Hi-Vis on, but they are all compliant with their reflective strips and the flame-retardant nature of the overalls.”
Sansom adds that there have been many advancements in fabric technology meaning almost all types of garments can be covered by Hi-Vis requirements, including electric arc flash, flame resistant/retardant, waterproof, extreme cold, anti-static, chainsaw and chemical resistant protection, as well as the most commonly used workwear.
“In terms of fabrics, the most commonly used fabric across all three colours and different garments is polyester,” he says. “This is due to its ability to hold the colour and luminance required under the test conditions set out in EN ISO 20471.
“There are variants in some fabrics where different compositions are used, for example mixing cotton for comfort or aramids and modacrylic fibres to provide
flame-resistant properties. There are now performance fibres, used in the sports and fashion industries, which are available as Hi-Vis fabrics and wick away moisture from the body and allow the natural body temperature to evaporate the moisture out of the fabric. This helps the garment to stay dry and better regulate the wearer’s temperature. There are also reinforcement fabrics using Nylon and other materials now available.”
Reflective tape is most suitable in low-light conditions and works by reflecting light back in different directions, highlighting the presence of the wearer. Reflective tape is required on all Hi-Vis clothing to achieve the correct classification of EN20471, and there are two application methods for the tapes – sewn and heat-applied.
“The most viable option is usually selected dependant on the base fabric of the garment,” Fish explains. She adds that there are two types of reflective tape – glass bead and prismatic. For glass bead tape, the beads are applied to the surface within honeycomb shaped grids, which bend the light and in turn reflect back, while prismatic tape uses thousands of micro-prisms that are protected by a transparent plastic film, reflecting light back in a tighter pattern that can be seen from much further away.
Sansom adds that glass bead is the most commonly used and this comes in different types such as industrial laundered versions, flame-resistant and stretch.
There is no set standard for the placement of reflective tape in the UK. However, a concept called ‘biomotion’ suggests that high-visibility or reflective materials that indicate or outline the hands, feet and torso of a worker are more likely to grab attention.
However, to meet the classifications within EN20471 some areas must feature reflective tape. For instance, a Class Three garment is required to cover the torso and have sleeves with reflective bands and trouser legs with reflective bands, and all reflective tape must be a minimum of 50 mm wide.
“Concerning garments only covering the torso, retroreflective bands are not counted when considering the need for background material to encircle the torso,” Fish explains.
“The background material shall maintain a minimum width of 50 mm, fo example there must be at least 50 mm of background material below the armholes.
“For garments covering the torso and arms – such as jackets, shirts, coats and t-shirts – if a sleeve blocks a clear view of a horizontal band on the torso, then the sleeve should be surrounded by a reflective band.
“If a sleeve blocks a clear view of two horizontal bands on the torso, then the sleeve must be surrounded by two reflective bands with at least 50 mm from each other, with the lower band at least 50 mm from the end of the sleeve. For jackets with removable sleeves, the sleeves must be fluorescent and contain retroreflective bands.
“The guidelines are set under EN20471, however some industries specify their own requirement for reflective tape positioning.”
Caring and cleaning your Hi-Vis clothing properly is essential in ensuring that it continues to do its job.
Companies usually outsource this role to a specialised business because, as E.ON’s Baxter explains, “there is only so many washes that reflective stripes can take” and “using detergent can help it last longer”.
Sansom and Fish also warn that keeping Hi-Vis garments clean is essential. Sansom concludes: “Cleaning of garments is crucial. A dirty garment will lessen the effectiveness of the Hi-Vis clothing, therefore, reducing visibility.”
Box Out: Buyer Beware
Now-defunct retailer Poundworld was fined £63,000 in 2015 for selling vests that were misleadingly described as Hi-Vis. Following an investigation by Hertfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards, Poundworld Retail Limited was fined £15,000, and ordered to pay £42,000 in an agreed confiscation order and £6,000 prosecution costs at St Albans Crown Court.
On 28 March 2014, Trading Standards tested a vest to measure its visibility in low-light conditions. The results were described as ‘amongst the worst results ever recorded’ by the testing company.
Poundworld withdrew the product but stated that it had never received any complaints about the vests and therefore believed the test failures could be attributable to a batch problem. The vest was then tested for visibility in daytime light conditions and again failed. As a result, Poundworld conducted a national recall of the products on 16 January 2015.
Speaking at the time, Cllr Richard Thake, cabinet member for community safety, said: “The public have purchased over 95,000 of these seemingly bargain vests with a false sense of security, no doubt trusting the descriptions on the packaging, that they would be safe and seen, when they would not have been.
“This case should act as a warning to all businesses that fail to complete adequate safety checks, putting customers at risk of serious injury or death. Trading Standards will have no hesitation in investigating such cases and if diligence is found to be lacking, put them before the court.”