High-Visibility Clothing In The Workplace

Visibility is critical for worker safety, especially for those working around moving vehicles and equipment, and especially in busy environments like warehouses, construction sites, roads and railway lines. In these circumstances, a worker needs clothing (high-visibility clothing) which enables them to be seen in low lighting conditions, even at night.

What Is High-Visibility Clothing?

High-visibility clothing is often a combination of a fluorescent material with added reflective tape or shapes.

Fluorescent materials use special pigments that are brighter than other colours and enhance daytime visibility, especially in poor lighting conditions such as fog, cloud cover, dusk, and dawn. Fluorescent yellow, orange, and red are the three main approved background colour options for high-visibility clothing, the most appropriate colour being the one that produces the highest degree of contrast between a worker’s body and their surroundings.

Retroreflective material that reflects light in the direction of its source, such as a vehicle’s headlights, can illuminate a worker in low light or at night. The clothing may also use tape that is both retroreflective and fluorescent.

The use of fluorescent and reflective materials means that high-visibility material can be seen up to 300 metres away when normal visibility is no more than 50 metres.

Legal Requirements

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 places a duty on every employer to provide suitable and appropriate personal protective equipment to employees who may be exposed to a health or safety risk while at work. As such it requires the correct clothing to be chosen for a particular task, including high-visibility clothing.

All High-visibility clothing should be manufactured to BS EN 471 for high visibility warning clothing, which is a harmonised European standard produced with the legal requirements for PPE in mind.

Since July 1995 HV clothing must be ‘CE’ marked to show it meets the European rules on the manufacture of PPE. However, this mark only means the garment meets the standard. It does not say the garment can be used in all situations. HV clothing must be suitable for the actual conditions of use.

There are three classes of high-visibility clothing. Each has minimum areas for the background and reflective bands.

  • Class 1, the least conspicuous includes waistcoats and most HV trousers.
  • Class 2 is more visible than Class 1 and includes waistcoats, jackets and some HV trousers.
  • Class 3 is the most striking and includes jackets and coveralls.

When Should High-Visibility Clothing Be Worn?

High-visibility clothing should be worn in situations where it reduces the chance of accidents and injuries. People most likely to need such clothing include construction workers, road and railway maintenance personnel, airport workers, first responders, rubbish and recycling collectors, commercial fishermen, landscaping professionals, and warehouse workers.

High-visibility clothing must be worn in construction sites where vehicles operate. This requirement also applies to drivers when they leave their vehicle.

Public operation construction workers often have to wear a high-visibility jacket and trousers for their jobs because they are working in public areas, where members of the public may be unaware of the construction work and consequently may not be keeping an eye out for construction workers.

The Use Of Appropriate Colours

Many colours can be made fluorescent and used for high-visibility clothing. The EN1150 quality standard covers situations where a person has to be visible to motorists and includes yellow, red, pink, green and orange.

  • Lorry drivers, police officers, postal workers, builders and refuse collectors are often seen wearing yellow and orange fluorescent colours.
  • Lifeboat crews have orange lifejackets because this colour shows up best against blue and grey water.
  • Horse-riders often wear fluorescent pink as it is a colour seldom found in nature and shows up well against autumn leaves.

The Use Of Appropriate Clothing

High-visibility clothing has to meet the requirements of general PPE; namely it should be comfortable, fit the wearer properly, and also cause the minimum of restriction in the wearer’s movement. As high-visibility clothing, it should also be appropriate for the lighting conditions the employee is expected to work in. A general rule is the darker the conditions or worksite, the more high-visibility clothing is required.

Some jobs may only require an high-visibility waistcoat, but in more potentially dangerous situations, like working near moving vehicles in low light conditions, a worker may need high-visibility clothing that covers their whole body to make them as visible as possible.

Particularly when working near vehicles, the clothing should also incorporate retroreflective material to make the wearer visible when seen in headlights in poor lighting conditions or during darkness. This environment may require reflective strips at or below waist level on waistcoats or jackets or strips on trousers.

Employers Obligations

An employer must provide an employee with high-visibility clothing required for the job free of charge. The employer should maintain the clothing in a clean state and good working order and check garments before they are given to an employee.

Adequate information, instruction and training should be provided to enable employees to use the clothing correctly. Training should include an explanation of the risks, why the clothing is needed, and how and when it should be worn. An employer should also supervise employees to ensure that they wear the clothing correctly and whenever it is required.

The employer must also provide storage facilities for clothing when it is not in use.

Employees Obligations

If an employer has a high-visibility policy, the employees have to comply with it. Therefore employees should wear any high-visibility clothing provided as instructed by their employer. Employees are required to look after clothing issued to them, ensuring that it remains in good condition and has an acceptable lifespan. The employee is also obliged to check for and report any damage or defects to their employer. The employer may insist on the employee replacing the equipment if they have caused any unnecessary damage to it. When not in use the clothing should be kept in the storage facilities provided.

Replacing High Visibility Clothing

All high-visibility products have a limited lifetime that varies with use. It is the responsibility of safety professionals, employers, and the wearer to periodically evaluate each garment’s required visibility and replace it when it fades, tears, or becomes overly dirty.

Although a garment’s lifespan will depend on the type of work, if worn on a daily basis, the useful life is probably around six months. Clothing not worn on a daily basis is expected to have a useful life of up to one year.

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