Introduction to Standards that Determine How High Visibility Clothing Is Designed

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Many different professions require their professionals to wear unique attires or have dress codes to improve their efficiency, safety, and comfort during working hours. A prevalent example of these special "garments" are high-visibility clothing or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which, as the name suggests, is used to increase the visibility of the wearers and prevent accidents and safety hazards in unsafe and dangerous environments. High- Visibility or 'High-Viz' clothing is made of bright and luminescent materials to give the wearers a powerful contrast from their surroundings. In addition, these garments act as protection to the wearers, who often work in stressful and unsafe environments, which is why their design and manufacture are looked over closely by governing bodies.

Though different countries have different bodies to govern and overlook these standards (for example, American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the United States of America and the Health and Safety Act in the United Kingdom), most of these countries follow some universal standards which the International Standardization Organisation sets (ISO). These standards are constantly being reviewed and revised to keep up with the volatile and dynamic workspace.

This article gives a brief overview of how these high-visibility uniforms are designed and the maintained standards.

There are three main categories that high-visibility clothing is divided into worldwide, which is mainly based on the wearer's activities. The design instructions given in ISO EN 2047:2013 are based on the level of visibility it provides wearers in different environments. Here are the main design requirements for the three categories:

  • Type O (offroad) - Class 1 performance - This is designed for workers who require minimum visibility in work environments. This type offers less coverage than the other two high categories and uses a less fluorescent material - used mainly by people who work in off-road environments. In this performance class, the background material must be at least 217 sq inches. In addition, combined retro-reflective materials must have at least 155 sq inches of the garment, with at least a 1-inch gap between two retro-reflective stripes.
  • Type R (Road Way) and P (Public Safety) - Class 2 performance - By international standards, this is the minimum level of protection that has been mandatory for people working on the road or heavy-traffic areas. Garments under this section often have additional markers like stripes made of reflective material (which gives the wearer conspicuity during the night and bad weather) and provides the wearer with a bodily shape that can be noticed from afar. Most of the garments that come under this category protect the form of safety vests and pants.

Under this performance class, Type R garments must have at least 775 sq inches of background material, 201 sq inches of combined retro-reflective materials and a 1.38-inch width between 2 retro-reflective stripes; While type P garments must have at least 450 sq inches of background material, 201 sq inches of combined retro-reflective materials and a 2-inch width between 2 retro-reflective stripes.

  • Type R (Road Way) and P (Public Safety) - Class 3 Performance - This garment class provides full coverage to the wearer that gives them high visibility in complex surroundings and different movements. These garments must have full sleeves and full pants lined with luminescent, fluorescent material with reflective patches on the pant legs and sleeves.

Sometimes, Class 2 clothing (for example - a class two vest and a class 2 pant set) can be combined to make class 3 garments. Class 3 garments, in addition, have water repellent characteristics.  There must be at least 1240 sq inches and 775 sq inches of background material for Type R and Type P, respectively, with 310 sq inches of combined retro-reflective materials and 2-inch width between retro-reflective strips both of the Types.

  • There is a fourth class of supplemental items called 'Class E', a particular category devoted to garments that don't fit into either of the other classes. These Class E garments don't qualify as PPE materials when worn alone but classify as class 3 when worn with Class 2 or Class 3 materials. Such garments require at least 465 sq inches of background material, 109 sq inches of combined retro-reflective material, and 2 inches width between strips of reflective material.

In addition to this, there are a few more design standards that manufacturers must follow regardless of the class type in garments:

  • The colors on the garments must not match the colors of the surrounding equipment like traffic cones and machinery.
  • The shoulder area of the garment must be crafted to provide the wearer with a defined human body shape and 180-degree visibility.
  • Reflective Strips placed on the body, sleeves, or legs of the garment must be at least 2 inches above the end of the garment and must go around the back of the garment to provide 360 visibility.
  • The strips at the top of the armbands must be placed between the elbow and shoulder. And in case these sleeves obstruct the bands' view on the torso, then the sleeve must be fitted with bands that equate to the bands on the torso - for example, if the conspicuity of two bands is the manufacturer will add hidden bands to the sleeve.

This 'distinct' clothing provides a huge advantage to people who have high-risk jobs like police officers, utility workers, construction workers, airport crew, etc., who face challenging environments every day at work. In addition, people who are often involved in dicey activities like cyclists and motorists also wear it. Hence, to improve their safety and ensure that their clothing provides them with protection, it is essential that this High-Viz clothing is made adhering to strict guidelines and standards to not compromise on their safety. 

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