Whatever industry you work in, you will certainly have seen workers wearing a classic yellow or orange hi vis sweatshirt at some point. Whether you regularly work on construction sites, or you have been driving past road works, these simple items can make a lot of difference to people’s safety.
High visibility clothing was first invented in America in the 1930’s, when a factory worker named Bob Switzer was seriously injured in a workplace accident. The injury was so serious that he was in a coma and ended up with permanent sight damage. After the accident, Bob and his brother experimented with fluorescent chemicals in order to create a solution to prevent unnecessary injuries in the workplace. They invented the world’s first fluorescent paint and eventually experimented to create high visibility fabric materials. It became so popular that it was used in factories, toy manufacturing and even the military used hi visibility paint in World War II!
It was only adopted in the UK in 1964, when Scottish rail wanted a way to protect their workers following a high number of safety concerns. It worked so well that the 1974 Health and Safety act and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work regulations of 1992 meant that it became mandatory for anyone working in a hazardous environment to be wearing high visibility clothing in order to reduce the risk of accidents and to help prevent serious injuries.
Whilst the technology behind high visibility clothing has improved since the 19030’s, the primary purpose of them is still exactly the same, and now you will see items that you all know and recognise - such as hi vis personalised jackets, safety vests and even our orange hi vis hoodie range!
How exactly does Hi Vis work?
High visibility workwear is essentially made from fluorescent material, and so it needs light (natural or artificial) in order to work. When you see people working on site, the most common colours of personalised jackets or safety vests will be bright yellow and orange, as these are the colours most visible to the human eye.
When light hits the fluorescent material, the reaction makes it appear to glow, and the secret to making these items work properly is the reflective tape. Reflective strips are essential for when you are working in low lighting or at night-time and help to pick up any light that the fluorescent material won’t react with. There are two types of reflective materials:
- Micro-prismatic tape – this is a type of plastic vinyl that is packed with lots of microscopic prisms. When light hits these prisms, it bounces back off, and this type of tape is known for its ability to reflect light from a great distance whilst still being intense enough to keep you safe.
- Glass bead reflective tape – This is the most common form of reflective tape and is incredibly easy to sew into items of clothing, such as an orange hi vis hoodie or vest. The glass bead reflective tape shines extremely bright white when it comes into contact with direct light.
Why is it so important?
According to the Health and Safety Executive, seven workers die and 93 are seriously injured every year when working around vehicles or on construction sites. Many of these are as a direct result of workers not being seen when working on site, and a lot of them could have been avoided if they were wearing the correct reflective clothing.
At this time of year, particularly in construction industries when you are working on roads or on building sites when there is low light and poor visibility, you need to make sure that you and your team are fully visible at all times. This is to help avoid accidents with moving vehicles that could lead to serious injuries. All UK employers must provide workers with clean, undamaged hi visibility clothing, from jackets and vests to an orange hi vis sweatshirt. There are 3 classes of hi-vis clothing items and you need to make sure that you are wearing the correct level for your work environment:
- Class 1 safety – This is for workers in low impact areas where traffic flow does not exceed 25 mph e.g., delivery drivers and parking attendants. Class 1 garments must have a minimum of 155 square inches of reflective tape and be bright orange or yellow in colour.
- Class 2 safety – this is to be worn where there will be a heavier flow of work traffic and poor lighting conditions, for example airport workers. Class 2 garments must have a minimum of 201 square inches of reflective tape and be bright orange or yellow in colour.
- Class 3 safety – Class 3 safety garments need to be used where workers are in close proximity to high traffic areas that exceed more than 50 mph. For example, road workers or those working at night. These safety items must have a minimum of 310 square inches of reflective tape and be bright orange or yellow in colour. The tape needs to be sewn to show the full outline of the person when light is shining onto it.
What are the benefits of wearing high visibility clothing when working on site?
- Increases worker safety – obviously the main reason for wearing high visibility clothing is to allow workers to be safe when working by the road or on construction sites. These two industries have the highest fatality rate and risk of injury rate whilst at work and using hi vis clothing drastically reduces the risk of accidents and injuries.
- Can be seen easily by drivers – hi vis clothing can alert road users and heavy machinery operators immediately to where workers are located, so traffic accidents are much less likely to occur.
- Emergency situations – If something were to happen such as a fire or collapse, emergency services have a much higher chance of finding people when they are wearing fluorescent and reflective clothing as they stand out from the background
- Helps with weather hazards – working in difficult weather conditions (such as during the winter months or when it’s raining) are made easier and safer and other workers and road users will be able to see each other more clearly
- Promotes teamwork – by having all of your team in the correct PPE and matching hi vis clothing items, it can promote a sense of belonging and result in better colleague relationships. Employees will be happier and more productive if they are warm and safe.
- Not distracting during the daylight – hi vis clothing is more effective in the dark due to the reflective properties of the tape but wearing it in the daylight does not distract other workers. Instead, the fluorescent material is another safety feature that means people won’t be blinded, but they will still be able to see you easily.
- Easy to wear and change – because of the vast range of hi vis clothing items available at good prices, it is easy to keep on top of maintenance to ensure that all of your PPE is in good working order to ensure that you are as safe as possible when working on site.