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High Visibility Clothing at Work - What Do the Different Standards Mean?

For many years, fluorescent and neon colours have been used to attract attention and draw the eyes, be it to a sign or a fashion item. In recent years the prominence of Health and Safety has led to fluorescent or Hi-Visibility clothing featuring in our everyday lives.

High visibility and safety garments are used by individuals and employees across all business and industry sectors including: construction, postal workers, transport services, road maintenance, rail networks, airports and aviation, ports and shipping, as well as security personnel and the emergency services.

They are also increasingly worn in a variety of non-work environments. Often children can be seen wearing Hi-Vis vests or coats whilst walking to school. Cyclists and motorcyclists wear them to increase their visibility to other road users and even those taking part in sporting activities such as running and horse riding. Football and a myriad of sporting organisations wear them both for their players on the touchline and the training ground and also for their stewards and marshals.

The increase in the use of high visibility clothing has been a visual demonstration by employers and responsible individuals to comply with their health and safety obligations but are you making the correct decisions on the right product to purchase?

With so many of us now wearing hi-vis clothing it can be difficult to make sure you stand out from the crowd.To achieve this you should, as with all your workwear, personalise your High Visibility clothing with your company or organisation logo or name, thereby presenting yourself in a quality and professional manner. 

At Workwear House we supply quality products for all budgets in quantities from 1 to as many as you need. We supply products from leading brands such as Yoko, Dickies, Harbour Lights, Portwest, Regatta and Result.

The following information on the European Standard for the performance of the conspicuous materials to be used in High Visibility clothing together with minimum areas and placement of the materials should assist you in deciding what product is right for your requirements. Essentially, the standard sets out the visibility requirement for differing scenarios and how well the garment has to perform.

High visibility, or 'conspicuity' as it is referred to, is enhanced by high contrast between the clothing and the background against which it is seen. The larger the areas of the conspicuous materials being used the greater the visibility. The European Standards inform us ofthe amount of difference that has to be achieved in order to be conspicuous or highly visible in contrast to most backgrounds found in urban and rural situations in daylight. However, users should consider the prevailing background in which protection is required and select the colour that provides the preferred contrast.

Higher levels of reflectivity provide greater contrast and visibility of warning clothing when seen in headlights during darkness. When greater levels of visibility are required the higher level of reflectivity material should be used. Put simply, the more you need or want to be seen the more reflective and bright the clothing needs to be.



There are three classes for the effectiveness of hi-vis clothing. Clearly the size and type of garment will partly dictate its effectiveness. However, it is worth noting that Class 3 clothing offers greatest visibility against most urban and rural backgrounds. Accordingly Class 2 garments are significantly more visible to Class 1 clothing.

The right choice of what to wear should be based on the risk assessment of the condition in which the hi-vis or protective clothing is to be used. This should include consideration of the requirements necessary for an observer to understand that a high-vis wearer is present. The observer needs both to perceive and to recognise the wearer and then to decide to take appropriate avoidance action.

It is important to remember the wearing of a high visibility garment does not guarantee the wearer will be visible under all conditions. As with any safety item, appropriate advice should taken to ensure the right purchase decisions are made, and importantly where appropriate an employer should consult with their employees to decide what is needed, which would be more comfortable and how does that fit with the regulations. This is not just recommended but cited in the EN certification documents.

The importance of keeping high visibility garments in clean presentable condition must be remembered to maintain the required standards. All too often a filthy garment rendered unfit for purpose by its condition can be seen putting the wearer at risk and letting down the image of the company or organisation - do others see this as an employee at risk or an employer who doesn't care?

You get what you pay for! There is a large amount of hi-vis products available in varying degrees of quality. All too often you see the obligatory high-vis vest resting on work tools or tied to a ladder on a van roof only to end up discarded by the side of the road. When you buy a cheap flimsy product, is it reasonable to expect it to protect you from hazards?

It is better to be safe than sorry and therefore selecting a product that exceeds the minimum standards for your circumstance can often prove to be a better value purchase than simply going for the minimum requirement at the cheapest price.

To help you understand the different standards we summarise them below:

Class 1 defines the lowest visibility level and is comprised of:

  • Fluorescent material > 0.14 m2
  • Retro reflective material > 0.10 m2


  • Combined material
  • Fluorescent reflective > 0.20 m2

Class 2 defines an intermediary visibility level and is required for any person working on or near A and B class roads and is comprised of:

  • One horizontal band and two shoulder bands or
  • Two horizontal bands and two shoulder bands or
  • Two horizontal bands
  • Trousers need two horizontal reflective circular bands on each trouser leg
  • Bib and brace trousers need one horizontal band around the torso, two horizontal circular bands on each trouser leg
  • Fluorescent material > 0.5 m2
  • Retro reflective material > 0.13 m2


Class 3 defines the highest level of visibility and is required for any person working on or near motorways, dual carriage ways or airports and is comprised of:

  • As Class 2 but with full length sleeves with two horizontal circular bands on each sleeve
  • Fluorescent material > 0.8 m2
  • Retro reflective material > 0.20 m2


You may also want to consider the following:

  • Do the garments conform to the EN471 Standard? Can this be verified?
  • Is there a CE mark on the label?
  • Does the garment meet the safety requirements you need to do your job? Think of qualities such as the fabric, its abrasion resistance, or whether it will be visible in the rain and from a long distance. There are huge differences in performance between products.
  • Check the label and the reflective material documentation for EN compliance.
  • Check the label to see if the garment meets your washing requirements and to ensure it is the right size


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends also checking the following:

Is the garment suitable for the risk? Choice of clothing should take into account ambient and artificial lighting conditions at the workplace, and the affect of conditions such as fog and snow. For some jobs an HV waistcoat, for example, may be all that is needed, but those workers who are particularly at risk, e.g. from moving vehicles, may need full body HV clothing so that they are as visible as possible to the driver. HV clothing should provide adequate protection during the day and at night, as well as in adverse weather. As a rule, the darker the conditions or worksite, the greater the amount of HV clothing required. To be effective HV clothing should be of a colour that will allow the wearer to stand out against the ambient background found in the working environment. In practice the best colours for this purpose are likely to be 'day-glo' or fluorescent yellow. Where necessary the clothing should also incorporate retro reflective material to make the wearer visible when seen in headlights in poor lighting conditions or during darkness. This may require reflective strips at or below waist level on waistcoats or jackets, or strips on trousers

Is it suitable for the job? People working in warehouses may find that some types of loose fitting tabard may snag on moving machinery parts. Also HV coats may be too warm in summer months, in which case hi-vis waistcoats or hi-vis overalls with the appropriate HV qualities could be supplied.
Remember, PPE must always be suitable for the work; if the way of working changes, check that the PPE is still suitable

Is it suitable for the wearer? HV clothing should be comfortable and fit the wearer properly and cause the minimum restriction in the wearer's movement

Is it compatible with other forms of PPE? If two or more types of PPE are worn, they should not interfere with each other. Therefore, in the case of aircraft servicing staff, for example, protective clothing for chemical spills should also provide the necessary level of visibility. Similarly, wet or cold weather clothing should have suitable HV qualities.

Are there any standards which the clothing should meet? HV clothing should be manufactured to a recognised standard. The British Standard for high visibility warning clothing is BS EN 471. This is a harmonised European standard produced with the legal requirements for PPE in mind.

The first letter (X) indicates the class of conspicuity. As previously mentioned, this depends on the minimum area of conspicuous materials that are incorporated into the clothing, with Class 3 being the best and Class 1 the lowest; the second letter (Y) indicates the retro reflection performance with Class 2 being more visible than Class 1 when seen in headlights during darkness. The standard gives specifications for coveralls, jackets, waistcoats, tabards, trousers and harnesses. From July 1995, new clothing must be CE marked to show it meets the new European rules on the manufacture of PPE. Remember, the CE mark only means that the clothing meets the standard. It does not mean it can be used in all situations. HV clothing must be suitable for the actual conditions of use.

On the subject of safety clothing - whether that's high-vis, flame resistant, or something designed to protect workers' hands or face - always buy something that you are confident will protect you and your workers most effectively.

At Workwear House we can help you to find the right High Visibility product for your requirements, be it a simple arm band, a vest, jacket or a complete weather proof suit. See our range of High Visibility garments or type the specific product you are looking for into our search box or call us on 0845 003 9530 and we will be happy to assist you.


The information contained in this article is correct at the time of posting
© Adur Trading Ltd, t/as Workwear House 2011 - 2012

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