Having spent 10 years in the fire protective clothing industry, I assumed marketing Hi-Vis garment was going to be easy. Turns out, it’s far more complex than I had anticipated. While we tend to think only in terms of the visibility factor, it is important to remember that the latest ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 standard covers both basic design and performance of high visibility in work garments. The emphasis regarding high visibility garments has traditionally been on the photometric requirements -- the minimum amount of component materials, colors, and placement to create garments for enhancing the visibility of workers. Let’s review some basics on this subject.
Colors & class
For both garment and trim, there are three fluorescent colors: yellow-green, orange and red. The standard clearly charts out the amount of background material, retroreflective material (and width) based specifically on the garment type, designation, and class.
As an example, a Type “R”, designated for Roadway, has two performance classes -- Class 2 and Class 3, with Class 3 having a higher requirement for background and retroreflective material, as well as at least one retroreflective band encircling each sleeve. There is also a Class E. ANSI Supplemental Class E applies to Hi-Vis pants, bib overalls, shorts, and gaiters. On their own, these garments are not ANSI compliant, but when combined with a Class 2 or Class 3 garment, the combination satisfies Class 3 requirements.
Take note of other garment types: Type “O” covering “Off-road” and Type “P” covering “Fire, Police, EMS.” Additionally, the standard outlines specifications for accessories such as gloves, headgear, and bands. The ANSI/ISEA 107-2015 standard also covers specific markings, logos, and labeling, as well as laundering and use instructions.
Reflective trim is a reflective layer composed of wide-angle glass beads bonded to a special polymer colored fluorescent layer which has a backing for sewing or adhering directly on to garment material. Recently we’ve seen the popularity of segmented trim, which is lighter, more flexible, and breathable. We’re also observing more and more enhanced visibility by integrating LED luminescence directly on the trim.
While quite compelling, remember that this type of “visibility” is not covered by the ANSI/ISEA 107-2015. This means that industry experts related to materials and safety procedures have not studied the efficacy of this new technology. Until such time, LED luminescence and phosphorescence glow-in-the-dark garments are an enhancement feature that must be evaluated by the user and application, specifically.
Progressive manufacturers recognize we are amid an evolution in garment design. Most of this is led by the need for multiple functionalities and higher adoption by different users. Let’s begin with the latter. It was not that long ago that site engineers, project managers and supervisors did not wear hi-vis garments because perhaps they felt that, in the short time that they were on-site, their white hard hat was enough to give them enough visibility. Today, this thinking has clearly changed. Supervisors and engineers insist on setting an example for safety. In fact, they are even more particular about functional design enhancements. Examples include mobile phone pockets, table pockets and even garments that are reversible to conveniently go from office to site and back to the office.
Other trends are being driven by expanded adoption in multiple industries. Take for example airport ground workers. Today, the tarmac is shared by more and more workers – from gate catering personnel to mechanics and loading personnel for passengers, freight and even courier services. These people work 24/7 and in areas where there is moving equipment, vehicles, flashing lights and where the sound is often attenuated to protect hearing. A high degree of visibility is vital to maintaining safety in such environments.
Where are we heading?
Basic vests are becoming the norm with parking lot attendants, landscapers, and even small job-site operators. Large construction companies, industrial yards, docks, rails (the list goes on) are all looking for high-quality, comfortable and durable hi-vis garments. They learned that low-cost usually means garments need to be replaced more often. Workers and supervisors are looking for more features such as more pockets and in the case of winter wear, jackets that are 2-in-1, 3-in-1 and even more. They don’t want to be changing garments during the day – they want to layer on and layer off. Younger workers and supervisors don’t want to be changing into regular jackets at the end of the day. They prefer black bottom to hide dirt and more and more reversible type of jackets that they can even go from work-wear to weekend-wear.
We can safely assume that there will be more and more construction and infrastructure rebuilding. If we stop to consider how the workers’ reflective clothing competes with reflective cones, barriers, and signage, we can see how new technologies are needed. You would think the obvious leap is new lighted LED garments, but that may be oversimplifying. We need to think about total solutions that are carefully assessed with studies by users, manufacturers, and experts within the safety industry.
That is where the ANSI/ISEA strength lies, finding the right solution that works best for the industry. It is important that we maintain commonality and standards so we don’t end up with a road crew that has half of the workers in reflective clothing and the other half in blinking LEDs – that could turn out to be more of a problem to handle.