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Selecting the Right Hi-Vis

Advice on what to consider when choosing hi-vis clothing

Specifying hi-vis clothing that provides workers with the appropriate protection can be crucial in helping to keep workers safe from harm, comfortable and productive.

Hi-Vis for High Risk Environments

Clothing may seem brightly coloured, but only garments made from material designed to stand out are sufficiently visible to prevent accidents. When selecting hi-vis clothing to improve the visibility of your workers in high risk environments, always ensure it meets the standard EN 20471. This ensures that:

  • The garment has a sufficient area of fluorescent material to provide high visibility in daytime
  • Retro-reflective tape covers a sufficient area and are arranged to reflect light back on all sides keeping workers visible in low light

Different Hi-Vis Colours

High visibility can only be achieved with specific yellow, orange-red, and red colours. These colours give the highest degree of conspicuity against most backgrounds found in urban and rural situations.

Clothing with reflective tape is also available in bright pink, blue and lime green, however these cannot be certified to EN 20471 and should never be used in high risk hazardous situations.

Sign stating high visibility vests must be worn

About Classes of Hi-Vis

Hi-vis garments are classified as Class 1 to 3. The higher the class, the higher the visibility.

Selection of the most suitable class of garment for different job roles needs to be based on your risk assessments. As a general rule, faster traffic, riskier and darker conditions need more hi-vis clothing, for example full length tops instead of vests and trousers as well as jackets. Risk levels can be affected by the weather, the amount of traffic, local conditions and other distractions.

The Highest, Class 3 Hi-Vis
Examples of class 3 hi-vis tops

Class 3 garments should always be worn in very high-risk environments. For example, where workers are near fast traffic (over 37 mph/60kph). Long-sleeved tops worn with trousers make workers highly visible in these situations.

Note that when worn together, sets of garments can achieve a higher class rating. For example, you may see jackets and trousers that are class 2 when worn individually but are rated as class 3 if worn together.

Class 2 Hi-Vis
Examples of class 2 hi-vis top, vest and trousers

Class 2 garments are needed where traffic is slower (up to 37 mph/60 kph) and the environment isn't as high risk, but worker's attention is focused on other tasks or where other conditions potentially affect visibility such as on building and construction sites or poor weather.

Though trousers alone may cover a large area of the body, it's generally more effective to wear a hi-vis top. However, if the torso is likely to be obscured by objects, for example when carrying large objects, trousers may be a safer option.

Class 1 Garments
Example of a class 1 hi-vis trouser

The lowest, class 1 garments are suitable for lower risk environments. For example, where there is slower moving traffic (under 19 mph/30 kph), such as in service and transportation sectors. These garments may also be suitable where workers are actively paying attention to faster traffic (up to 37 mph/60 kph).

Railway RIS-3279-TOM Hi-Vis

The railway industry has specific requirements as described in RIS-3279-TOM (previously GO/RT), to ensure workers are conspicuous when working on or near railway tracks. For example, workers need to wear orange hi-vis, not yellow to ensure train drivers aren’t confused with yellow train signal flags.

Multiple Hazard Protection

It may be that multiple hazards have been identified in your risk assessment. For example, the danger of flames may be present whilst high visibility is also important. When choosing clothing for multiple hazards, first decide on what the primary risk is and look for garments within this product category that also satisfy your other safety requirements.

If two or more types of PPE are worn, make sure they can be used safely together. For example, make sure hi-vis isn't covered by other clothing or equipment and take into account the bulk of clothing that needs to be worn underneath.

Wearing a flame resistant hi-vis coat, a worker checks a valve on a manufacturing site

Enhanced Visibility for Medium and Low Risk Environments

The specific arrangement of retroreflective strips on EN 20471 certified hi-vis designed for high risk environments uses the 'biomotion effect'. In dark conditions tape circling the arms and legs near the wrists and ankles helps drivers recognise an object is a person.

Medium Risk Environments

For environments that are low risk enhanced visibility clothing that is certified to EN 17353 may be enough. This clothing has tapes arranged more artistically as it’s only designed to highlight movement, not outline people, where lighting conditions are better. As clothing doesn’t need to be as visible, other less bright colours can be used.

Low Risk Environments

There are situations where the risk of injury is very low and hi-vis is only worn to identify staff and authorised personnel. However, where clothing needs to keep workers visible it needs to conform to professional safety standards.

Man standing in the bright sunshine wearing an orange waistcoat

Protection Against the Weather

The environment that workers operate in should be given consideration too. Where hi-vis clothing is being worn outside, it also needs to protect against the weather. Thoroughly waterproof clothing means less downtime, less sick leave and the job gets done no matter what the weather.

Hi-Vis that is Windproof and Waterproof

Garments that are approved to standard EN 343 have passed lab tests that show some degree of water resistance and may be suitable for workers who are outside for only short periods. However, more stringent rain tower tests, which test seams and fasteners too, show garments provide protection in heavy rain and also under pressure from straps on the shoulders or when kneeling down.

Consider how durable clothing is, to make sure the waterproof features last the lifetime of the garment. For example, the tape used to make seams waterproof can become detached during washing if the garment is less well constructed.

Mannequin in a test cubicle wearing yellow hi-vis jacket and trousers, being sprayed with water

Cold Weather

When it's cold, wearing multiple layers will provide better protection than one thick one. Having hi-vis garments that workers can layer also means individuals can more easily change what they wear depending on changing weather, their work activity and personal needs. Remember that some issues can be personal, so it may be that individuals need to be consulted to ensure their needs are met, particularly any workers with medical conditions.

Three workers wearing orange hi-vis jackets and overtrousers using shovels to clear snow

Heat Stress

Heat stress is a danger in warm environments and when doing strenuous work, affecting mental awareness and the body physiologically. Breathable clothing helps workers keep a comfortable temperature so that they can work safety and productively.

Garments that achieve the highest ratings (class 3 and 4) according to standard EN 343 offer some breathability. However, their breathability may still not be enough to keep workers comfortable. The highest level 4 rating, requires a breathability (Ret, Textile Resistance to Evaporation) of 15 m2 Pa/W. Yet independent institutes show significantly lower values (maximum Ret of 10) are needed to prevent workers overheating, especially if work is physical.

For very active work, look for clothing with a Ret of 6 or less.

Clothing rail with a range of orange and yellow hi-vis tops hanging

Other Factors that Affect Clothing Choice

When choosing hi-vis, the following general factors should also be considered. Clothing should fit and be comfortable to wear. Greater comfort not only helps workers concentrate but also increases their effectiveness and productivity. If hi-vis is uncomfortable or difficult to wear workers may just remove it.


It is important to consider the effect heavy, bulky clothes can have on wearers. Look for lighter weight options and be cautious about over-specifying products when this can lead to unnecessarily bulky garments.

Practical Features

Look out for extra features that make hi-vis more usable in the workplace. For example, handy external pockets and internal pockets to keep personal items such as mobile phones safe and dry.

Ergonomic Design

Ergonomically designed clothing is more comfortable and allows freedom of movement. This is particularly important if people need to work with precision, in confined spaces or be active. In terms of design side panels, appropriately placed seams and shaping around joints to match bends to the elbows and knees all help workers remain agile and flexible.

For women, hi-vis created specifically with their needs in mind is better than unisex clothing which is designed predominantly for men. When not styled for a women’s shape, clothing is often ill-fitting and therefore bulky and uncomfortable to wear. For example, it can mean having to roll-up sleeves and hold-up trousers.

Use Sizing Guides to Ensure a Good Fit
Clothing rail with a range of orange and yellow hi-vis tops hanging

A wide selection of sizes for protective clothing, means it’s more likely to fit individuals properly, improving their mood, effectiveness, health and safety.

  • Loose-fitting clothing can get caught and rip or get pulled into moving parts so can be a safety hazard. This is particularly dangerous for those working with machinery or chemicals
  • Clothing that is too tight can restrict movement and can be a health hazard, for example causing pressure on the stomach and back pain

When selecting their clothing, encourage workers to look up their size on the sizing charts using their actual body measurements, not just their usual clothes sizes, to get a better fit.

Maintaining Hi-Vis Clothing

It's essential to maintain the cleanliness of all high and enhanced visibility clothing throughout its lifetime. If garments are dirty, their visibility will be compromised, and they may no longer protect workers in low levels of light.

When working in dirty environments, protective clothing needs to be easy to clean. It may also need to withstand the rigours of industrial laundering. The number of times garments have been washed in testing tell you the likely lifetime of garments. However, their lifetime will also depend on usage and storage conditions and relies on the garment's care instructions being followed correctly.

Arco garments are made from robust and durable fabrics, and each garment has specific care instructions printed on the label. Arco hazardwear engineered with GORE-TEX fabrics can be washed at 60 °C while maintaining durable waterproofness and colour fastness.

Industrial, metal washing machine cleaning hi-vis clothing

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We sell a wide range of hi-vis clothing to suit all budgets and applications to ensure your employees can always be seen. We have it all, from premium quality GORE-TEX® to Arco Essentials; from waterproof jackets to polo shirts; flame resistant yellow hi-vis to railway approved orange hi-vis, for both women and men, plus branding options and a bespoke design service.

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