High Visibility Clothing (Hi-Vis) is commonly associated with working life within a range of hazardous industries in which people could be injured if they are not clearly visible. Some examples of this would be such as rail workers, road workers, airport staff and other occupations in which people are working around moving vehicles. Some cyclists choose to wear Hi-Vis clothing when riding on the road to ensure that they can be seen by motorists who are driving close to them. In modern-day it is worn by the emergency services, security guards and parking attendants as a symbol of authority.

A History of Hi-Vis

High Visibility Clothing was invented by an American Man named Bob Switzer in the 1930s after being injured in an industrial accident. In the time he spent recovering he developed a fluorescent paint before using his wife's wedding dress to create the very first piece of Hi-Vis Clothing. It was first introduced in the UK in 1964 when it was trialled by railway workers in Glasgow and has since become a required piece of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) within hazardous industries.

How does Hi Vis work?

Hi-Vis Clothing is usually made up of either a fluorescent cotton or polyester material with additional micro-prismatic reflective tape. In the daytime, it is fluorescent colours such as yellow, red, pink, green and orange that help you to be seen. This is because the sun's Ultra-Violet rays react with them to cause a glow effect.

It is important to remember that fluorescent colours work well in the daylight but they do not 'glow in the dark', therefore during the night, it is the reflective tape that will keep you visible. For the tape to work effectively, there must still be a source of light for it to reflect, the headlights of a car for example. Having reflective tape on your clothing at night can help drivers to see you earlier and could potentially save your life.

Similarly to how fluorescent colours are not do not work so well at night, the reflective tape will not be reliably visible in the daytime. Although it may glint slightly in the sunlight it will not reach its full High Visibility potential until after dark. For this reason, most Hi-Vis Clothing will feature both fluorescent coloured materials and reflective tape in order to work as effectively as possible in both daylight and the darkness of night.

hi vis history

Hi-Vis Standards of today

In 2013 the previous standard for Hi-Vis Clothing, EN 471:2003, was abandoned and replaced by a newer requirement of EN ISO 20471:2013, under the PPE Directive 89/686/EEC. There are strict requirements on the performance, colour, and degree of reflection of the reflective tape. Although Hi-Vis Clothing can be made in a range of colours, only yellow, orange and more recently, red will be approved to CE standard. Based off of tests, a person who would usually be visible from 50 meters away should be visible from 300 meters when wearing Hi-Vis Clothing.

Hi-Vis Clothing is divided into 3 different classes with each class offering the correct amount of protection in conjunction with the level of risk. Class 1 clothing requires the least amount of fluorescent fabric and reflective strips as it is used in situations with the lowest risk. Class 3, however, is for high-risk situations and therefore has the most. The requirements for each certification are based on the surface area of each of these materials.

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