Employers need to provide appropriate protective clothing and equipment for their employees. So say the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the operating arm of the Health and Safety Commission. It has published a useful booklet that discusses all aspects of personal protective equipment (PPE). And that includes hi-vis clothing.

There are several things you should know about high-visibility clothing. For safety’s sake — as well as for the sake of keeping it legal — we’ve put together a quick-reference guide for you here.


The applicable Standard is BS EN 471 as amplified by EN ISO 20471:2013.  The HSE provides general guidelines on appropriate clothing and factors to take into account under a series of headings which ask the following questions:

  1. Is it suitable for the risk?
  2. Is it suitable for the job?
  3. Is it suitable for the wearer?
  4. Is it compatible with other forms of PPE?
  5. Are there any standards which the clothing should meet?

These four questions come with recommendations:

Suitability For the Risk

Most workplaces have a combination of ambient and artificial lighting. Lighting conditions change depending on the time of day. Hi-vis workwear choices have to take this into account.

Clothing requirements for weather conditions such as snow and fog need to be thought about as well.

A hi-vis waistcoat, for example, maybe all that is needed for some jobs. Workers, however, who are particularly at risk from moving vehicles may need full-body hi-vis workwear.  They need to be as visible as possible to the driver.

Regardless of the weather conditions, hi-vis garments should provide adequate protection both during the day and at night.

A general rule of thumb is that the darker the conditions or worksite environment, the more hi-vis clothing is required.

Colours, Reflection and Retro-reflection

The relevant standards stipulate three fluorescent colours for hi-vis clothing. They are:

  • yellow
  • orange
  • red

The standards also specify the position and angles of retro-reflective strips on hi-vis clothes.  Good examples of various garments can be found here. All these items comply with the standards applicable in the UK and in Europe.

Hi-vis clothing is required to have retroreflective material, normally in the form of geometrically arranged strips. This so that the wearer is visible in conditions of darkness or poor lighting.

Fluorescent colours (yellow, red, orange) are reflective and make the wearer more conspicuous during daylight conditions. Retro-reflective material is designed so that the person closest to the source of light (such as a driver behind the headlights of a vehicle) can see wearers located in relative darkness.

Retro-reflective strips at or below waist level on waistcoats or jackets or strips on trousers are the norm. Firefighting and other hazardous occupations have to take extra factors into account, such as thermo-protection or resistance to particular chemicals. They still have to comply with requirements as regards colour, reflection and retro-reflection.

Hi-Vis Clothing Suitable for the Job

Take care that loose-fitting clothing for people in warehouses or factories does not snag on machinery or other structures.

High-visibility coats might be too warm in summer months. Have a look at these standards-compliant polo shirts that are ideal for work in warmer weather. Employers should provide hi-vis overalls or waistcoats in keeping with the season or ambient temperature.

It is important to remember that PPE must always be appropriate to the work being performed. If working conditions change —  due to a factory reorganisation or technological advances, say — check that the PPE is still standards-compliant and suited to the new tasks workers perform.

Suitability for the Wearer

Hi-vis workwear should fit the wearer properly, and be comfortable. The wearer’s movement should not be restricted. Hi-vis maternity wear now exists, which is much appreciated by pregnant women who work on construction sites.

Hi-vis garments also need to be compatible with other types of PPE. They should not interfere with each other. One example where this happens is with aircraft servicing staff whose protective clothing for chemical spills also has to provide the necessary level of conspicuity.

Conspicuity is defined as “the state of being conspicuous”. In other words, people have to see your employees and the more visible they are on the job, the better!

The high-visibility qualities of clothing worn in wet conditions fall under the umbrella, so to speak, of suitability consideration. Cold weather is also a factor. Either the warm clothing itself must be hi-vis or be capable of being worn under hi-vis garments.

Other Standards Hi-Vis Clothing Should Meet

HV clothing should be manufactured to a recognised standard. The British Standard for hi-vis warning clothing is BS EN 471. The latter has been harmonised with the corresponding EU standards applicable to PPE.

There are three classes of conspicuity, categorised according to the minimum area of conspicuous materials that must be incorporated into the clothing:

Class 3 is the highest degree of conspicuity and Class 1 the lowest. BS EN 471 specifies exactly what level of conspicuity is required for specific types of garments, including:

  • harnesses
  • trousers
  • tabards
  • waistcoats or vests
  • jackets
  • hard hats and headgear (where required)

What is important is that high-visibility clothing must be suitable for the actual conditions of use.

Other Employer and Employee Responsibilities

The regulations on hi-vis clothing also state that employers must:

  • provide the hi-vis clothing required for the job. Such clothing is to be free of charge to any employees who, in the course of their work, may be exposed to significant safety risks;
  • maintain stocks of high-visibility clothing in a clean state and in a good state of repair. All clothing should be thoroughly inspected before being given to employees;
  • provide storage facilities, such as lockers, for clothing when it is not in use;
  • ensure that employees use hi-vis clothing correctly by providing them with adequate information, instruction and training. Such information should explain the safety risks entailed in their work, why wearing the hi-vis clothing and other PPE is necessary and when and how it should be worn; and
  • supervise employees to ensure that they wear the clothing as instructed and in compliance with the relevant industry standards.

Employees have a duty to:

  • wear the high-visibility clothing they have been issued as instructed by their employer
  • look after the clothing issued to them
  • ensure they are adequately protected by their hi-vis clothing by regularly checking for and reporting any damage or defects to their employer, and
  • use the employer-provided storage facilities when not using the clothing.

Getting to Grips with Hi-Vis

It might seem like there is a lot of information to take in at first.  It is important to remember that you have a legal obligation to comply with health and safety standards. And those include the regulations applicable to hi-vis clothing.

The other motivating factor is that it makes sense to provide protection. It helps prevent accidents when moving vehicles and machine parts are involved.  That’s why hi-vis wear is available for children and even pets.

Even if, as an employer, your industry is not governed by these standards, there may be a distinct advantage to providing your workers with hi-vis workwear.

Check out our corporate wear options and watch team spirit improve!