The Best Hi-vis jackets 2021
By Emily France, Creative Content Curator | Safety Supplier @rapidfiresupplies | People Person | Theatre Type & Arts Supporter.

Hi-Vis jackets 101: a guide to the best Hi-Vis jackets

Hi-Vis jackets are a must in a variety of industry roles from construction workers, warehouse operators, security guards, police officers and more. People wear them every day (and night), but how do they actually work? Where did they come from? And why are there so many different hi-vis colours?

If you’re looking for answers you’ve come to the right place. We have complied our bumper guide to Hi-Vis jackets and clothing with all the above and more, including the fascinating history of hi-vis and our guide to the best hi-vis jackets available to buy today.

Looking for something specific? Click below to go straight there:

Hi-Vis Jackets History

High visibility (aka Hi-Vis) jackets, they are just something that have been around for ages and are incredibly dull, right? Wrong!

The history of hi-vis jackets is full of colour and you may be surprised how a health and safety jacket caused so much controversy when it was first introduced to the wider public… We are getting ahead of ourselves there, so let’s start at the beginning.

Hi-Vis and its saucy origin  

Believe it or not our Hi-Vis jacket origin story begins with everyone’s favourite condiment, (unless you’re really into mayonnaise) the scrumptious sauce you can add to almost anything, ketchup.

In 1933 Bob Switzer was carrying out his duties, unloading crates at a Californian Heinz Ketchup factory when he was severely injured. The lack of risk assessments, PPE and appropriate workwear clothing are most likely what led to such an incident, it is a shame that hi-vis jackets hadn’t already been invented!

Unfortunately, Bob took the fall and was left with eye-sight damage and doctor’s orders to stay in a dark room to allow his eyes to recover. Luckily for Bob he had an older brother, Joe, who was a chemist and kept Bob entertained by creating patterns with glowing paints (the internet hadn’t been invented yet). Sick as Bob was, he looked to the future and saw the untapped potential in these fluorescent substances.

When he was well enough, he founded the Day-Glo Color Corp, this exposed the fluorescent paints to the world. Bob was such a fan of the Hi-Vis paints that he even dipped his wife’s wedding dress in the fluorescent resin and the first piece of Hi-Vis clothing was born! It was not recorded whether or not his wife was happy about this, but one thing’s for certain, she definitely couldn’t be missed on her big day…

The UK dons Hi-Vis jackets

Hi-Vis jackets didn’t make their way to the UK until the 1960s when the jackets were trialed in Glasgow on railway workers. Unfortunately, the Hi-Vis jackets were not a hit from the get-go and the railway staff complained about wearing the garish colours. Retired linesman Jimmy Gillies recalls the older workers saying, “I never wore one (a Hi-Vis jacket) and I was never killed”!

Luckily for the safety of the rail industry workers the 1974 Health and Safety Act and the 1992 Personal Protective Equipment at Work act both implemented new laws that required employers to guard their staff against potential industry hazards and risks. This led to today’s workers donning the Hi-Vis jacket across numerous industries.

Hi-Vis jackets take the road

As the Hi-Vis jacket became a workwear staple it was also being used elsewhere by the general public. In 1981 a US study discovered that two-thirds of crashes between cars and motorbikes were caused by drivers failing to see the bikes. Safety campaigners across the world urged cyclists to wear Hi-Vis jackets and prompted pedestrians to don bright clothing that would enable them to be seen by approaching vehicles.

In France Hi-Vis jackets and vests are even more widely used, as it is now the law to have a Hi-Vis jacket in your vehicle at all times in case of an emergency break down.

Anyone working on roads such as traffic marshals began opting for Hi-Vis gear to keep them safe and to make them stand out. This led to the jackets obtaining a certain power and the general public started to see Hi-Vis jackets as a mark of authority.

Kerri Layton decided to test this theory by wearing a Hi-Vis jacket, holding an official-looking notebook and stopping London traffic. During the experience the jacket seemed to do the job, the traffic flow slowed and a long line of vehicles started to queue without any car beeping or enquiry into what Kerri was doing. Maybe Hi-Vis jackets have become a sign of power.

When Hi-Vis jackets become political

This power that Hi-Vis harnessed has begun to be used by MPs in electoral campaigns. When visiting factories and warehouses politicians and cabinet ministers never turn down the opportunity to put on a hard hat and a Hi-Vis jacket for a photoshoot. Stefan Rousseau (a political photographer) explains that an MP in Hi-Vis gear indicates someone who is hard working and not afraid to get their hands dirty. Even if the place they are visiting requires no health and safety equipment, it is more than likely that a Hi-Vis costume will be sought out for them to wear.

Hi-Vis jackets in the spotlight

Big fashion brands across the world have been dabbling with Hi-Vis as a statement clothing item for years. From Bob’s first Hi-Vis wedding dress people have been in awe of the glowing fabrics. The raves during the 90s saw Hi-Vis jackets and glowing paint all over the dance floor, a trend that has made its way onto the current festival scene across the world.

In more recent years big fashion designers, like Burberry and Calvin Klein, have experimented with hi-vis for their own creations. Balenciaga went on to unveil a Hi-Vis jacket that costs £2,890 that looks almost indistinguishable from your average construction workers Hi-Vis jacket!

The future of Hi-Vis is bright!  

It doesn’t look like most people will be opting to wear Hi-Vis as their day-to-day jacket just yet, however Hi-Vis jackets have helped to keep millions of people safe.

As German designer Karl Lagerfeld once said, “It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life”.

High visibility jackets and clothing policies – UK

If you are working in potentially hazardous environments, it is good to know what you as the employee or employer are expected, by law, to provide. As Hi-Vis jackets are a form of PPE, in order to maintain safety standards, it is the employer who must provide any hi-vis jackets that are required for the job, free of charge.

In addition to this the employer must:

  • Maintain Hi-Vis clothing – ensuring that it’s clean and in good working condition.
  • Store the Hi-Vis workwear.
  • Give all employees Hi-Vis information and training. Explaining why they need the clothing as well as how and when to use it correctly.
  • Supervise the use of Hi-Vis clothing in the workplace.

As an employee you must adhere to all the rules in place about Hi-Vis clothing in your workplace and alert your employer should you notice any damage to your PPE. If your clothing is not in prime condition, it will not be able to offer you adequate protection and may even cause additional hazards.

The above terms are in accordance with The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.

Hi-Vis safety standards

If you are an employer researching the correct PPE to protect your staff or an employee making sure that you have been provided with the correct Hi-Vis jacket, the best way to do so is to check the standards on your garment.

The first thing to look out for is this image that lets you know that it conforms to the BS EN 471 standard – the British Standard for Hi-Vis clothing.

Image of hi-Vis standards
  • The (X) indicates the conspicuity class of the garment. This lets you know how visible the hi-vis will be. It will display a number from 1 to 3, Class 3 being the best and offering the highest level of visibility.
  • The (Y) indicates the level of retroflection and can be either 1 or 2, with Class 2 being the most reflective.

WP indicates how waterproof the clothing is usually from 2,000mm (the least waterproof) to 15,000 (the most waterproof).

UPF indicates the amount of hi-vis protection the hi-vis jacket or garment offers, for example, a 50+ UPF rated fabric will block 98% of UV rays.

These rules apply for all types of Hi-Vis clothing, from trousers and jackets to harnesses.

Also, don’t forget to make sure that your hi-vis has the CE mark. This shows that it meets the European / UK rules on PPE standards.

ce_symbol
Rear view of parking security watching over the parking area wearing hi-vis jacket

Security Guards

Security guards and officers are required to wear Hi-Vis jackets in a variety of settings ranging from shops, clubs, pubs, airports, and museums to football games, gigs, festivals and events. These settings all have large crowds of people in one place therefore being able to locate a security guard is vital if you are in need of assistance.

The Hi-Vis jackets allow you to easily see the security guards even from far away. Security personnel are also in need of specialist Hi-Vis clothing due to often working outside in various weather conditions and often at night, Hi-Vis jackets that have added protection from the elements are a must to keep staff warm/ cool, comfortable and safe no matter the weather.

Group-of-engineers-with-blueprints-standing-on-construction-site wearing hi vis jackets

Construction workers

Construction workers need Hi-Vis jackets whilst working on busy construction sites so that they are easy to see and therefore safe from hazards posed by large machines and vehicles such as cranes. As construction sites are fast paced environments a Hi-Vis jacket is imperative to keep workers safe from harm.

Other Hi-Vis PPE equipment such as hi-vis gloves and helmets are also recommended to offer optimum protection and eradicate the potential of risks.

Workers in logistics warehouse checking the inventory wearing hi vis jackets

Warehouse/ factory workers

Warehouses and factory settings flag up similar risks to construction sites. The Hi-Vis worn by these workers does not need to be weatherproof as they are working inside, however some factories work at very high or low temperatures, therefore special Hi-Vis jackets can be effective in these settings.

For those working as operatives of forklifts high visibility helps them to stand out and those working on the floor should also be Hi-Vis jacket clad to enable them to be easily spotted.

A Hi-Vis jacket is also a must for workers in the delivery areas due to the big trucks and lorries that could be life threatening if a collision were to take place.

Man Riding On Wet Road In City During Rainy Season wearing Hi Vis Jacket

Cyclists

As mentioned before two-thirds of accidents with motorbikes and car occur because the driver does not see the bike, therefore when cycling or riding a motorbike Hi-Vis jackets should be worn in order to be easily seen and avoided by approaching vehicles.

Rear View Of People Riding Horses On Road During Rainy Season wearing hi vis jackets

Horse riders

In the UK countryside people riding horses wear Hi-Vis to stand out. As horses are generally muted colours like brown, black or white, it is important for the riders to stand out so the vehicles can spot them from a distance and act accordingly to safely pass the rider and avoid startling the horse.

Some horse riders not only wear Hi-Vis jackets but also equip their horses with Hi-Vis gear such as fluorescent saddles and blankets.

Nursery age children walking together with preschool teachers through a park wearing high visibility jackets

Pedestrians

Some pedestrians opt to wear Hi-Vis jackets for different reasons such as: school walking buses, organised walks, night pedestrians and dog walkers. The reason for the Hi-Vis jackets is the same as for cyclists – you are at risk from vehicles so should make them aware of your presence if you can, especially at night or during the winter months.

A railway maintenance Inspector wearing high visibility clothing and protective safety work wear examining a tanker wagon at the track side

Road and rail workers

As mentioned in the history of Hi-Vis the rail workers were the first to receive Hi-Vis jackets in the UK. Since the introduction of the jackets for the workers on Glasgow’s railways this clothing has become a staple for all working near trains. The travel industry in general is now made up of workers wearing Hi-Vis jackets to keep them safe and seen from a distance and in dark conditions.

Military

Hi-Vis jackets may be the last thing you would associate with the military, however during times of peace this technology can become a vital garment to help prevent accidents. In aircraft carriers, workshops and more military members don a Hi-Vis jacket to keep them safe from harm potential.

Police officers on guard WEARING HI VIS JACKETS

Emergency Services  

Emergency service personnel such as police officers, paramedics and the fire brigade wear Hi-Vis jackets so that they can be easily seen by those who are in danger and require their assistance.

Hi-Vis jackets also allow the emergency services to be spotted if they are pursuing dangerous activities such as chasing a suspect or entering a fire. Due to the nature of their work a lot of time can be spent working outside in various weather conditions, Hi-Vis jackets are available to buy with added thermal or cooling features keeping them comfortable all day long.

Reflective clothing vs Hi-Vis

In short, High Visibility can be identified by the use of bright block colours all over the garment such as yellow, pink and orange. When choosing effective Hi-Vis, pick a colour that stands out from the surrounding environment. If you are working on a building site in the middle of the city, yellow clothing would make you stand out from the grey concrete-based background.

Reflective clothing vs hi-vis

Most Hi-Vis PPE workwear uses a combination of both Hi-Vis and reflective technology to give the wearer the highest level of protection.

Reflective clothing can be any colour from bright yellow to black. It works by using materials that reflect the light from other sources such as car headlights, which make the garment stand out in the night, but less noticeable during the daytime.

What do different colours mean?

The most important thing to remember when it comes to Hi-Vis jackets and clothing is that its job is to stand-out. This may sound obvious however keeping this in mind will enable you to make the correct colour choices. High Visibility clothing should not blend into the background, if this happens the person wearing the clothing will be at risk. Lots of factors can determine the optimum colour that should be worn most notably location, weather and time.

TX50 - Lille Hi-Vis Jacket
TX50 - Lille Hi-Vis Jacket
TX50 - Lille Hi-Vis Jacket

Location

Location can have a huge effect on which colours stand out – no matter how fluorescent the garment or numbers of reflective strips on the Hi-Vis jacket. In busy city construction sites, the general background is likely to be grey and muted therefore a yellow Hi-Vis jacket will stand out clearly and many construction workers opt for this colour.

Railway workers are more likely to be working in very different conditions, the workers in the train stations may be able to opt for yellow, but those working on the tracks may be in danger wearing this colour. Due to the green backdrop of the countryside and trees and bushes that run alongside where most train tracks pass through the yellow Hi-Vis can be lost. Its proximity to green on the colour pallet can cancel yellow out. This can result in it being more difficult to spot people wearing yellow at a distance.

Orange however is a Hi-Vis colour that is not regular in the countryside, therefore it stands out from further away which is why people working on the railways in the UK are expected to wear orange jackets to keep them safe.

Spring

Spring sees the trees and flowers sprouting all around and the backdrop can become orangey and green as new life blooms. To stand out against this background pink hi-vis jacket is a great option for pedestrians etc. to wear.

Summer

Summer is frequented with blue skies and green trees, the sun shines and fields are usually cut which can create a yellow background in the summer. Orange is a great hi-vis jacket colour option for these months

Autumn

Autumn sees nature becoming brown and the sky becomes darker earlier, to stand out against these colours yellow may be the best option of hi-vis jacket.

Winter

Winter is the time where the trees become bare, flowers are few and far between and the sky is often clouded and dark meaning that yellow hi-vis jackets are easily spotted. Snow can throw in some issues as it can create a bright glare when reflecting from the sun. In snowy conditions orange or pink hi-vis will help you be seen rather than yellow.

Time

Time is of course a big factor that is most self-explanatory. In the night hi-vis clothing is more effective if it has reflective strips. It is possible to purchase reflective clothing that is not Hi-Vis.

Hi-Vis Glowtech

However, Hi-Vis jackets are more likely to enable you to be spotted and will reduce the risk of drivers being startled or dazzled by sudden reflective clothing.

The best Hi-Vis jackets guide– available to buy

You know the back story, the EN standards and the industries Hi-Vis jackets can be found in, now it is time to find out the different types of hi-vis jackets available for you, your employees or because you always like to know more.

Summary

So, we’ve explored the colourful history of Hi-Vis jackets from their humble beginnings courtesy of ketchup, to their uses and the numerous types of jackets available to buy today. We hope you enjoyed and discovered some fun, useful and interesting facts to help you, your business or your employees.

Here at Rapid Fire Supplies we are delighted to provide such a fantastic range of hi-vis gear that can protect people in all settings. The only way to round this up is to repeat those fine words on hi-vis by Karl Lagerfeld,

“It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life”.

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