The evolution of high visibility protective workwear

High visibility workwear is essential to ensuring the safety of workforces. In certain industries and professions, such as railway maintenance, it is difficult to imagine working without the help of glowing garments. Yet, this was the case for all workers in any environments prior to the 1900s. In fact, the history of high visibility workwear only spans back around 8 decades!

In this post, phs Besafe will be examining how high visibility workwear has evolved into the essential safety requirement that it is today…

The invention of high visibility as we know it

The origins of high visibility workwear are found in the 1930s, when Bob Switzer was injured while unloading creates at a Heinz Ketchup factory. He was injured so badly that he went into a coma and his eyesight was permanently damaged. To help his recovery, Bob spent time in a dark room where his brother entertained him using fluorescent chemicals. Following his recovery, Bob experimented further with fluorescent chemicals and the brothers invented the first fluorescent paint.

Development of high visibility wearables

The next notable step in this evolution is the use of high visibility garments during World War II. This is when the U.S started experimenting with using high visibility garments to reduce friendly fire and to communicate between ground and air troops. In addition to this, high viz buoys were also used to distinguish what parts of the sea had been searched for explosives.

Moreover, in 1964, Scottish Rail were the first company to introduce high visibility workwear to the rail services. The success and importance of this is apparent, as by 1965 every rail worker on the West Coast Main Line was issued with high visibility garments.

Changes in high visibility legislation

In 1974, the Health and Safety at Work Act was first put in place in the UK. This determined the requirements that employers needed to follow in regard to their employees’ safety. Ensuring that workers are seen when working in potentially dangerous situations was a key requirement of this.

 In 1992, we then saw the introduction of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Act. This act included that workwear must be appropriate for the conditions in which an employee is working, and it must fit them correctly in order to protect their health and control safety risks.

The EN471 standard was a specification for high visibility clothing that was introduced in 1994. This standard, however, was superseded by an adapted version in 2003. The standard worked on a class system stating the required amounts of background to reflective material ration. These classes were then assigned to specific jobs based on how dangerous not being seen could be.

The success of the standard meant that in 2013, the EN ISO 20471 was introduced. This meant that regulation stipulated must be adhered to on an international basis, rather than just in the EU. 


High visibility workwear today

With our needs growing and developments in technology moving alongside said needs, high visibility clothing has come a long way since the Switzer brothers’ dark room. Our phs Besafe Glow Gear highlights the ability of high visibility today. This range adds an extra layer of visibility and can react to the wearer’s environment. The three elements of this workwear are day time fluorescence, retro reflectivity and phosphorescent illumination. These elements are displayed superbly in the image below. 

The extra layer of reflective tape works by photons absorbing energy from UV light, generating increased activity in the electrons that then release that energy through the medium of light.

Please visit our site for more information on the best high visibility Bright Gear and Glow Gear garments available today.

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