The evolution of high visibility protective workwear

High visibility workwear is essential to ensuring the safety of workforces. In certain industries and professions, high-visibility clothing, such as vests and jackets, are a legal requirement when you're at work. It is difficult to imagine that people would feel safe working in high-risk environments without specialty safety wear. But workwear safety was not the norm until the 1900s. In fact, the history of high visibility workwear only spans back around 8 decades.

High Visibility workwear is constantly evolving, and it has become an essential safety requirement for millions of workers around the world, in a relatively short period of time.  

What is high visibility clothing made from?

The origins of high visibility workwear are found in the 1930s, when Bob Switzer was injured while unloading crates 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, Switzer spent time in a dark room where his brother entertained him using fluorescent chemicals. Once fully-recovered, Swizter experimented further with fluorescent chemicals and the brothers invented the first fluorescent paint; also known as high visibility paint.

After Switzer's discovery, scientists and engineers began exploring other ways of using fluorescence. During World War II, the U.S started experimenting with using high visibility garments to reduce friendly fire and to communicate between ground and air troops. High viz buoys were also used to distinguish what parts of the sea had been searched for explosives.

A significant step in its use in workwear was made in 1964, when Scottish Rail became the first company to introduce high visibility workwear to the rail services due to a high number of safety concerns. 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.

How does high visibility fabric work?

High-visibility workwear is made from fluorescent material. Natural or artificial light  reacts with the fluorescent colour, which makes the fabric appear flow. The reflective strips on high-visibility workwear is to help with protection in the dark. Light Sources, such as cars or torches will cause the strips to glow. For protection in any environment, including wet weather, high-visibility workwear should have a mix of fluorescent colours and reflective strips.


How often should you replace your high-visibility clothing?

High -visibility clothing should be regularly checked to confirm it has retained its glowing qualities after being washed. It is important to regularly clean high-visibility safety workwear as dirt can hinder its effectiveness.

There is no set time that you should replace high-visibility safety clothing, as there are a number of varying factors; such as the number of wash cycles or any damage to the fabric. Credible manufacturers should provide you with detailed wash cycle information, you should follow these instructions carefully. You should do a quick check before every use, it could save your life. 

When should high visibility clothing be worn?

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 the ACT.

In 1992, we then saw the introduction of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Act. This act states workwear must be appropriate for the conditions in which an employee is working. The workwear must also fit them correctly in order to protect be compliant with health and safety policy.

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.

In 2013, the EN ISO 20471 was introduced. It stipulated that regulation must be adhered to on an international basis, rather than just in the EU. 

High visibility workwear in the early 2020s

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.

phs Besafe Glow Gear:

  • Has a super-fast charge. 5 mins of sunlight = 8 hours of glow which reacts naturally to changing levels of light.
  • Uses VizLite Dual technology to provides maximum visibility and protection without any limitations.
  • Exclusively incorporates dual technology reflective tape - a revolutionary safety innovation which offers wearers a third level of protection in low light and dark environments.
  • Provides maximum protection avoiding restrictions to the wearer due to the movement panels incorporated into the garments.

The three elements of phs Besafe Glow Gear are daytime 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.

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