Hi-vis clothing is commonly seen on highway and roadside construction sites. But what does “hi-vis” mean exactly? Read on to find out.
Are you in the market to purchase safety vests? If so, check out our High-Visibility Safety Vest Buying Guide.
What Does “Hi-Vis” Mean?
Hi-vis is an abbreviation for high visibility. This clothing is designed to make workers highly visible from a distance beyond normal garments. They are made from fluorescent materials along with embedded reflective tape to increase visibility further.
A high-visibility suit, jacket or vest can increase visual recognition by a factor of 5-10 times. This is essential to give workers, motorists and equipment operators an opportunity to see each other far before an impact might occur.
In the U.S. visibility standards for worker safety are set by ANSI. Read our article on ANSI visibility standards to learn more.
The History of Hi-Vis
Over 50 years ago, hi-vis clothing was first used in the United Kingdom during the construction of a railway line. Since then, the use of this type of safety clothing started to spread to other areas such as construction sites, roads, emergency departments, and airports, among others.
Today, high-visibility clothing is used in almost all sectors where worker safety could be a concern. Motorists, horse riders, and other road users have embraced the use of reflective vests to guarantee their safety as well.
How Hi-Vis Clothing Works
Whenever hi-vis clothing materials are exposed to light, the fluorescent colors and reflective materials used create a glowing appearance. The light source does not necessarily have to originate from the sun; it can be from other sources like vehicle headlamps or spotlights.
Colors Used in Hi-Vis Clothing
Color is the most crucial element you need to consider when shopping hi-vis clothing since it determines how effective your clothing will be. For instance, lifeboat crews prefer to wear orange hi-vis clothing due to its increased visibility against the sea background, which dark-blue in color.
Hi-vis safety clothing comes in a variety of colors, which may include red, blue, green, and pink. But for the safety concerns, yellow and orange are the most used fluorescent colors.
High-Visibility Materials Used
The materials used in hi-vis protective clothing are reflective, and this is what gives it light reflecting properties. Flourescent background material, micro-prismatic tape and glass bead reflective tape are the primary materials used in hi-vis safety clothing.
Plastic Vinyl Tape
Plastic vinyl is used in the making of micro-prismatic tape and is rich in tiny prisms. The prisms are contained inside the tape, and they bounce light from within before it is reflected back to the source.
Glass Bead Reflective Tape
Glass bead reflective material is the most used material in the making of hi-vis clothing, especially the commercial ones. It’s relatively cheap in comparison to micro-prismatic tape; the only problem is that it reflects light at a wider angle from the source. This means that it travels a shorter distance when compared to the light that micro-prismatic tape reflects.
Hi-vis clothing serves a critical purpose in that it can protect workers from safety hazards in the line of duty. When shopping for safety clothing, understanding the differences between hi-vis clothing and normal garments can help to keep you safe.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.