By Karen Thuranira

High-Visibility Safety Apparel (HVSA)

High-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) is clothing that workers wear to improve how well other people see them or to improve how visible they are. These kind of clothing is often worn to alert drivers, vehicle and machinery operators of a worker’s presence. And most especially in low light and dark conditions.

One may consider having a high-visibility headwear to increase their visibility in situations where part or all of their body could be obscured e.g. when working in leafy areas with many trees, traffic barriers, construction materials, etc.

Situation that require High-Visibility Safety Apparel

High-visibility clothing allow you to be seen by the drivers and or machinery operators sooner and more readily. This fact increases your safety at work. You must have HVSA if;

  • You are working when there is low light and poor visibility.
  • You are working around moving vehicles (cars, trucks or other machinery traveling under their own power – e.g., forklifts, backhoes, etc).

How to choose the High – Visibility Safety Apparel that will work best for you.

It is recommended that an initial hazard assessment be carried out on each job site to evaluate the site for known or potential hazards a worker may encounter while performing the job. This assessment will help to determine the risk to workers of being hit by moving vehicles and the environmental conditions under which work is performed.

When doing the hazard assessment where HVSA might be required, consider the following;

  • Type and nature of the work being carried out – including the tasks of both the HVSA wearer and any drivers.
  • If workers will be exposed to heat and/or flames. If so, flame-resistant HVSA would be required.
  • Work conditions, such as indoor or outdoor work, temperature, work rates, traffic flow, traffic volume, visibility, etc.
  • The workplace environment and the background workers must be seen in (e.g., is the visual area behind the workers simple, complex, urban, rural, highway, filled with equipment, cluttered).
  • How long the worker is exposed to various traffic hazards, including traffic speeds.
  • Lighting conditions and how the natural light might be affected by changing weather.
  • Factors that affect warning distances and times, such as the volume of traffic, the size of vehicles, their potential speeds and their ability to stop quickly, and surface conditions.
  • If there are any engineering and administrative hazard controls already in place (e.g., barriers that separate the workers from traffic).
  • Any distractions that could draw workers attention away from hazards.
  • The sightlines of vehicle operators, especially when vehicles are operated in reverse.
  • For certain jobs, there’s need to be “visually” identifiable from other workers in the area.

Once a hazard assessment is complete, appropriate controls can be selected. The first line of defense for workers’ safety would be to control the design of the workplace and reduce the exposure of workers to moving vehicles (e.g., through the use of physical barriers and other engineering and administrative controls). Using high-visibility apparel would be the last line of defense against accidents by providing more warning to vehicle operators that workers are on foot in the area.

What to look for when purchasing High-Visibility Safety Apparel.

Size, Coverage and Design

  • Large, bright garments are more visible than small ones. Coverage all around the body (360° full body coverage) provides better visibility in all viewing directions.
  • Stripes of colours that contrast with the background material to provide good visibility. Stripes on the arms and legs can provide visual clues about the motion of the person wearing the garment.
  • When background material is bright-coloured, it is intended to be highly visible.
  • Other requirements such as flame resistance, thermal performance, water resistance, durability, comfort, tear-away features, material breathability and flexibility that are applicable to the job.
  • Be sure to select the colour and stripe combination that provides the preferred contrast and visual indication of movement.


  • For safety and best performance, garments should be fitted to the person. Always consider the clothing that might be worn underneath the HVSA garments, and how the garment should be worn. The HVSA should sit correctly on your body with no loose or dangling components, and stay in place during your work.
  • The apparel should be comfortable to wear. Parts that come into direct contact with the worker should not be rough, have sharp edges, or projections that could cause excessive irritation or injuries.
  • The apparel should be lightweight.
  • Garments should be selected and worn such that no other clothing or equipment covers the high-visibility materials (e.g. gloves, equipment belts, and high-cut boots).


  • Daylight – Bright colours are more visible than dull colours under daylight conditions (e.g. fluorescent materials are suitable for daylight).
  • Low light conditions – such as at dawn and dusk, reflective materials are highly recommended. In dark working conditions, greater retroreflectivity is needed as it provides greater visibility these conditions. Retroreflective materials provide high-visibility conditions and are preferred over bright colours. Fluorescent materials are ineffective at night and less visible than white fabrics.


  • High-Visibility Safety Apparel Standards worldwide, specifies both the colour of the background and the stripes/bands. Class 1 (e.g., harness style) must have a minimum of 0.14 metres squared of background material.
  • Background material should be one of;
  • fluorescent yellow-green
  • fluorescent orange-red
  • fluorescent red
  • bright yellow-green
  • bright orange-red.

Care and Maintenance:

  • Keep your high-visibility apparel clean and well-maintained. Contaminated or dirty retroreflective materials provide lower visibility.
  • Replace garments that show signs of wear and tear, dirty or contaminated as they will no longer be able to provide acceptable levels of visibility.
  • Purchasers of HVSA should get proof that the materials used and the design of the garment meet the required standards.

Different classes of High-Visibility Safety Apparel

The Standards of High-Visibility Safety Apparel sets out levels of retroreflective performance (i.e., the effectiveness of material in returning light to its source), the colours and luminosity of background materials, and how much of the body that should be covered by the high-visibility components. There are also special requirements for garments that to provide electrical flash and flame protection. These Classes differ in that they specify body coverage rather than minimum areas.

Below are three classes of garments based on body coverage. Each class covers the torso (waist to neck) and/or limbs according to the minimum body coverage areas required for each class.

  • Class 1 provides the lowest recognized coverage and good visibility.
  • Class 2 provides moderate body coverage and superior visibility.
  • Class 3 provides the greatest body coverage and visibility under poor light conditions and at great distance.

When to wear the different classes of High-Visibility Safety Apparel.

After a hazard assessment is carried out, a person is able to tell if the working environment is a low, medium or high risk. This way, they are able to choose the right apparel for the job. Below is a detailed description of which class of HVSA to consider for different working conditions.

Low Risk:   Class 2, Class 1 depending on the actual conditions at the site

Examples of situations that could be considered lower risk:

  • Workers in activities that permit full and undivided attention to approaching traffic.
  • When there is ample separation between the worker on foot and the traffic.
  • When work backgrounds are not complex, allowing for optimal visibility.
  • When vehicles are moving slowly (e.g., less than 40 km/h).
  • When workers are doing tasks that divert attention from approaching traffic.

Examples of jobs include:

  • Directing vehicle operators to parking or service locations.
  • Retrieving shopping carts in parking areas.
  • Workers in warehouse operations.
  • “Right-of-Way” or sidewalk maintenance workers.
  • Workers in shipping or receiving operations

Example of Class 1 Apparel
Harness or Colour/Retroreflective Stripes on Other Clothing

NOTE: Other options are possible, including a shirt made of non-high-visibility material, but with high-visibility or retroreflective stripes/bands.

Medium Risk: Class 2 or 3 based on certain conditions

Examples of situations that may be of medium risk:

  • When vehicles or equipment are moving between 40-80 km/h (25-50 mph).
  • Workers who require greater visibility under inclement weather conditions or low light.
  • When work backgrounds are complex.
  • When workers are performing tasks that divert attention from approaching vehicle traffic.
  • When work activities are in closer proximity to vehicles (in or near flowing vehicle traffic).

Examples of jobs include:

  • Roadway construction, utility, forestry or railway workers.
  • Utility workers.
  • Survey crews.
  • Forestry workers.
  • School crossing guards.
  • Parking and/or toll gate workers.
  • Airport baggage handlers and ground crews.
  • Emergency response personnel.
  • Members of law enforcement.
  • Accident site investigators.
  • Railway workers.

Figure 2
Examples of Class 2 Apparel
Vests, Jackets and Bib overalls

NOTE: These examples are not the only options available.

High Risk: Class 2 for daytime, Class 3 for low-light conditions

Examples of situations that may be high risk:

  • Vehicle speeds exceeding 80 km/h (50 mph).
  • Workers on foot and vehicle operators with high task loads that clearly place the worker in danger.
  • When the wearer must be conspicuous through the full range of body motions at a minimum of 390 m (1,280 ft).
  • Work activities taking place in low light or at nighttime.

Examples of jobs include:

  • Roadway construction workers.
  • Utility workers.
  • Survey crews.
  • Emergency responders.
  • Road assistance/courtesy patrols.
  • Flagging crews.
  • Towing operators.

Figure 3
Examples of Class 3 Apparel
Jackets and Overalls

NOTE: These examples are not the only options available.


Just like any personal protective equipment, workers should be take through appropriate training on the use and care of the equipment. The following minimum information should be provided to workers wearing high-visibility apparel:

  • When to use the high-visibility apparel.
  • Fitting instructions, including how to put on and take off the apparel, if relevant.
  • The importance of using the apparel only in the specified way.
  • Limitations of use.
  • How to store and maintain the apparel correctly.
  • How to check for wear and tear.
  • How to clean or decontaminate the apparel correctly, with complete washing and/or dry cleaning instructions.

Remember; your safety should be your top priority.