Protective clothing - Reflective clothing
Grażyna Bartkowiak, CIOP-PIB
Every year, many employees are injured or die in accidents involving moving vehicles or machines within their workplaces because their presence was not signalled appropriately. Many accidents are also caused by insufficient visibility of individuals moving along the roads. The safety of people who are at risk of being hit by moving vehicles and objects may be increased by using reflective clothing characterised by appropriate properties and design, and selected appropriately for conditions in which the presence of people needs to be signalled (Towards_an_occupational_safety_and_health_culture, Occupational_safety_and_health_management_systems_and_workers’_participation, PPE)
Risk situation for the reflecting clothing use
The purpose of reflective clothing, also known as high-visibility warning clothing, is to signal the presence of the user in places and situations which may cause potential threats to their health and safety. Such signalling must be effective at any time of day and night, when it is dark — in the light of vehicle lamps, headlamps as well as street lighting, e.g. on municipal roads. Reflective clothing is commonly used by construction workers and those performing maintenance works on motorways and roads or tracks e.g. railway tracks, airports, docks and wharfs. It should also be used wherever there is risk that a worker may collide with or be hit by moving machines or objects. These types of risks occur in industrial facilities and also in various kinds of transport. The risk of collision also applies to workers employed as drivers. Drivers are particularly at risk of being hit by passing vehicles in the case of a breakdown, when they need to repair the vehicle on the road. Similar risks occur also during the loading and unloading of vehicles. Clothing with reflective elements is also used by chemical and medical rescue teams and fire brigades. It should be noted that in all situations of risk when reflective clothing is used, it does not guarantee complete safety, but it optimizes appropriate visibility and will significantly reduce the risk of an accident. Reflective clothing should also be used in non-professional situations, in particular on the roads. This applies mainly to pedestrians and cyclists also while walking and cycling to work. When moving along streets with no lighting or insufficiently lit streets, and/or absence of separate walkways, pedestrians who are often poorly visible are at a risk of being hit by cars. This risk is a concern especially in the autumn and winter period, when people usually wear clothes made from materials in dark colours, with a low luminance factor. As reflective clothing protects its user against risks but does not eliminate the risk. It is also a type of protective clothing and belongs to personal protective equipment within the meaning of Directive 89/686/EEC. Personal protective equipment includes reflective clothing enhancing visibility of moving people in situations where they may be hit by vehicles. The fact that reflective clothing belongs to personal protective equipment has legal consequences relating to the specific procedure of placing it on the market PPE.
Definitions pursuant to EN 471  standard:
- reflective clothing (high-visibility clothing) – warning clothing intended to provide conspicuity at all times;
- protective clothing – clothing which protects against risks occurring in the workplace; ''''
- fluorescent material – material that emits optical radiation at wavelengths longer than those absorbed;
- background material – coloured fluorescent material intended to be highly conspicuous;
- non-fluorescent material – material used in reflective clothing which is not the background material;
- retroreflective material – material which is a retroreflector but which is not intended to comply with EN 471 standard for background material;
- reflection - change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated;
- combined-performance material – material intended to exhibit both background and retroreflective properties;
- coefficient of retroreflection - characterises the effectiveness of retroreflective material in returning light to its source.
Employees and employers obligation
EU legislation distinguishes between two areas of regulations regarding personal protective equipment.
The first is discussed in Directive 89/656/EEC, which determines the obligations of the employer regarding ensuring safe use of personal protective equipment. It follows from these provisions that the decision about the use of personal protective equipment must be preceded by all possible actions aimed at eliminating risks at the source, both technical and organisational. If the actions aimed at complete elimination of threats to health or safety do not bring the desired results, the decision to use reflective clothing should be made OSH management system,PPE. The provisions of Directive 89/656/EEC  include also employers’ obligations connected with the necessity to use personal protective equipment. Reflective clothing should be appropriately selected by the employer, based on a risk analysis, and delivered to the employees free of charge. The employer is also responsible for the maintenance of reflective clothing and replacement of used-up garments, in particular if the used items have reduced protective properties.
The second area of regulations with regards to personal protective equipment is connected with Directive 89/686/EEC . It concerns the rules of placing the products on the common market, i.e. the assessment of conformity with basic health, safety and ergonomics requirements (BHSRs). Therefore, protective clothing, including reflective clothing, should meet the requirements of the Directive referred to above. It follows from these regulations that the manufacturer of reflective clothing — or their authorised representative - is responsible for the conformity of the products placed on the EU market with the basic requirements specified in the Directive, which is confirmed by placing a CE mark on the product. The users of personal protective equipment should note that they must only use equipment marked with CE, i.e. complies with Directive 89/686/EEC  and is safe to use [RO-11-06-2 PPE].
Reflective clothing placed on the European market belongs to category II of personal protective equipment (category II covers PPE of medium complexity design which are not included in category I ‘simple design’ or III ‘complex design’) and should comply with the indicated European harmonised standard under Directive 89/686/EEC . Reflective clothing for professional use i.e. used by workers in their workplaces, should meet the requirements of EN 471 standard, while the clothing for non-professional use (used for example in the way to work) should meet the requirements of EN 1150standard. Both the clothing for professional and non-professional use should meet the requirements of the general standard for protective clothing, i.e. EN 340.
Only by using clothing with an EC type examination certificate, with the CE marking and an appropriate harmonised standard under Directive 89/686/EEC  PPE should guarantee that the reflecting clothing has confirmed protective properties and - if appropriately selected for the relevant conditions and used properly — should ensure sufficient visibility of a person at a risk of being hit by moving vehicles, machines or moving objects.
Reflective clothing for professional use - requirements
Types and classes
In order to fulfil its essential function, i.e. signal the presence of the user both during the day and night, reflective clothing should be made from two kinds of high-visibility materials: the background material with fluorescent properties, which ensures visibility during the day, as well as retroreflective material or combined-performance material. The retroreflective and combined-performance materials reflect the light back to its source and, thus, ensure that in the darkness the clothing is visible in the light of the vehicles.
According to EN 471 reflecting clothing is grouped into three classes. Each class shall have minimum areas of high-visibility materials incorporated in the garment in accordance with Table 1.
Table 1. Minimum required areas of high-visible material in m² 
| Class 3
| Class 2
| Class 1
Source: EN 471
The proportion of the required background material shall be 50 % ± 10 % on the front and back of the garment.
Class 1 reflecting clothing can also be made from combined-performance material with a minimum required area of 0.20 m2.
Class 3 reflecting clothing is characterised by having greater conspicuity in most types of urban and rural surroundings than class 2, which at the same time is significantly more conspicuous than class 1.
Materials used in reflective clothing for professional use
Fluorescent background material
In order to ensure visibility of the clothing during the day, the material should be of a fluorescent colour: yellow, orange-red or red. According to EN 471, the chromaticity coordinates of the colour used as the reflective clothing background material should be in the range of one of the indicated areas determined with the use of such coordinates. Also, the luminance factor should exceed the relevant minimum value indicated in EN 471 standard. The area of the chromaticity coordinates for the fluorescent orange-red colour is presented in Fig. 1.
Figure 1. Area of the chromaticity coordinates for fluorescent orange-red colour
Source: Figure made by the author
In order to ensure visibility of a worker throughout the entire cycle of use of the reflective clothing, the background material which complies with the EN 471 should retain the colour in a specified period of time, even if the clothing is exposed to sunlight, changeable weather and maintenance cycles. This is why the chromaticity coordinates of the background material colour should fulfil the requirements after an indicated cycle of exposure to xenon light. After the test, the colour should still meet the requirements indicated in EN 471. The colour of the material of the reflective clothing should also be resistant to a number of maintenance cycles (laundry or dry-cleaning) indicated by the manufacturer of the clothing and also to rubbing by another material. Reflective clothing — besides fluorescent background material - may also be composed of non-fluorescent material in any colour (e.g. navy), in proportions appropriate for the given class of clothing. The EN 471 standard states, however, that the material should be characterised by good colour fastness in particular with respect to laundry and rubbing, which will ensure protection of the fluorescent background material colour (e.g. orange-red) during the usage of the clothing.
The essential quality characteristic of retroreflective materials is the coefficient of retroreflection. Depending on the reflectivity, materials may belong to either class 1 or 2. Class 2 materials provide greater contrast and visibility of the reflective clothing when it is seen in headlights in the dark than class 1. When a greater conspicuity is required, higher levels of retroreflective material should be used. Basically, the more visible we need to be, the more reflective and brighter our clothing should be.
In order to ensure a proper level of protection during use, the retroreflective material in compliance with the EN 471 standard should meet the requirements relating to the coefficient of retroreflection even after cycles of maintenance, abrasion, flexing, folding at cold and influence of rainfall. These kinds of tests are most often performed in the process of certification of the retroreflective material in relation to compliance with the EN 471 standard.
The so-called combined-performance materials constitute a separate group. They meet the requirements specified both for the background materials (visible during the day) and retroreflective materials (ensuring visibility during the night) - they are characterised by much higher effectiveness and ensure better visibility of the worker.
The minimum requirements given under the EN 471 standard are determined by the specific test methods and their assigned measuring values. The tests are partly performed on new materials and partly on preconditioned materials. However, it should be noted that laboratory testing may not represent real life conditions. Even if performance of materials is determined after simulating real life conditions (e.g. exposure to Xenon light or washing cycles) there has not been any known relationship yet between the materials’ performance and wear time or actual realistic conditions of wear. The conspicuity performance of a garment will depend on usage (e.g. dirt, solar irradiation), care (e.g. cleaning agent, repair), storage (e.g. dust-free, lightproof), etc., so wear of the clothing during use should be observed.
In order to ensure visibility of the user’s body during the day as well as at night, it is important that the background and retroreflective materials in reflective clothing are properly situated. Reflective clothing should be made from materials ensuring visibility from all sides because it is difficult to predict from which direction the user may be exposed to danger, e.g. collision with moving vehicles, and from which side they should be visible the most. In order to ensure visibility from all sides, both the fluorescent and the retroreflective materials should encircle the torso as well as the legs and sleeves of the garment. To ensure visibility during the day, the background material should be distributed on many dispersed areas covering the surface of the garment, so that it reflects the human body shape to the distant observer. To maximise the effectiveness of the garments at night and visualise movements of their users, e.g. in the light of headlamps, bands of the retroreflective material should encircle the torso and cover specified in EN 471 areas of legs and sleeves so that the wearer can be identified as a human wearing high-visibility clothing. High effectiveness of the clothing is ensured by using an appropriate combination of vertical and horizontal retroreflective bands. The width of the bands for retroreflective material should not be greater than 50 mm. The final decision on the selection of a particular design of the garment should be made by the users, upon conducting a risk analysis and assessment regarding the workplaces which require employers to ensure visibility of the worker. Examples of typical designs of reflective clothing which meet the requirements of EN 471  standard are presented below. '
Garments covering the torso
Garments covering the torso are vests and tabards. The following designs are possible: • two bands of the retroreflective material encircling the torso and bands of retroreflective material connecting to the upper horizontal band over the shoulders, • one band of the retroreflective material encircling the torso and bands of retroreflective material connecting to the band on the torso over the shoulders, examples of such kind of garment’s are given in Fig. 2, • two bands of the retroreflective material encircling the torso. The bands of retroreflective material around the torso should be at a distance of at least 50 mm from each other with a maximum inclination of ± 20°. The lower edge of the lower band on the torso should be at a distance of at least 50 mm from the bottom edge of the jacket, vest, tabard or shirt.
Figure 2. Reflective clothing covering the torso (dimensions in millimetres)
Source: EN 471
Garments covering the torso and arms (jackets and shirts)
The arrangement of reflective bands on the torso should be the same as for vests and tabards. The long sleeves of overalls and jackets should be encircled by two bands of retroreflective material positioned on them at the same height as the bands around the user’s torso. The upper band should encircle the upper part of the sleeve, between the elbow and the shoulder. In the case of overalls without sleeves and trousers with raised front and braces, there should be two bands of retroreflective material at a distance of at least 50 mm from each other. Example for garment’s covering the torso and arms is given in Fig. 3. Fig. 3. Reflective clothing covering the torso and arms (dimensions in millimetres)
Source: EN 471
Garments covering legs
For trousers there should be two bands of retroreflective material encircling each leg with a maximum inclination of ± 20°, at a distance of at least 50 mm from each other. The lower edge of the lower band should be at a distance of at least 50 mm from the bottom edge of the leg. Example for garment’s covering legs is given in Fig. 4. Fig. 4. Reflective clothing covering legs (dimensions in millimetres)
Source: EN 471 
Garments covering the torso, arms and legs
For overalls there should be two horizontal bands of the retroreflective material around the torso of the user at a distance of a least 50 mm from each other. Long sleeves of overalls and jackets should be encircled with two bands of retroreflective material positioned on them at the same height as the bands around the user’s torso. The upper band should encircle the upper part of the sleeve, between the elbow and the shoulder. In the case of overalls without sleeves and trousers with raised front and braces, there should be two bands of retroreflective material at a distance of at least 50 mm from each other. Examples for garment’s construction covering the torso, arms and legs are given in Fig. 5 and Fig. 6.
Fig. 5. Reflective clothing covering the torso, arms and legs (dimensions in millimetres) in fluorescent orange-red colour with vertical bands
Source: EN 471
Fig. 6. Reflective clothing covering the torso, arms and legs (dimensions in millimetres) in fluorescent yellow colour with bands at an inclination ≤ 20º
Source: EN 471
Reflective clothing is very often used throughout a whole working day; therefore it should be comfortable and not cause any additional thermal load for the user. This is very difficult to obtain as any type of protective clothing leads to some decrease in comfort. Preferably users should request quantitative information on comfort performance from the manufacturers. The design of reflective clothing should ensure proper fit; the garment should not be too loose or too tight so as not to impair movement. Wherever possible, protective clothing should be made from materials with low water vapour resistance and/or good air penetration and/or should be sufficiently ventilated in order to minimise discomfort and thermal stress. Often, reflective clothing is used to perform many functions, e.g. it can be also made of waterproof material protecting against rainfall and/or cold, and then it is particularly important that it should be vapour-permeable.
Obligations of the reflecting clothing manufacturer
Reflective clothing must be labelled by its manufacturer. The label should include the name according to the requirements of the European standard – EN 340:2003 , EN 471  standard number, as well as a graphic mark and relevant classes.
Fig. 7. Reflective clothing label – the upper digit (X) indicates the class of the background material area, the bottom digit, (Y) — the class of the retroreflective material 
Instructions for use
The manufacturer has an obligation to provide the user with instructions for use of the reflective clothing with the garment. The instructions should include information concerning: restrictions for the use of the clothing, its storage and maintenance. Moreover, the manufacturer should determine the number or maintenance cycles which do not cause a decrease of the clothing’s effectiveness. This information should be taken into account by the users.
Complete information on the requirements concerning reflective clothing for professional use is presented in EN 471 standard, which may be found at the CEN and national standardisation institutions.
Rules of selection and proper use of reflective clothing for professional use
Reflective clothing should mainly meet the requirements presented in Section 4. To ensure the effective protection of the user it is important to select the appropriate class and design of the clothing that matches the conditions in the workplace. This should be done by conducting a risk assessment for a particular workplace or a particular use. Finally the reflecting clothing will only offer protection if it is used and maintained in accordance with the rules and instructions indicated by the manufacturer PPE.
Below, there are 4 steps for selecting proper reflective clothing for a particular workplace.
Step 1 is the analysis of conditions at the workplaces where reflective clothing should be used i.e. situations where enhancing visibility is required to ensure the health and safety of workers. The Risk Assessment should consider, the speed of moving vehicles and their distance from workers, weather conditions, the time of day when the work is performed as well as the type of work being undertaken. It is also necessary to consider whether there are any other risks at the workplaces which will influence the type of reflective clothing selected, for example whether work is performed in the autumn-winter period and the worker may be exposed to precipitation.
In Step 2, upon conducting the risk assessment, when selecting the class of clothing and the colour of the background material, the most contrasting colours against the surroundings should be made. It is also necessary to determine the users’ requirements. Taking into account the guidelines concerning the design of the clothing presented in subchapter 4.3, or in more detail in EN 471 , the design which will sufficiently signal the user's presence in the worplace under the limited visibility conditions should be selected. In addition, the type of work being performed and the season should also be taken into consideration. It may, for example, be necessary to select clothing from the multi-functional clothing group, protecting against bad weather and reflective at the same time. In such circumstances, clothing should comply with EN 471  standard and additionally — EN 343  and/or EN 342  or EN 14058 .
When planning the selection of clothing, it is needed to take into consideration its functionality and comfort, because garments which do not meet such requirements may be rejected by their users and if they do not wear them, it will adversely affect their health and safety.
Step 3 should be a discussion about the selection of clothing with the users —employer will review the selection of the reflective clothing in light of the workers’ suggestions and provide details of the specification requirement for the reflective clothing ordered.
In Step 4 selection of the clothing from the group with an EC type examination certificate, marked with the CE and EN 471  standard should be made.
Not wearing reflective clothing by workers when there is a risk of them being hit by vehicles or moving objects is the greatest problem in terms of ensuring safety. It could be caused by the fact that the garments were not selected properly for their users and can create a thermal load. The risk may also increase if the clothing selected based on a risk assessment is not being worn as a set. Therefore, the employer must ensure that employees at the workplaces which require the use of reflective clothing use such clothing in accordance with the adopted rules.
Conspicuity is the property that makes an object readily attract visual attention. This is a particularly important feature in complex environments which have visually competing objects. Conspicuity is determined by an object’s luminance contrast, colour contrast, pattern and design, and motion characteristics relative to the ambient background against which it is seen.
Conspicuity is also a relative measure to some extent. Users should be aware that their conspcuity may change because of changes in the environment, weather, location, or objects in the direct environment of the work place. It may be advisable to test the consipcuity of people at work when moving to completely new environments. The requirements on the high-visibility (colour and reflectivity) also largely refer to new products. There is very limited information available on the performance degradation of high-visibility clothing in practice, and, thus, there are no clear guidelines on the period of use or the number of washing cycles a garment can endure. Employers still need to rely on the information supplied by the manufacturer, if they are not willing to test actual conspicuity of their workers at the work place.
Reflective clothing should be sufficiently visible in order to signal the presence of the user in a high risk situation. The EN 471  standard defines three classes of reflective clothing for professional use based on three different minimum areas of the retroreflective material, background material and/or combined-performance material. The employer in discussion with the user should choose a suitable class and design of the clothing based on the risk assessment of the place and situation where reflecting clothing protection is required. This involves considering the factors which may affect an observer’s ability to detect that a person is present. The observer needs both to perceive and to recognize the wearer and then needs to be able to take appropriate avoidance action. The wearing of a conspicuity-enhancing high-visibility garment does not guarantee that the wearer will be visible under all conditions.
- Directive 89/656/EEC - use of personal protective equipment of 30 November 1989 on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace. Retrieved on 22 June, 2012: http://osha.europa.eu/en/legislation/directives/workplaces-equipment-signs-personal-protective-equipment/osh-directives/4
- EN 471:2003+A1:2007: High-visibility warning clothing for professional use - Test methods and requirements, CEN – European Committee for standardization, Brussels, 2007
- Council Directive 89/686/EEC of 21 December 1989 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to personal protective equipment; OJ L 399, 30.12.1989, p. 18–38. Retrieved on 22 June, 2012: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/consleg/1989/L/01989L0686-20031120-en.pdfof Directive 89/391/EEC)
- EN 1150:1999: Protective clothing - Visibility clothing for non-professional use - Test methods and requirements, CEN – European Committee for standardization, Brussels, 1999,
- EN 340:2003: Protective clothing - General requirements, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2003
- EN 343:2003+A1:2007/AC:2009: Protective clothing - Protection against rain, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2009
- EN 342:2004/AC:2008: Protective clothing - Ensembles and garments for protection against cold, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2008
- EN 14058:2004 Protective clothing – Garments for protection against cool environments, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2004
Links for further reading
- Council Directive of 30 November 1989 on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace (third individual directive within the meaning of Article 16 (1) of Directive 89/391/EEC) (89/656/EEC). Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:01989L0656-20070627:EN:NOT
- EN 471:2003+A1:2007: High-visibility warning clothing for professional use - Test methods and requirements, CEN – European Committee for standardization, Brussels, 2007.
- Council Directive 89/686/EEC of 21 December 1989 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to personal protective equipment OJ L 399, 30.12.1989, p. 18–38. Available at:
- EN 1150:1999: Protective clothing - Visibility clothing for non-professional use - Test methods and requirements, CEN – European Committee for standardization, Brussels, 1999.
- EN 340:2003: Protective clothing - General requirements, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2003.
- EN 343:2003+A1:2007/AC:2009: Protective clothing - Protection against rain, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2009.
- EN 342:2004/AC:2008: Protective clothing - Ensembles and garments for protection against cold, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2008.
- EN 14058:2004 Protective clothing – Garments for protection against cool environments, CEN – European Committee for Standardization, Brussels, 2004.
High-visibility clothing Workplace transport site safety information sheet, Health and Safety Executive, INDG199(rev1), 08/12. Available at: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg199.pdf
A short guide to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, Health and Safety Executive, INDG174(rev1), 09/11. Available at: www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg174.pdf
High-visibility clothing, Health and Safety Executive, WPT11, 08/11. Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wpt11.pdf
Workplace transport safety, An employers’ guide HSG136 (Second edition), HSE Books, 2005.
Management of health and safety at work, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Approved Code of Practice and guidance L21 (Second edition), HSE Books, 2000.