Protective clothing - Reflective clothing
Grażyna Bartkowiak, CIOP-PIB
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Risk situation for the reflecting clothing use
- 3 Basic definitions
- 4 EU legislation
- 5 Reflective clothing for professional use - requirements
- 6 Rules of selection and proper use of reflective clothing for professional use
- 7 Conclusions
- 8 References
- 9 Links for further reading
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.
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 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 Regulation 2016/425/EU . 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.
Definitions pursuant to EN ISO 20471 standard :
- reflective clothing (high-visibility clothing): warning clothing intended to provide improved conspicuity in situations where the risk of not being seen is high;
- fluorescent material: material that emits electromagnetic radiation at visible wavelengths longer than those absorbed;
- background material: coloured fluorescent material intended to be highly conspicuous;
- retroreflective material: material which is a retroreflector;
- separate-performance material: material intended to exhibit either background or retroreflective properties but not both;
- combined-performance material: material intended to exhibit both background and retroreflective properties
With regard to the EU legislation, a distinction must be made between the legislation aimed at protecting the workers (OSH legislation) and the legislation aimed at placing safe products on the market.
OSH Legislation - Directive 89/656/EEC
The legislation on Occupational safety and health (OSH) includes provisions for workplaces to ensure the safety and health of employees. The main legislative act is the Framework directive 89/391/EEC  and the 23 related ('daughter') directives. One of these daughter directives is Directive 89/656/EEC of 30 November 1989 on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace. This directive 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. 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.
Placing PPE on the market – Regulation 2016/425/EU
The rules of placing PPE on the common market are laid down in regulation 2016/425/EU of 9 March 2016 on personal protective equipment. This regulation contains provisions on the design, manufacture and marketing of PPE. The EU Regulation is applicable to all PPE that is placed on the market (not only PPE used in the workplace) and sets out the rules for manufacturers. An EU Regulation applies automatically and uniformly to all EU countries without needing to be transposed into national law. The regulation stipulates the essential health and safety requirements (EHSRs). Manufacturers have to ensure that the PPE meet these requirements by demonstrating the conformity of their products (conformity assessment procedures and CE mark). Reflective clothing placed on the European market belongs to category II of personal protective equipment according to annex I of the regulation and manufacturers have to submit the model (type) of the clothing for an EU type-examination to a notified body. The requirements for reflective clothing are specified in the harmonised standards under regulation 2016/425/EU. Reflective clothing for high risk situations, should meet the requirements of EN ISO 20471 standard High visibility clothing – test methods and requirements and of EN ISO 13688 Protective clothing - General requirements.
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 ISO 20471 reflecting clothing is grouped into three classes. Each class has 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 
Source: EN ISO 20471
To ensure visibility from all sides (360° visibility), it is important that horizontal retroreflective bands and fluorescent materials encircle torso, trouser legs and sleeves. All class 3 garments must cover the torso and have as a minimum either sleeves with retroreflective bands or full length trouser legs with retroreflective bands.
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. EN ISO 20471], specifies requirements for the chromaticity coordinates of the colour used as the reflective clothing background material as well as minimum values for the luminance factor. The area of the chromaticity coordinates for the fluorescent orange-red colour is presented in figure 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 ISO 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 ISO 20471. 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 ISO 20471 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. In order to ensure a proper level of protection during use, the retroreflective material in compliance with the EN ISO 20471 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 ISO 20471 standard.
The so-called combined-performance materials 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 ISO 20471 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 20471 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 at least 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 ISO 20471 standard are presented below. '
Garments covering the torso
Garments covering the torso are vests and tabards. Garments only covering the torso have one or more bands of 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.
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. If a sleeve blocks a clear view of a horizontal torso band, then the sleeve has to be encircled by a retroreflective band. If it is a long sleeve (1/1 arm) garment, the sleeve has to be encircled by two bands of retroreflective material at least 50 mm apart. Example for garment’s covering the torso and arms is given in figure 3.
Garments covering legs
For trousers there should be two bands or more 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 figure 4.
Garments covering the torso, arms and legs
The background material of these garments has to encircle the torso, the sleeves and trouser legs. The requirements correspond with the requirements of garments covering the torso resp. the legs. An example of such a garment is shown in figure 5.
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 ISO 13688, the reference of EN ISO 20471, the CE mark as well as the symbol of high visibility clothing and the class of the garment (x = 1, 2 or 3).
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 ISO 20471 standard, which may be found at the CEN and national standardisation institutions.
Rules of selection and proper use of reflective clothing for professional use
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.
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. The design of the reflective clothing has to sufficiently signal the user's presence in the workplace under the limited visibility conditions. 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 ISO 20471 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. The 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 ISO 20471 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 workplace. It may be advisable to test the conspicuity of people at work when moving to completely new environments.
Reflective clothing should be sufficiently visible in order to signal the presence of the user in a high risk situation. The EN ISO 20471 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.
- Regulation (EU) 2016/425 on personal protective equipment of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016 on personal protective equipment and repealing Council Directive 89/686/EEC (with effect from 21 April 2018). Available at: 
- EN ISO 20471: High visibility clothing - Test methods and requirements
- Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work (Framework Directive). Available at: 
- 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. Available at:
- EN 343: Protective clothing - Protection against rain, CEN – European Committee for Standardization.
- EN 342: Protective clothing - Ensembles and garments for protection against cold, CEN – European Committee for Standardization.
- EN 14058: Protective clothing – Garments for protection against cool environments, CEN – European Committee for Standardization.
Links for further reading
- EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Risk assessment essentials. Available at: 
- EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Risk assessment, the key to healthy workplaces, Factsheet. Available at: 
- EU Commission, Personal protective equipment,