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The design of high-visibility clothing

Personal protective equipment is a device or appliance designed to be worn or held for protection against hazards.

Among the most commonly used items of personal protective equipment (PPE) are high-visibility garments. These are now worn by construction and maintenance workers throughout Europe, on motorways, roads and rail networks, in airports, docks and harbours, and also by emergency services and security personnel. High-visibility garments are also worn by those who are not engaged in professional or work activities, such as school children, cyclists and motorcyclists, and those involved in sporting activities, such as road running and horse riding. This article gives an overview of the European PPE Directive and the standard requirements for high-visibility garments.

The European Union (EU) Directive 89/686/EEC covers different types of PPE, and places them into one of three categories:


High-visibility PPE falls into the middle or intermediate category.

It is a prerequisite for all categories of PPE that the design of an article should be recorded in a technical file. For intermediate and complex category products, the technical file must be subject to examination and approval by a European Notified Body, such as SATRA. The examination of a technical file and the products it covers by a Notified Body supposes that the product under assessment is a pre-production model or prototype. If the sample assessed is type-approved, then an EC type-examination certificate is issued by the Notified Body. The EC type-examination certificate thereafter allows an article to be CE marked.

Whatever the category of PPE that is supplied, it must meet the basic health and safety requirements (BHSR) of the PPE Directive. For all items of PPE, there are two established means by which it can be determined if an article meets the provisions of the EU Directive 89/686/EEC. One is to assess the product against the BHSR using means devised by the Notified Body. The other is to use harmonised standards known as 'ENs'. The standards that have been produced for visibility garments are:


Each of the harmonised standards contains an annex ZA that describes how the standard covers heath and safety requirements. This helps a manufacturer to produce an article to meet the essential requirements of the EU Directive 89/686/EEC.

The design requirements for high-visibility garments for professional use are set out in EN ISO 20471:2013. The standard requires that garments meet the requirements of one of three classes, which are defined according to the visible areas of fluorescent background fabric and bands of retro-reflective tapes that are present on a garment.

Importantly, there are defined areas and proportions in which the fluorescent materials used in the garment must be utilised. This is to ensure that the design of a garment maintains the enhanced visibility of a wearer in daytime conditions as he or she moves about or undertakes different actions. This is also why there is a primary requirement to ensure that the body of a garment and, where present, sleeves and trouser legs, are encircled with fluorescent material.

Similarly, to help maintain the visibility of a garment user when illuminated by vehicle headlights in darkness, the standard requires that reflective tapes applied to garments are a minimum of 50mm wide and are positioned according to the requirements of the standard.

The standard sets out design requirements, one of which must be met if compliance with the standard is to be claimed. The standard covers requirements for a range of garment types, including coveralls, trousers, jackets, waistcoats, shirts and tabards.

It is imperative that manufacturers and suppliers of high-visibility clothing devise designs that incorporate the requirements of the standard and utilise materials that are specified for use within the standard. Of course, suppliers of products must also consider the market that they intend to supply. As EN ISO 20471:2013 permits different colours of material to be used and different classifications of garments, it is not unusual for some organisations, such as railway and maritime authorities, to specify particular classifications of garments for their own use.

Another important factor in the design of garments to meet EN ISO 20471:2013 is that the size range has to be considered. The design assessment of a garment is based on the smallest sized garment in a range. Therefore, it can be misleading to compare the classification of two similar style garments, without knowing the size ranges in which they have been made available.

The design requirements for non-professional use high-visibility garments differ in a number of ways and are set-out in EN 1150:1999. Unlike professional use garments, the main design criterion is based on the area of visible or exposed material in each garment size that is to be supplied.

The standard also permits eight different fluorescent colours to be used in combination, which enables a wide range of designs to be approved. Most garments that are approved by SATRA are single colour garments. The design of EN 1150 garments also permits the more imaginative use of retro-reflective materials. Material can be provided in tape form, but also in other shapes – such as a logo – providing that the material is evenly distributed around the body.

EN ISO 20471 refers to the ISO standard ISO 13688:1998 and EN 1150 refers to the harmonised standard EN 340:2003, each of which specifies the general requirements for protective clothing. It is within this standard that wider considerations for garment safety are specified. These requirements, which set-out testing to be undertaken to meet innocuousness, ergonomic and comfort requirements, also define design criteria for a range of PPE types which, of course, include high-visibility garments.

SATRA’s experience with design assessment is that many manufacturers and suppliers of PPE do not have sufficient understanding of the requirements that are placed upon them by the harmonised standards. As a Notified Body, SATRA has many standards available. Importantly, it can draw upon its own experience in assessing a wide range of PPE products, as well as being able to seek the opinions of any other Notified Bodies due to its involvement with European Notified Body Groups.

SATRA's Essential Guide to PPE is available at www.satrappeguide.com

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