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Hi-Vis: A Blessing or a Curse?

Hi-Vis: A Blessing or a Curse?

Posted by Toolstop Colin on 30th Aug 2011

hi-vis jacket

The BBC published an interesting article on their website entitled "How high-visibility took over Britain".

In the article they examine the hi-vis culture that has slowly consumed Britain over the last 4 or 5 decades to the point where "it has become this symbol of spurious authority", so says Rod Liddle of the Sunday Times.

The idea seems to be that wearing a hi-vis vest or jacket somehow imbues its wearing with a prerogative to boss other people about.

How many of us can testify that we’ve encountered jobsworths of the worst kind, all wearing hi-vis?

As the BBC website article offers:

"What is perhaps most significant, however, is the manner in which this mass-produced garment, available from pound shops the length and breadth of the country, has come to lend its wearers the mantle of officialdom, licensed to give orders by virtue of their outerwear."

hi-vis jacket

However, there must be a reason why hi-vis has become to ubiquitous, from car parks to building sites, across the UK.

And the simple reason is a hi-vis jacket or vest is highly visible. No real rocket science involved.

And that got us thinking. Hi-vis jackets or vests are virtually an absolute must on the job site. You see them everywhere. Most of you reading this absolutely must wear one while you’re working.

hi-vis jacketsThe reason for this is linked to health and safety laws that originate in the EU, in Brussels, to be precise. The men and women in the European parliament have passed laws that make it mandatory for you to wear a hi-vis vest or jacket while you work.

But that’s not all.

They’ve also passed laws that make it mandatory for you to wear protective footwear, eyewear and ear wear while you work. Oh, and gloves too. And don’t forget the hard hat.

What’s hilarious about these laws, though, and where they originate, is that we once visited a Belgian warehouse where there wasn’t a hi-vis vest or jacket in sight. Nor protective footwear. One of the forklift truck operators was even wearing open-toed sandals as he operated his vehicle at extremely high speeds.

Adding potential injury to the insult, we weren’t offered hi-vis vests to wear as we toured the warehouse, so the open-toed sandal wearing fork lift truck driver didn’t have the benefit of being able to easily avoid running us over, due to us being highly visible.

Where did the idea of high visibility clothing come from?

Interestingly, the fabric that’s supposed to help prevent industrial accidents (by making the wearer highly visible…) was invented by a guy who was injured in an industrial accident.

Bob Switzer’s ambitions of becoming a doctor were nipped in the bud by the accident, and while recuperating he experimented with the idea of fluorescent paint before turning his wife’s wedding dress into the first item of high-visibility clothing.

I bet she was thrilled.

And that takes us onto the fashion element of hi-vis clothing.

Let’s be honest, most hi-vis jackets are a fashion nightmare that even Gok Wan would struggle to recover from.

And there are times when even the most lightweight hi-vis vest is going to be uncomfortable to wear.

For example, the guys in the Toolstop warehouse found that the vests were making them uncomfortably hot during the summer months. So, we created hi-vis polo shirts for them to wear instead, thereby meaning they could wear one less layer while still being safe and visible.

But for those of us who are fashion conscious, what hope is there? Are we destined to look like a lumpy, over-officious jobsworth on the jobsite?

We have two choices; completely ignore the EU regulations per our buddies in the Belgian warehouse, or check out what Toolstop has to offer in the hi-vis department.

First off, check out this "bomber jacket"!

Made by Beeswift, the bomber jacket features high visibility 300D Polyester Oxford outer shell with PU coating which meets the EN471 Class 3, meaning it’s the highest level of visibility available (best in class?) thanks to the 3 wide reflective bands on the body.

Not just safe but borderline fashionable…in a way.

If you’re looking for safety, high-visibility coupled with an air of authority, then check out the Traffic Jacket!

This time we’ve got the EN471 Class 3 rated luminance, the PU coated polyester, but also quilted lining with heavy weight (160gsm) polyester filling, security pocket, knitted storm cuffs and taped seams!

All that’s missing is the clipboard and pen.

All joking aside, though, these are great jacketsthat are going to do exactly what you want them to; make you highly visible, either on the job site, at the road side or wherever you happen to be.

And with winter approaching, it’s probably the right time to invest in a hi-vis jacket that’s going to keep you warm and dry, too.

So, Bob Switzer has a lot to answer for. He helped create a world of luminous clothing that has transformed the British Isles, job sites and our working life.

What’s your experience with hi-vis? Do you ever get mistaken for someone of power and authority as you walk back to the job site from the local bakery? Have you "abused" this sense of power while wearing your hi-vis jacket?

Let us know in the comments, Facebook or Twitter.

Photo credits:

"Jon’s pics"

"Highways Agency"


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