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High Visibility Standards

Published: 18th Aug 2014 in OSA Magazine

Working in conspicuous clothing

Mark Gamble provides an overview of standards for high visibility clothing and accessories.

High visibility garments are among the most commonly used items of personal protective equipment (PPE) throughout the world. Such PPE is worn by construction and maintenance workers 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 work activities such as school children, cyclists and motorcyclists, and those involved in sporting activities, such as road running and horse riding. 

Most countries will have a performance specification for high visibility products that is supplied to workers, perhaps in the form of a national standard, as seen in the table.

Within the European Union (EU), high visibility products and most other PPE are subject to the requirements of the European PPE Directive 89/686/EEC

The European PPE Directive divides PPE into three categories:

  • Simple - Items of simple design that protect from minor or gradual injury
  • Intermediate - Products that afford protection in circumstances where injury could be severe
  • Complex - Items of complex design that protect against death or irreversible injury

High visibility PPE, which includes clothing and accessories, falls into the intermediate category.

Technical files

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 items it covers supposes that the PPE under assessment is an example of what will be put into production. If the sample assessed is type-approved, then an EC type-examination certificate is issued by the notified body.

Subject to certain provisions, the EC type-examination certificate thereafter allows an article to be CE marked.

Basic requirements

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 whether or not 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 that have been sanctioned for this purpose. 

The harmonised standards for high visibility PPE are:

  • EN ISO 20471:2013 - High visibility clothing test methods and requirements
  • EN 1150:1999 - Visibility clothing for non-professional use test methods and requirements
  • EN 13356:2001 - Visibility accessories for non-professional use test methods and requirements

These standards are not to be applied to conventional workwear that may have small amounts of high visibility materials attached and where no claim is made for the visibility performance. Such clothing might use high visibility materials purely for decorative effect or as coloured markers, perhaps to identify workers in a factory setting. The same may be said of clothing for general wear when there is no claim made for high visibility or improved conspicuity. Harmonised standards contain an annex ZA that describes how each standard covers health and safety requirements. This helps manufacturers to produce articles that meet the essential requirements of the EU Directive 89/686/EEC.

Recent standards

The most recent visibility standard is EN ISO 20471:2013, which was accepted as a harmonised standard when it superseded EN 471:2003+A1:2007. It has the greatest application of all of the European visibility standards, as it is primarily used in the assessment of garments that are used in working environments.

This standard was developed as an International (ISO) standard and should find much wider application around the world. The emphasis of the new standard is to direct the manufacturers and suppliers of high visibility clothing towards the consideration of the risk associated with the environment in which the clothing is to be worn. Achieving the maximum visibility, or conspicuity, for a high visibility garment wearer is achieved not just by the use of high visibility materials, but also, importantly, by producing a garment that has a coherent and recognisable design.

Garment design

The design requirements for high visibility garments that meet EN ISO 20471:2013 are to achieve conspicuity for those who are in high risk environments. A table within the standard is devised to assist the decision on which class of garment is required for a particular risk situation. Eventually, the concept of judging the visibility requirements for clothing and accessories, based on risk assessment, will be extended to future revisions of EN 1150:1999 and EN 13356:2001, by the inclusion of the same or a similar risk table. Products meeting the revised editions of these last two standards will be intended to give conspicuity to wearers in medium and low risk situations.

The design requirements set out in the standard EN ISO 20471:2013 maintain a three class system for garments, like that of EN471:2003+A1:2007, which is based on minimum areas of high visibility materials being present on a garment. Class 3 garments provide the highest level of conspicuity. 

The new standard also permits this performance class to be met by specifying a single garment or an ensemble, for example, a classified jacket and a classified pair of trousers.

Where an ensemble is specified, it will be deemed to meet the requirements of the standard only when the supplier provides clear instructions on how the classification has been achieved. A Class 3 garment is required to cover the torso and have sleeves with reflective bands and/or trouser legs with reflective bands.

The standard demands uniformity in the design of high visibility garments. This is because the conspicuousness of a garment wearer is dictated as much by the design of a garment as the distribution and placement of visibility materials upon it.

The specific design requirements for garments are decided according to the type of item. 

Garment types are defined as covering:

  • The torso, for example, vests and tabards
  • The torso and arms, such as jackets, shirts, coats and t-shirts
  • The legs, such as a waistband, bib, brace trousers or shorts
  • The torso and legs, including coveralls without sleeves
  • The torso, arms and legs, for example, coveralls with sleeves

Visibility requirement

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 wearer’s visibility when illuminated by a vehicle’s headlights in darkness, the standard requires that the reflective tapes applied to garments are a minimum of 50mm wide and are positioned according to the requirements of the standard. The standard also 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 also use materials that meet the requirements specified in 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, road and maritime authorities to specify particular classifications of garments for their own use. In the United Kingdom there is a railway standard, GO/RT 3279, which has specific requirements for colouration and design of garments used on the railway network. Road authorities invariably require Class 3 garments, those that incorporate the largest areas of visibility materials, to be used on high speed roads.

Another important factor in the design of garments to meet EN ISO 20471:2013 is that the size range has to be considered. It is important that the design criteria are maintained throughout the size range, including in the smallest version. The design requirements for non-professional use high visibility garments differ in a number of ways from those described in EN ISO 20471:2013 and are set out in EN 1150:1999. Unlike EN ISO 20471:2013 clothing, the main design criterion is based on the area of visible or exposed material in each garment size that is to be supplied.

EN 1150:1999 also permits eight different fluorescent colours to be used in combination, which enables a wide range of designs to be approved. 

EN ISO 20471:2013 maintains the requirement from EN 471:2003+A1:2007, which states that high visibility clothing must combine different materials to produce a high level of contrast between the user of a product and the background of the high risk environment within which a person is placed. The colours that are permitted, to maintain conspicuity under daylight conditions, are fluorescent yellow, fluorescent orange-red and fluorescent red.


Maintaining conspicuity at night, under illumination by headlights of vehicles, is achieved by using appropriate retro-reflective materials. The appropriateness of materials is based on meeting defined performance criteria, as laid out in the visibility standards EN ISO 20471:2013, EN 1150:1999 and EN 13356:2001, which each have different requirements.

The requirements, however, are based on defining how light is reflected back towards a point of origin, or retro-reflected, and then defining the effectiveness of a cone of retro-reflected light that is produced by a particular material. To be effective, retro-reflective material must be capable of appearing bright, above minimum defined levels, when viewed at different angles. The retro-reflective materials used in clothing and accessories must also be durable. 

Testing of retro-reflectivity is therefore carried out on ‘as new’ materials, and after they have been subjected to pre-treatments that are intended to replicate the damaging effects of wear and the environment. Materials are subjected, for example, to abrasion, folding and flexing actions. For rigid materials, such as those used in certain accessories, the effects of impact with surfaces are taken into account by testing. The most damaging effects on retro-reflective materials are produced in the laboratory by domestic and industrial washing and dry cleaning pre-treatments. In promoting the durability of their products, many manufacturers of retro-reflective materials will have them tested in multiple cleaning cycles, in an endeavour to show that a product will remain effective throughout its time in use.

EN ISO 20471:2013 has a pass or fail requirement for separate performance retro-reflective materials. This requirement for materials is set at the same performance level as previously specified for level 2 materials, as was given in EN 471:2003+A1:2007. In contrast, EN 1150:1999 permits the use of retro-reflective materials that have a lower level of performance, although in practice most retro-reflective materials used on EN1150:1999 garments are EN ISO 20471:2013 compliant. 

While EN ISO 20471:2013 requires retro-reflective material to be used in tape form of minimum width, the design requirements of EN 1150:1999 permit a more imaginative use of retro-reflective materials. Material can be provided in tape form, but also in other shapes such as a logo, provided the material is evenly distributed around the body. EN 13356:2001 also allows retro-reflective material to be used creatively, but the standard has a limited application as it is only intended for accessories that confer enhanced night time conspicuity on a user.

Garment standards

EN ISO 20471:2013 refers to the standard ISO 13688:1998, and EN 1150:1999 refers to the harmonised standard EN 340:2003. Both specify the general requirements for protective clothing. The latter standard has been superseded by ISO 13688:2013, although ISO 13688:1998 still applies to EN ISO 20471:2013. It is within ISO 13688:2013 that wider considerations for garment safety are specified. These requirements, which set out testing to be undertaken to meet innocuousness, ergonomics and comfort requirements, also define design criteria for a range of PPE types, which, of course, include high visibility garments.

The standard EN ISO 20471:2013 also incorporates the classification of materials in terms of their physical performance. Some requirements have been amended from those given in EN 471:2003+A1:2007. The changes have had more impact on goods destined for the European market, as EC type-examination assessors now require additional testing in support of previous testing carried out under EN 471:2003+A1:2007. In setting a requirement for water vapour resistance testing, EN ISO 20471:2013 also requires that where applicable some materials are subjected to thermal resistance measurements. 

Washing care

The standard now includes a marking specification stating that if a maximum number of wash cycles for a garment is referenced on labelling or user instructions, this must relate to the high visibility material with the lowest level of cleaning performance. In all other standards this requirement has been applied only to the washability of high visibility tape. 

In the EN ISO 20471:2013 standard the maximum number of washes suited to the background material is also assessed. Suitability is defined by the ability of a material to maintain chromaticity and luminance values after washing, which would meet the requirements specified for a new material. The standard also maintains an emphasis on appropriate cleaning tests to be applied to the constructional materials of a garment. The standard incorporates an informative set of guidelines for the design of high visibility clothing. 

Published: 18th Aug 2014 in OSA Magazine


Mark Gamble

SATRA Technology Centre offers a wide range of services for the testing of high visibility materials, garments and accessories.

As a notified body, SATRA offers its services for subjecting high visibility garments to EC type-examination, with reference to EN ISO 20471:2013 and EN 1150:1999, and as appropriate the accessories standard EN 13356:2001, according to the demands of the European directive on PPE - 89/686/EEC.


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