In 2013, the European Union revised the standard that defines the quality of high-visibility PPE. It means that when producing these garments, manufacturers must comply with a number of changes. With many companies still in the process of switching over to the new standard, we take a look at what these changes mean and how they better protect people who work in high-risk areas.

Every five years or so, the European Union revises the standard that defines the quality of PPE. In 2013, the Official Journal of the European Union published a new standard EN ISO 20471 to replace the existing EN 471 standard for high-visibility garments.

These newer regulations mean manufacturers have to take into account some extra factors when developing PPE garments. EN ISO 20471 relates specifically to the products designed for sectors in which people work in close proximity to moving vehicles, such as roadsides, especially where there are no barriers to protect them from traffic. According to PPE manufacturer FE Engel, the best visibility in traffic is achieved with the largest fluorescent and reflective surface area on the warning clothing. The fluorescent area ensures the wearer is visible when it’s light, while the reflective area makes you visible when it’s dark.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) says the changes relate to the term conspicuity. This describes how much visual attention an object attracts, determined by factors such as an object’s luminance contrast, colour contrast, pattern and design. And it’s particularly important in complex environments with visually competing objects – in other words, where there’s a lot going on that can distract the eye.

Today’s EN ISO 20471 standard raises the conspicuity of high-visibility clothing to improve the safety of people employed in high-risk environments. It ensures they’re well and truly visible to operators of vehicles and mechanised equipment, for example. And it ensures they’re easier to see under all circumstances.

The newer standard does this by adjusting the regulations in relation to the colour, reflectiveness and the placement of materials that make up the high-visibility garment. There are a number of key changes in place, some of which are as follows.

  • Garment washes: Fluorescent background materials must pass colour and luminance tests after the stated number of washes on the care label to ensure their lifespan guidance is accurate.
  • Retro-reflective tape: The washing test method for the new standard requires each cycle to be a wash and dry cycle. EN471 only required drying after the last wash cycle.
  • Class 3 updates: Garments are grouped by a class system based on the areas of high visibility materials present in a garment. Class 3 (with the highest surface area of fluorescent and reflective material) provides the highest degree of conspicuity against most backgrounds, and 1 the lowest. With the new standard, garments can be grouped in ‘ensembles’. For instance, two class 2 garments (such as a jacket and trousers) can, in some cases, can be combined to form a class 3 ensemble. Also, to meet class 3, the standard now imposes that a garment must:
  1. Fully cover torso and have full-length sleeves, or
  2. Fully cover torso and have full-length sleeves and/or full-length legs.
  • Design: Manufacturers must give greater consideration to the design of garments. The placement of materials such as retro-reflective banding must better suit their environment in order to receive the 'CE' marking (the symbol that verifies an item meets European Commission requirements).

Meanwhile, the new standard reduces some requirements for garments. For example, tensile strength and burst strength requirements for certain fabrics have been reduced, while some test methods for processes such as tear strength have changed.

As before, a risk assessment is required to examine different situations in which people work to determine the required levels of conspicuity in garments. This risk assessment defines the level of high-visibility clothing that’s needed to protect people most effectively. The ideal situation is one in which the observer can see and recognise the wearer in time to prevent an incident.

The above points can only summarise some elements of the new ISO standard because their specifics are too detailed to list here. However, it's easy to find the full version of the EN ISO 20471 document on the ISO website - an important investment if you're a manufacturer or user of PPE.

Alternatively, Anchor Safety can help. Our team can offer expert advice and information on the latest standards and regulations and what they mean to you. For advice on this or anything else, please contact our team on 0800 328 5028.