Hi-Vis Shirts: What Type Do You Need?
There is a lot of variety when it comes to hi-vis shirts, and even the smallest difference can have an impact on the wearer's safety.
Hi-vis shirts aren't for every occasion – you probably shouldn't show up to a wedding or a funeral wearing one. But on a lot of job sites, they're exactly what you need to stay safe.
Wearing a hi-vis shirt is like wearing a big, flashy sign that lets everyone know you're there. And knowing you're there can keep your co-workers from swerving into you, backing over you, or dropping heavy loads on you (learn about Choosing the Best Safety Vest for the Job).
Hi-vis shirts come in a variety of designs and materials. Here are few choices you have to make when picking out high-visibility shirts for yourself or your crew.
The whole point of a high-visibility t-shirt is to stand out, but there is a range when it comes to being seen. On the higher end, it's like wearing a sequin shirt to the club; on the low end, it's just slightly more noticeable than the work uniforms at a Best Buy.
The shirts that offer the highest visibility have retroreflective material built into them as well as additional reflective strips that wrap around the torso and shoulders. This ensures maximum visibility and means the worker will be visible from the back and front. The shoulder strips help a worker be seen even when carrying a large box or other object that will block a large portion of the torso.
From there, the visibility ramps down in steps. You can have a similar shirt with just front or back reflectors, which can be used for operators where the equipment cab always blocks either the front or back. There are shirts with brightly colored material and reflectors rather than the whole thing being reflective. And, at the last step, there are regular shirts that are made out of material that is dyed a more visible color (usually neon orange or neon yellow). These last ones aren’t generally considered serious PPE, but they can be effective when used with other hi-vis clothing or in situations where the visibility is more informational, such as identifying the foreman, a particular crew, or even more casual worksite folks like ticket sellers and food vendors (find out How to Ensure Outdoor Worker Visibility).
You shouldn't wear a ball cap and a suit. Or is that white socks and a suit? Who knows – fashion is fickle and confusing. But at least matching safety clothing is a bit more straightforward.
When it comes to hi-vis shirts, you generally want to select materials that meet other safety needs. If you have to wear flame-resistant pants to do your job, you can find synthetic high-visibility shirts that offer complimentary flame resistance (find out How to Layer Your Flame-Resistant Clothing). Working with machinery that is constantly trying to pull you in, chew you up, and spit you out? Look into hi-vis shirts that have tearaway points or deliberately weak seams. Need cut protection? Thicker mesh product with kick-ass materials like Kevlar are out there waiting for you (it won’t stop bullets, but you'll still get to boast that you have to put on your Kevlar before going to work).
Six words for you: high-visibility button-up work shirt. This is a thing that exists. Maybe the accounting department at a construction firm felt left out and complained enough that it created a market for this. Regardless, you could find a nice, neon yellow button-up shirt with a collar if that's what you think would work best for you on the job site.
More basic design choices include:
Sleeves or No Sleeves
This can be a temperature-related choice, as most workers prefer t-shirts in the heat. That being said, the sleeves do provide a bit more sun protection if the work is done outdoors during the daytime.
The choice of sleeves or no sleeves can also have integrated safety concerns like snag risk (t-shirt is better) or fire resistance (cover more of that skin).
Collar or No Collar
It depends on the work site, but the collar can offer a bit more sun protection as it covers more of the neck. If you're outside all day in the sun, even an inch and a quarter of extra protection makes a difference.
Collared hi-vis shirts can also be used to identify managers and supervisors. As mentioned, you can also get them with buttons as a bonus.
Pockets or No Pockets
Possibly humankind’s greatest invention, a handy pocket in the right place can hold a phone, radio, tools, or a pack of chewing gum.
Pockets usually sit on the left side of the chest, but custom orders can change the placement, size and shape as needed.
For all its advantages, in some lines of work a pocket is more of a snag risk than anything else, so a majority of hi-vis shirts do away with them, particularly if the wearer will also be donning a hi-vis vest or jacket.
Sizing and Fit
Twenty years ago, you would've been hard pressed to dress an employee over six feet tall, not to mention anyone other than the men on your crew. Now you can find the right size and fit for every body type. And you definitely should, as proper fitting PPE is safer and more likely to actually be used (learn more about Selecting the Right PPE for Women).
If a hi-vis shirt is too loose, the reflective strips won't align and function as intended. If it is too tight, the worker won't function as intended because it's hard to do any job when your blood flow is being pinched off at the arm pits and your stomach is hanging out.
The Bottom Line
Long story short, there is an endless array of colors, materials, designs, and visibility levels to choose from when buying hi vis shirts.
Now that you’ve been awakened to the to the wide selection of hi-vis shirts available to keep your workers safe, don’t let that new knowledge go to waste! There’s no more excuse for slapping the same shirt on every employee you hire, no matter their size or safety needs.
Check out the rest of our Personal Protective Equipment content here.
Written by Andrew Beattie
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