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Safety Vests: The Best Choice for YOUR Job

By Rick Raether
Published: September 15, 2017 | Last updated: September 20, 2018 01:58:06
Presented by AD Safety Network
Key Takeaways

Not all safety vests are designed for the same applications.

Source: shironosov / iStock

Vests fall in and out of favor on a regular basis in the fashion world.

David Beckham wears one and they are in style. You wear one... and everyone wants to know when the fishing trip is.

That said, high visibility vests are a reliable type of PPE on the job site. Hi-vis vests help workers stand out from the crowd. This is important because blending in can lead to getting backed over by heavy equipment.


If you've seen one safety vest, you've seen them all... right? Wrong. There's a wide selection of designs and materials when it comes to hi-vis vests. What you need depends on the type of work you'll be doing.

Want some insight on the choices you have when picking out high visibility vests for your crew? Keep reading to boost your understanding of vest colors, designs, and materials. In this blog, you'll learn the right vest to use for your unique job.

Being Seen

There is being seen, and then there is being seen.

You won’t exactly disappear into the crowd with a neon yellow vest. But, there are options that can make you stick out like an Elvis impersonator at a funeral.

The highest visibility vests have retroreflective material making up the vest itself. They also have extra reflective strips that wrap around the torso and shoulders and mark out the pockets. This ensures the greatest amount of visibility. It also means the worker will be visible from the front or the back. This, of course, protects workers whether they are facing the danger or not.

Why are the added reflective strips useful? Imagine a worker carrying a large box or object that covers their torso. Reflective strips on the shoulders help others see these workers in this scenario.

More modest combinations exist of course. Do you have operators that are always seated in a way where only their back or front is visible? You can get vests with only front or back reflectors. There are also vests with bright-colored material and reflectors. Select these options if you don't want your entire safety vest to be reflective.

There are even regular vests made out of normal material like mesh that is dyed a hi-vis color. These vests are usually neon orange or neon yellow. This type of hi-vis vest won’t meet the regulations for jobs that require ANSI standards. But, they can be effective when used with other hi-vis clothing (learn what makes a hi-vis vest ANSI compliant).

They can also be useful in situations where the visibility is more informational. For example, you may want to identify a particular trade in a work crew or have the site manager stand out. These basic vests are most often seen on casual worksite folks. They often identify occupations such as ticket sellers and food vendors.


Complementary Safety

Hi-vis vests help raise the awareness of your team. They signify the locations of workers to keep one crew member from driving into another. But, they can also serve other safety functions.

When it comes to hi-vis vests, you generally want to select materials that fit with the other safety needs your workers have. Are your workers at risk of getting pulled into machinery? You’ll want to consider tear away or breakaway vests. These vests have fasteners at the seams that pull apart with a moderate tug. That way, you can lose the vest and keep the person.

Often, employers have the old problem of finding a vest to match the pants. If a worker is being exposed to flame, they are probably already wearing some flame resistant PPE on their legs (find out Why Quality Work Pants Matter More Than You Think). So, the hi-vis vest should offer some flame resistance. Choose vests made from synthetic materials that are less prone to going up like kindling. A great example of these materials includes coated nylon.

Similarly, hi-vis kevlar vests or other mixed material vests offer supplemental safety benefits. They provide cut protection for workers exposed to that type of hazard. They won’t be able to walk through machine gun fire, but a more robust material can stop or turn a utility knife.

Design Choices

Vests are a pretty specific look. You can’t have a vest with sleeves, for example. That's called a jacket. Despite this restriction, there are actually quite a few design choices when it comes to vests. Some options you have for your workers include:


Yes, there are vests with collars. This may not seem like the most fashion-forward option. But, the collar on a vest can offer a bit of extra sun protection. It can also reduce the chances of sparks and slag getting inside your clothing.

Pockets or No Pockets

A pocket in the right place can be indispensable on the job. It gives workers a place to put tools, note pads, keys, chewing gum, radios, phone, bear spray, tasers, and so on. Wondering why the examples are getting more extreme? Tactical vests are among the all-time kings in fitting pockets on a limited surface. Some tactical hi-vis vests look like they have more storage than your average family bungalow.

Looking for a more modest hi-vis vests? There are usually options for pockets on one or both sides of the chest. But, custom orders can change the placement, size, and shape as needed.

Sizing and Fit

PPE works best when it fits. That means you should have the ability to buy the size of vest you need for your crew. This includes women and men that don’t fit the average body type for their gender, too.

There have been great strides made in the range of sizes available for order. Now, it's easier than ever to find the right fit. Keep in mind, if Shaq shows up on the job, you’ll probably have to make a custom order. But, that's still easier than sewing two hi-vis vests together by hand.

Selecting Safety Vests to Stand Out

Still think that all safety vests offer the same protection? You should now know that this isn't the case. There's various colors, materials, designs, visibility levels, sizing options... and the list goes on.

With your new understanding of the diverse selection of hi-vis vests to protect your workers, it's time to equip them. It's time to take action! Think about the tasks and needs of your workers, as well as the jobsite. With these considerations, you'll choose the safety vests most suitable for your worksite (learn about Your Options for Hi-Vis Apparel in Daylight and Low Light Visibility).

Check out the rest of our content about Personal Protective Equipment here.


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Written by Rick Raether | Sr. Vice President-Sales & Marketing

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