High-visibility vests were first developed in the 1930s by Bob Switzer after his eyesight was damaged while unloading crates. Together with his brother Joe Switzer, Bob created fluorescent and reflective materials to improve safety on job sites and prevent unnecessary injuries.
Some 90 years later high-visibility vests are still mandatory in many environments, and for a variety of workers, across Australia.
In 2010, Standards Australia published AS/NZS 1906.4:2010, Retroreflective materials and devices for road traffic control purposes, Part 4: High-visibility materials for safety garments.
As industries have developed, and the needs for safety has changed, Standards Australia Technical Committee MS-049 is looking to revise the standard.
The revisions will look to include pink and green vest colours currently used in industry, and introduce the possibility of blended materials, for better role delineation and to ensure best visibility.
Pink and green vests
The new pink and green colours will work to provide better delineation of users’ roles. For example, road-construction workers often wear orange high-visibility vests as the colour contrasts with black bitumen. Forestry industry professionals could choose to wear pink as it contrasts with the brown trunks of trees and leafy green canopies. Emergency services have increasingly chosen yellow green as have builders where the colour stands out against varying environments.
“We must recognise the significance of the new colours as high-visibility vests must be attention-grabbing, but they also need to stand out from potentially camouflaging background colour,” said Alan Parker, revision proponent and member of MS-049.
“Additionally, the colours ensure visibility in all weather and low light conditions such as wet days or at dusk and dawn.”
While the standard will seek to legitimise the use of pink and green, it will not stipulate what colour a particular industry worker shall wear. Unless mandated by regulators, it will be up to the end-user.
High-visibility vest users may require a garment material that has a second safety feature. For example, it may also need to be resistant to metallic sparks, flame, or an ability to avoid creating static electricity sparking.
This is a challenge because synthetic fibres provide bright and brilliant colours, but they are reactive to sparks and flames. Whereas natural fibres provide better safety against the risk of catching fire, they cannot reach the same luminance or brightness level as synthetic fibres.
The revision aims to clarify and update the restrictions around natural fibres as blended fibres have been produced in the years since the standard was published.
“If you need visibility as well as spark resistance, then historically we would use natural fibre which isn’t as bright in low light or heavily shaded conditions – but it is the best we can do,” Mr Parker said.
“Now, with changes in technology, there is a possibility that blended fabrics can provide fluorescent colours while being fire retardant.”
"We will investigate blended materials and, if proven suitable, the revision will seek to include them.”
The significant work to revise the standard will be conducted by MS-049 and is likely going to kick off this month.