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High-Visibility Workwear: To See and Be Seen on the Job

By Mike Parson, Safe Reflections, Inc.

When a worker thinks of reflective uniforms, images of highway repair crews or construction workers come to mind immediately. But today’s high-visibility work wear is more than a simple reflective vest or shirt with silver trim – low-light workplaces such as factories, mines and petroleum rigs require a higher level of safety than most off-the-shelf reflective textiles can provide.

In addition to being flame resistant, today’s industrial work wear for petroleum drilling and service workers, electrical workers, refinery workers and foundry workers must include enhanced visibility features. These features allow clothing to have highly reflective properties and/or colors that can instantly create conspicuity, which is the ability to conspicuous to the work environment and background, even in most lighting conditions. These garments often have reflective stripes or patches that become much more visible in the dark or in low-light environments.

Brightness, Visibility and Placement

To better understand the unique challenges of designing uniforms for today’s 24 hour occupations, it’s important to note the different measures of visibility that define whether a garment is suitable for the aforementioned industrial applications: brightness, visibility and placement.

Brightness is measured in RA (cd/lux/m2) – the technical measurement of the amount of light returned to light source per area exposed. The higher the number, the more light returns to the light source, which increases the viewing distance of the reflective material. High Brightness reflective materials range from 200 to 500 RA, while most cosmetic applications not suitable for work wear can be as low as 30 RA.

Visibility is the combination of brightness and reflective area, or how much high-visibility material is used for contrast. For high-visibility applications, work wear designers should use performance materials that are both fluorescent and reflective to maximize a 24 hour enhanced visibility garment.

Placement of reflective material on a garment can improve both brightness and visibility. Placement should define and outline the human form and allow viewing from 360 degrees and on the extremities, such as wrists and ankles, to show bio-motion. Following these factors will allow viewers of the reflective to more quickly distinguish a person from the background.

High-visibility, FR (flame-resistant) finished edge trim

As an add-on to existing designs, or as the centerpiece of a custom uniform solution, ready-to-sew FR finished edge trim is an ideal way for commercial work wear manufactures to include wash-durable high-visibility reflective material in any design. One new flame-retardant finished edge trim made with 3M™ Scotchlite™ Reflective Material is now available and is already being widely used by oil and gas workers, electricians and chemical workers. Other edge trim options are available for a variety of applications, depending on the needs and specifications of the industry. Traditionally, FR trims have added excess bulk and weight to work wear, reducing comfort for workers. Designers and uniform suppliers should consider comfort when choosing a reflective trim, particularly in those industries where workers are exposed to a wide range of climates and environments.


The recent growth in oil and gas exploration – coupled with new OSHA regulations for flame retardant uniforms – is driving increased demand for new solutions in reflective work wear. New materials that are comfortable, flexible, wash-durable and (most importantly) feature high brightness and visibility are among several leading-edge technologies now available to enhance worker safety.

Mike Parson is the VP of Global Sales for Safe Reflections, Inc., a technology leader in providing reflective and trim solutions to the occupational safety, consumer activewear and military training apparel markets.Learn more about Safe Reflections, including its breakthrough technologies and proprietary products like Eclipse™, Brilliant® Color Reflective and Tribondex™ Adhesive by visiting for complete product specifications and ordering information.

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