The Different Types of Safety Vest and Their Uses

Construction workers with safety vest

What is a ‘Safety Vest’?

A safety vest is an important piece of safety and protection equipment that is designed with the sole intention of making its wearer highly visible by using fluorescent colored materials in its making that reflect easily in all conditions especially in dark or in the presence of low levels of light or visibility.

All safety vests are made up of two main components i.e. a high contrast and reflective fabric (preferably a mesh fabric) and a high degree reflective tape.

Uses of safety vests

While you might be familiar with normally seeing the maintenance and construction staff working on roads and highways wearing it so that the fast traffic passing by could be aware of the human presence and avoid any contact, safety vests are also widely used in other industries.

This is primarily because of the visibility factor which signals other employees working in the same premises of each other’s presence and thus reduces the chances of any accidents from occurring.

Some of the other industries where the use of the safety vest is essential due to the critical nature of the work involved are –

  • Traffic control
  • Construction workers
  • Security personnel
  • Emergency staff
  • Public utility staff
  • Heavy machinery and equipment operators
  • Railroad and airport staff
  • Maintenance staff
  • Attendants devised at controlling crowd during rush hours at public places or during rallies and parades

Importance and benefits of wearing safety vests

Wearing safety vests offers a wide range of benefits and becomes important for many reasons. Such as –

  • Besides being highly reflective, the material used in the making of safety vests is very light weight making it the most convenient piece of clothing to wear while ensuring safety and preventing any accidents.
  • Safety vests are normally waterproof. This is to say that they can easily be worn while it’s raining. Other than this, even if a safety vest gets wet, it is likely to dry out sooner than the other clothes you are wearing beneath. Hence, getting wet or raining won’t hinder its performance.
  • Wearing a safety vest differentiates you from the rest of the crowd. Considering the first case in the beginning of this article, hadn’t the person wearing a vest, any car driver would have straightaway smashed into the worker without even realizing it.
  • Workers wearing a custom safety vest can also be identified from which company or municipality department they belong to. This may help to accurately report any incident that may happen and know who exactly was involved.
  • Safety vests are also important as per the worker safety laws and make sure that all the necessary preventive measures have been adhered for the basic safety of the staff and laborers. Aside from this, the workers also feel safe and stay focused on their job without worrying about their safety first.

Let us begin by considering the following two cases –

Case 1 - You are driving on a highway when all of a sudden at a few hundred meters distance, you see a guy wearing a special vest signaling the fast moving traffic to change lanes and avoid any collision by coming straight.

Case 2 – You visit some construction site or an industrial unit for a survey and before it commences, you are given a vest to wear on top of the clothes you are already wearing.

You might notice that in both of the above cases, you were given prior alerts of a probable danger.

In the first case, the person who was signaling you to change the lane was wearing a special garment, which helped you realize, become alert, take the necessary action and avoid any accident.

In the second case, you were given a garment to keep you safe from any possible accident that might happen at the construction site or industrial unit while you are on its visit.

In simple words, the main idea in both the cases revolved around using ‘Safety Vests’.

Worker with Class 2 Safety vest with pockets

Selecting the right type of vest that suits your needs

Since the safety vests are used in a wide array of different industries, they are made with different configurations to suit different working environments and industry specific needs.

While there are many different styles of safety vests, all of these styles are basically categorized into three different classes.

This class based classification is rated and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). According to ANSI, all safety vests fall either under Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3.

The main difference between each of these classes is that the reflectiveness of the fabric and the tape stripes used in the making varies for each class and depends highly upon the area of application.

As a simple and general rule, where there is a more risk or probability of facing an accident or hazard, the more level of visibility the safety vest needs to have.

Similarly, where there is less chance of a danger, the safety vest need not be highly reflective or visible.

For example, in the case of road safety, maintenance and construction workers, the visibility and degree of reflection should be parallel with the driving speed limit of the vehicles on the road or highway where they have been deployed.

The higher the speed limits the more degree of reflection and higher should be the visibility of the safety vest worn.

This is because all vehicles approaching in their path at great speeds should be provided enough time to easily recognize and take the necessary action of slowing down or changing the lane, whatever is feasible.

A slight level of mistake in this area could render a huge loss within just a few seconds of misjudgment.

Three classes of safety vests according to the standards mentioned by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)

Now let us briefly look at what each of the three classes of safety vests actually mean.

ANSI Class 1 Safety Vests

Class 1 safety vests refer to or demonstrate the conditions which are least impactful or which are regarded as the low impact areas towards the safety of the labor working there.

In terms of traffic and road safety guidelines, the Class 1 safety vests are worn by the staff working at a location where the flow of traffic does not exceed 25 miles per hour.

According to the ANSI, Class 1 safety vests are intended to be worn to cover the torso area of the body and can be without sleeves.

The criteria any safety vest should meet to qualify as an ANSI Class 1 safety vest is to have a safety yellow or safety orange color fabric as background.

In addition to the background color, it should also have a minimum of 155 square inches of reflective tape around the middle or just below the chest area and also on both of the shoulder areas.

ANSI Class 2 Safety Vest

Class 2 safety vests are worn in areas where there is low visibility and pose a greater risk than the areas mentioned in Class 1 safety vests.

With regards to traffic and road safety guidelines, the Class 2 safety vests are worn by the staff working at roads where the traffic flow is moving at above 25 mph but lower than 50 miles per hour.

In terms of size, the Class 2 safety vests are larger than Class 1 safety vests since they require being more reflective and visible to the passing by traffic.

According to the ANSI guidelines, any safety vest in order to classify as Class 2 safety vest must have a minimum of 775 inches of safety yellow or safety orange material and 201 square inches of reflective tape on the shoulder area and wrapped around the whole middle section.

ANSI Class 3 Safety Vests

Class 3 safety vests are recommended for staff deployed in areas where there are high risks of danger and in environments where high visibility is of extreme concern.

An example of low visibility environment can be any weather hazard conditions such as hurricane, snowfall, downpour, etc.

In terms of traffic flow, the speed limits should exceed 50 miles per hour.

With regards to size, the ANSI Class 3 safety vest has the largest size as it requires being more easily recognizable from a great distance which is only possible when the background area is more.

According to the ANSI guidelines, in order for a safety vest to qualify as Class 3 safety vest, it should have a minimum of 1,240 inches of safety yellow or safety orange background fabric and 310 square inches of reflective taping at most visible locations and at maximum lengths in order to make sure that the fast approaching vehicle recognizes the worker at the right time.

Construction worker in a safety vest hammering nails

Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst


Styles or types of safety vests

The basic criteria defined by the ANSI are applicable to all styles or types of safety vests.

This means that keeping in view of the basic guidelines; each industry and work environment can get a custom safety vest that suits any specific job or work conditions.

A few common styles or types of safety vests are –

Orange safety vests

The orange or safety orange color on a safety vest demonstrates ‘caution’ or ‘watch-out’ sign.

The safety orange color makes a safety vest highly visible and easy to detect and differentiate from its surroundings from a far off distance.

Orange safety vests are usually used by workers in the construction industry and the traffic police.

You might be familiar with seeing traffic cones and construction machinery in orange color as well. This is also because of the high degree of visibility that orange color offers.

Yellow safety vests

Yellow is regarded as one of the brightest colors that attracts focus, is highly noticeable and easily grabs attention of a human eye.

Safety yellow color safety vests mean keeping people safe from accidents by preventing them from coming across it on time.

Yellow safety vests are also worn by workers in the construction industry but usually by those that work outside.

You might be familiar with seeing many danger signs such as fire hazard, high voltage, or chemical spill in yellow color backgrounds. All this is evidence of the fact that how attention grabbing and captivating the yellow color is.

Custom safety vest

Depending on the uniqueness and different industry scope and regulations of any company, the management may hire an expert to recommend the right type of safety vests that should be worn by their staff.

Thus based on the expert suggestions, the need of having custom safety vests arises.

In addition to this, custom safety vests also mean having a company or any department’s logo and name of person, etc. printed on it for clear identification.

Safety vests with pockets

As clear from the title words itself, safety vests with pockets mean safety vests that have pockets sewn into them.

These pockets are primarily small packets to support the person wearing them to carry small objects and pieces of equipment necessary to perform their duties such as screwdrivers, walkie-talkie, tapes, ropes, etc.

Black safety vest

Black safety vest has its background fabric in black color.

A common question asked is whether a black safety vest is in compliance with safety vest codes issued by the ANSI or not.

Well a simple answer to this question is that black safety vests do not meet the criteria of ANSI in most cases as black itself isn’t a fluorescent color fabric which is a basic requirement in every ANSI class of safety vests.

However, black safety vests usually have retro reflective stripes for more clear and high degree of visibility and therefore can be used.

Breakaway safety vests

Breakaway safety vests, as the name suggests, can protect workers that directly engage in machine control and operations.

In such conditions, anything could go wrong for example a safety vest getting stuck in a machine. Even on roads, any staff worker can get stuck and dragged by a passing car. A safety vest could also catch fire and pose life threatening danger to its wearer.

Breakaway safety vests can easily be torn away thus letting the wearer escape from it on a timely basis.

Bottom line

Staying safe on your job or making sure that each of your employees is well guarded against any avoidable form of injury or threat is the key responsibility of the management.

Providing the right type of safety vests to your employees is one way of proving that you do care and value the contribution that each staff member in your organization is making.