When working near heavy machinery or high-speed traffic, the type of clothing you wear can be a matter of life or death. Forget fashion; you want to be as visible as possible, so those distracted drivers can’t help but notice you (and avoid hitting you).
That’s why we have high-visibility clothing. But hi-vis clothing comes in different types, or classes: class 1, class 2, class 3, and class E. What do the different classes mean, and which class do you need?
Hi-Vis Clothing Classes Explained
The different classes of hi-vis clothing are set by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and ISEA (International Safety Equipment Association) standards, and are based on how much high-visibility fabric and reflective tape are used. The standards also specify details like where the reflective tape is placed (i.e., on the shoulders, around the waist).
The high-visibility fabrics, which come in fluorescent colors, are designed to make workers easy to see in daylight hours. The reflective stripes are for nighttime or low-light situations, and reflect back the headlights of approaching vehicles.
Different types of work environments require different hi-vis clothing classes. The requirements are for minimum class ratings, so it’s perfectly fine to use a class 3 vest for a class 1 job; you just can’t use a class 1 vest for a class 3 job.
Class 1 Clothing
Class 1 clothing is used for situations where high visibility is not a big priority. It is acceptable for jobs where:
- There is separation between the worker and the vehicle traffic.
- The worker is able to pay attention to traffic, and isn’t distracted by other work duties.
- Vehicle speeds are below 25 mph.
- The background is not complex, and not something that the worker could blend in with.
Examples of class 1 clothing jobs:
- Parking lot attendants
- Warehouse workers
- Sidewalk construction workers
- Delivery drivers
Class 1 clothing must be a fluorescent color and have at least 155 square inches of reflective tape around both the waist and shoulders.
Class 2 Clothing
Class 2 clothing is a step up from class 1 in both the amount of hi-vis material and the amount of reflective tape. Unlike class 1, class 2 clothing is MUTCD compliant. It should be used in situations where:
- Workers are in close proximity to traffic.
- The job does not allow the worker to keep a close eye on traffic.
- Vehicle speeds are greater than 25 mph, but under 50 mph.
- Weather conditions or a complex background make it harder to see the worker.
Examples of class 2 clothing jobs:
- Road construction workers
- Utility workers
- Crossing guards
- Tollgate workers
- Airport baggage handlers
- Police officers
Class 2 clothing must have at least 775 square inches of hi-vis material and at least 201 inches of reflective tape.
Class 3 Clothing
Class 3 is the highest-rated level of hi-vis clothing (though it can be combined with class E to provide even more visibility). It is used for the highest-risk situations, such as when:
- Workers are in close proximity to high-speed traffic.
- Overall visibility is poor, such as in a blizzard or heavy fog.
- Vehicle speeds are greater than 50 mph.
- Equipment operators are working near pedestrians.
Examples of class 3 clothing jobs:
- Highway construction workers
- Highway surveyors
- Emergency response personnel
Class 3 clothing must have at least 1,240 square inches of hi-vis material and at least 310 square inches of reflective tape. It must make the worker visible through a full range of body motions at a distance of at least 1,280 feet.
Class E Clothing
Class E hi-vis clothing can seem a bit confusing, since it doesn’t fit in the numbering system. Instead of being a higher or lower class of safety vest, it refers to something completely different: high-visibility pants. Class E pants can be added to any hi-vis vest to improve visibility. If you add class E pants to a class 2 vest, the overall outfit is considered to be class 3. If you add class E pants to a class 3 vest, it’s still considered class 3, but it is considerably more visible than the vest by itself.
Class E pants can be added to a safety vest for any job where visibility is especially important. They are sometimes used as an add-on for when conditions change. For example, a worker using a class 2 vest may put on a pair of class E pants after dark, or during inclement weather, to create a class 3 ensemble.