Originally published 13th November 2018
Updated 25th March 2020
Understanding EN ISO 20471 High-Visibility Clothing Standard (Formerly EN471)
Hi-vis workwear is a crucial requirement in industries where a significant proportion of the work occurs near traffic, cranes or other motorised vehicles. It is also essential for staff undertaking nighttime operations or working in other poor light conditions. The main role of hi-vis clothing is to make the wearer stand out from the background so they are clearly visible from all angles. This reduces the risk of accidents occurring in potentially dangerous situations. As hi-vis plays such a vital role in the safety of workers, it's important that these garments — such as vests, t-shirts, polo shirts, trousers and jackets — have EN ISO 20471 certification.
What Is EN ISO 20471 High-Visibility Clothing?
ISO 20471:2013 High-Visibility Clothing is an international standard for the safety requirements and test methods of hi-vis workwear, and is applicable to high-risk situations. It specifies requirements for “high visibility clothing which is capable of visually signalling the user's presence” and assesses the suitability and durability of retro-reflective materials.
EN ISO 20471 was released in 2013, replacing EN 471:2003 A1:2007. As certificates are only valid for five years, this means that the last garments made to EN471 certification are no longer compliant. If you haven’t updated your workers’ high-visibility clothing recently, it’s likely that you are not operating in compliance with EN ISO 20471, so now is the time to order replacements. Any new hi-vis workwear garments made after 2013 must be CE marked and designed to comply with the new standard.
Just as in EN471, the requirements for background materials, retroreflective materials and combined performance materials are categorised into three classes. There are some important differences to note, which we will cover later in the article.
The 3 Components of Hi-Vis Clothing
EN ISO 20471 sets out the high-visibility clothing regulations for the design and performance of each element of a garment. There are usually three main components:
1. The fluorescent material
This boosts visibility during daylight hours and can also increase visibility at night.
2. The reflective strips
These are designed to enhance visibility during the darker hours of the day. Reflective strips require a light source to work and create retro-reflection. They are essential for those working at night.
There are different types of high-visibility angle strips, the most common being “glass beads reflective”. These need to be carefully maintained to ensure the garment remains fit for purpose and fully compliant. The standard stipulates that a CE marked and certified garment should have reflective strips around the legs and sleeves, so be sure to consider this when selecting hi-vis long-sleeved garments, jackets (such as bomber jackets and hi-vis fleeces) and hi-vis work trousers.
3. The contrast material
Some hi-vis clothing is designed with darker-coloured parts that are less sensitive to dirt than the fluorescent material and reflective strips, without which the functionality would diminish. The areas covered with the contrast fabric tend to be where dirt is most likely to build up — for example, the sleeve ends and across the abdomen on hi-vis fleeces and jackets, and the ankle and knee sections of hi-vis work trousers and waterproof trousers.
Key Requirements of EN ISO 20471 High-Visibility Clothing
The standard covers the requirements for the base fabric colour, minimum areas for reflectivity and placement of tape for high-visibility clothing.
The requirements for the minimum area of reflective material (detailed in the table below) may restrict the ability to adjust garments. For example, shortening trousers might reduce the area of fluorescent material too much. This also means that hi-vis trousers shouldn't be tucked into safety boots, as the garment may no longer comply with the standard. The same goes for wearing any clothing that obscures or covers the fluorescent material, such as wearing a non-hi-vis jacket over a hi-vis vest.
Three colours of material are approved in the hi-vis standards; fluorescent yellow, orange and red. In addition to the surface area of each material, there are requirements for the material’s performance, as well as the degree of reflection from the reflective strips. Physical properties including tensile strength, thermal resistance and dimensional stability are also covered by the standard. These requirements ensure that all hi-vis garments are suitable for a range of working conditions where there is a high risk.
There are strict requirements on the amount of “bleeding” between the reflective strips and the fluorescent and contrast materials. “Bleeding” refers to residues of colour within the material that can stain the sensitive parts of hi-vis garments. As the fluorescent material is always a bright colour, it can be affected by the darker colour of the contrast material. EN ISO 20471 stipulates the tolerated level of bleeding to ensure the fluorescence remains effective.
Although branded or personalised PPE and hi-vis is a great way of promoting and distinguishing your company on site, employers should take care when adding logos to hi-vis workwear. Areas of background or retro-reflective material that are covered by branding will be excluded from the calculation of the required minimum area. Where possible, use reflective logo transfers, or try to place branding on the contrast material so visibility is not impacted and hi-vis safety standards are maintained.
Understanding the Hi-Vis Classes
This standard categorises hi-vis garments into three classes, and all garments should be labelled with the EN ISO 20471 icon and accompanied by the appropriate class number. You can see an example of how this would look below:
The selection and use of hi-vis should always be based on a risk assessment of the conditions and risks for a particular worker. The class of hi-vis workwear you need will depend on the risk zone the worker is in, which in turn determines the amount of reflective tape and fluorescent material required.
Certification is based on the surface area of both types of material, and there are minimum requirements for each:
Hi-Vis Class 1 Description: The lowest level of visibility
Items that commonly meet class 1 include hi-vis trousers when worn separately from other hi-vis garments.
Hi-Vis Class 2 Description: The intermediate level of visibility
Items that commonly meet class 2 include hi-vis sleeveless vests.
Hi-Vis Class 3 Description: The highest level of visibility
Items that commonly meet class 3 are hi-vis jackets and sleeved hi-vis vests.
Class 3 can be achieved in 2 ways:
1. By wearing an individual garment rated as class 3
2. By wearing jointly certified products that make up class 3 based on the total area of fluorescent and reflective material
You can identify when products are jointly certified by looking on the inner label where the joint article will be stated.
How Is EN ISO 20471 Different from EN471?
When EN ISO 20471 replaced EN471 in 2013, several improvements were made to the standard. The new standard makes a stronger distinction between the different types of risk situations, which hi-vis users can then apply to their own situation to determine the level of protection they require.
Crucially, the requirements now depend on which part of the body the garment is covering, rather than the type of garment as in EN471. There are five options: torso only; torso and arms; legs; torso and legs; and torso, arms and legs.
Although there are still three classes that hi-vis can be categorised into, the requirements of class 3 have increased. Class 3 garments must now cover the torso and include either full-length sleeves or trousers.
If a sleeve obscures part of a reflective band on the torso of a garment, a band must be added to the sleeves. For hi-vis garments with short sleeves, if the sleeve obscures a torso band of retro-reflective tape, the standard now dictates that there must also be a band of retro-reflective tape about the sleeves.
Interestingly, the tensile strength, burst strength and tear strength requirements on fabrics were reduced, whereas colour fastness was upgraded to a minimum of grade 4.
The EN ISO 20471 logo is also an updated version, designed to be clearer with just one figure next to the illustration, which tells you the class of the garment.
Maintaining Compliance with EN ISO 20471
While EN ISO 20471 details test methods and requirements before use, it doesn't cover the requirements of remaining compliant after the garment has been worn. However, it's important to check and maintain hi-vis workwear to ensure its performance isn't compromised over time.
So when should you replace your hi-vis? Most hi-vis products have a maximum life of 25 washes unless stated otherwise on the label. This means that over-cleaning can lead you to lose compliance. Wearing over-washed hi-vis increases the likelihood of an accident, while not washing regularly enough can also impact the garment’s performance, as stains and dirt will reduce the item’s visibility.
Because of this, it's best to have at least two hi-vis garments for each part of the body and rotate their use so that you can prolong their life and wash less often. With this method, you should aim to replace hi-vis garments approximately every three months.With so many different hi-vis garments to choose from, it’s a good idea to ask your workers about their preferences. Some may prefer hi-vis polo shirts over hi-vis t-shirts. Others may find a softshell jacket more comfortable and practical for their role than a hi-vis bomber jacket. Not only will involving your team in choosing their high-visibility clothing boost employee morale and engagement, but it also makes it more likely that your workers will feel motivated to wear the PPE provided. Don’t forget that branded or personalised hi-vis needs careful consideration to ensure it is compliant with the standard.
There are ways of extending the life of workwear and PPE, but when a hi-vis product is no longer capable of performing to its certified class, it's time to replace it. Keep your team safe and your business compliant. Take a look at our extensive range of high-visibility clothing and update your workers’ garments today.