Bob Switzer created High-visibility clothing in the 1930s after he was hurt while unloading crates in Berkley, California. His unfortunate injury damaged his eyesight, thus prohibiting him from pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor.
After the incident, Mr. Switzer set out to create a solution to improve the safety of job sites and prevent unnecessary injuries as he had endured.
To help make the mission successful, he collaborated with his brother Joe, who had been researching fluorescent chemicals for several years. Together, the Switzer brothers used Joe’s knowledge of the chemical uses with Bob’s understanding of the workplace to begin developing early prototypes of reflective materials.
After several experiments and tests, Bob and Joe were finally successful in producing the first fluorescent paint, naming it “Day-Glo” because of its ability to make materials shine like they were glowing in daylight.
Once the brothers found a stable and safe mixture, Bob applied the newly invented “Day-Glo” to his wife’s wedding dress. This application of “Day-Glo” paint the dress created the first piece of custom hi-visibility workwear that we know today.
Along with being applied to working clothing to improve public safety, the brother’s fluorescent paint also saw great success when applied to movie posters and other marketing materials.
The Switzer brothers saw rapid adoption of their “Day-Glo” paint technology after they started improving the formula and spreading the word of their new invention. However, it was not until World War II that their impressive creation started to grow in popularity and realize the full impact it can have on public safety.
To most people who drive past highway workers, the safety vests they see look similar. The untrained eye only notices a bright color or a strip of silver. In reality, these safety garments are more complicated than you think.
Visibility is a high safety concern in any job that uses moving machinery. This includes jobs like highway repair, construction, or warehouse positions.
Any job where you work with (or around) machines or vehicles puts you at risk if you can’t be seen. This is why wearing safety clothing is important. To be visible is to be protected in this case.
What to look for in High Visibility Safety Apparel
Large, bright garments are more visible than small ones. Coverage all around the body (360° full body coverage) provides better visibility from all viewing directions. Stripes of color contrast with the background material provide good visibility. Stripes on the arms and legs can also be helpful, providing visual clues about the motion of the person wearing the garment.
When background material is bright-colored or fluorescent material, it is intended to be highly visible but is not intended to provide retroreflective performance.
If you have other requirements such as flame resistance, thermal performance, water resistance, durability, comfort, tear-away features, material breathability, and flexibility that apply to the job, then you must carefully go through every aspect of your demanded clothing.
The difference between Hi-Vis and Reflective Materials
So what’s better – hi-visibility clothing or reflective apparel? Depending on the application, the difference could determine the wearer’s safety level in low-light situations. Making sure you know that difference is of vital importance.
The fluorescent material is manufactured with light-converting pigments that are meant to enhance the light in the visible spectrum, reflecting additional light from the fabric. Therefore, highly visible or fluorescent clothing is better used where higher levels of UV light are present, as in the daytime. Because artificial light has very small amounts of UV light, so fluorescent clothing does little good at night.
Retro-reflective materials, however, direct almost all of the light falling on the fabric to be reflected back towards the light source. This allows high visibility but only within the range aligned with that source of light. Retroreflective materials are most effective under low-light-level conditions. While retroreflective materials can still reflect in the daylight, there is little difference between the light reflected from the garment’s material and the surrounding environment. This lack of contrast makes retroreflective materials ineffective for enhanced visibility during (sunny) daytime conditions.
Both hi-vis and reflective clothing has shown to improve safety in low-light situations when used properly. Combining both hi-vis clothing with reflective strips and accessories increases wearer safety in both recreational and workplace situations.