Innovation in Jobsite Safety Vest and Workwear Design

Innovation in Jobsite Safety Vest and Workwear Design

High-visibility vests are under-appreciated and underestimated—especially in an industry such as construction.

Often, one of the biggest reasons why workers do not wear PPE is due to the simple fact that it does not fit their needs—either in overall comfort or functionality. When it comes to PPE, one size does not fit all, so with all the options available, it is more important than ever for safety managers to do their homework when identifying the PPE solutions that they will use to outfit their crews.

When it comes to PPE in the construction industry, many of the biggest manufacturers’ practices include copying the designs of safety products already on the market. This does nothing to help workers. Safety managers need to seek out solutions that are addressing user needs head-on through thoughtful, innovative product design matched with the right materials.

While all types of construction site PPE—from hearing protection to eye protection—have suffered from lack of innovation at one time or another, one category that stands out is high-visibility vests.

High-Visibility Vests & Workwear: Three Things to Watch Out For

Low visibility can be a serious danger on jobsites, which makes it especially important for companies to invest in high-quality vests and workwear. The ability to be seen is critical for worker safety, especially on construction sites where moving equipment is common. Despite their importance, though, the high-visibility vest space has been quite stagnant until recently when it comes to meaningful design updates for wearers. To make sure you are equipping your workers with the best high-vis vests that fit their needs, pay attention to these three areas of focus:

Overall Functionality. Now, more than ever, users expect more functionality than they ever did in the past. Previously, vest manufacturers were not designing their solutions with the features that wearers need most. This was in huge part, as we noted above, because they were simply copy/pasting designs already on the market or only making small, incremental updates to those designs. However, some newer manufacturers to the space are starting their research at the most important source—the wearer—and introducing solutions that directly address the needs of those wearers.Look for the following:

  1. A variety and breadth of storage. Many workers in the construction trades need to wear multiple hats and carry more tools and accessories than they ever had to before. Vests that provide a wide variety of pockets in multiple sizes allows these workers to accommodate a greater selection of tools.
  2. Accommodation for technology. The ‘digital jobsite’ is not a future initiative—it is happening right now. Construction sites are seeing increased usage of wireless devices, yet most vests do not accommodate for this. Today’s vests should be designed to provide storage for devices like tablets and phones. Additionally, these pockets should be reinforced and sealable.
  3. The ability to adjust sizing. Unfortunately, many vests are “one size fits all” or, more accurately, “one size fits all poorly.” Look for vests that allow wearers to size to their body for a better fit, such as an internal strap for quick and easy sizing adjustments. This will also allow wearers to size up the vest to fit comfortably over a jacket in colder conditions.

A Focus on Durability. Vest durability is a frequent complaint with many wearers, especially when it comes to one of the most important vest features: the pockets. Most wearers rip the bottom pockets first due to the weight of their tools and, once a vest’s pockets rip, these wearers often just throw away the vest entirely. Companies want to invest in high-quality vests to meet the ANSI 107 requirements for high visibility garments, so this lack of longevity in some vests can play a major role in negatively affecting a company’s bottom line.

To alleviate this all-too-common complaint, vest pockets should ideally be reinforced with tear-resistant material for better durability. Another major point of durability concern is the pass-through harness hole. Many vests are uncomfortable to wear with fall protection or lack harness holes, leading users to resort to ripping their vests to pass-through a harness in order to stay compliant while operating in a lift. As fall protection continues to be an ever-present concern on jobsites everywhere, vests with reinforced pass-through harness holes are incredibly important.

Comfort No Matter the Conditions. The topic of heat stress has begun to proliferate as a major concern on construction sites across the nation. According to a recent study, construction workers are at an elevated risk of heat stress due to the strenuous nature of the work, high temperature work conditions and changing climate. Additionally, the risk of heat-related illnesses is increased by the fact that little to no regulations are present or enforced to protect construction workers.

Recognizing the threat of illness or even death from exposure to heat, OSHA has provided some guidance to decrease risk factors and help prevent heat illness. Among the many tips is for workers to consider protective clothing that provides cooling features. This makes it only reasonable to search for vests that provide better breathability for wearers such as mesh backs and wider neck openings. Other options are vests with evaporative cooling properties and fabric treatments such as moisture wicking and quick-drying that help keep users cooler even when layered with a safety vest.

However, while a safety vest is often the first garment considered, companies may also consider garments that are worn underneath these vests, such as base layers and mid layers. Some recent workwear designs have started to reflect the same type of cooling fabric technology found in sportswear. By mapping the general ‘heatmap’ of the body, this new type of construction workwear is designed with key features inspired by sportswear and adapted to construction site needs, including:

  • Fast drying sweat zones in the most common sweat areas to allow for more breathability
  • Lighter weight fabric of less than 180 grams per square meter (GSM)
  • UPF 50+ sun protection and polyester material. Polyester absorbs less UV rays compared to natural materials such as cotton and rayon.

PPE is not a one-size-fits all factor of worker protection, and the more uncomfortable and dysfunctional the PPE, the less likely the worker is to wear it. When making PPE decisions for your workers in construction, seriously consider worker, the environment and the risks present. The power of a good, high-visibility vest might surprise you.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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