How do high-vis items work?

High-vis items are designed to make people, vehicles or machinery easier to see and reduce the risk of accidents. Fluorescent colours and reflective materials are both used in high-vis items.

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Fluorescent colours

In the daytime, fluorescent colours react with ultraviolet rays from the sun and seem to glow. They are particularly useful in dull conditions, such as rain and at dusk. According to Cycling Tips, studies have found that fluorescent orange, red and yellow clothing makes cyclists more visible to drivers.

The crew of lifeboats wear orange life jackets because orange shows up very well against the greys and blues of the water, whilst horse riders frequently have pink fluorescent items because this is easily visible against most natural colours, such as autumn leaves.

Chevrons kits for vehicles are often red and yellow, as these colours emit light well and show up very effectively.

Reflective materials

Fluorescent colours are not effective at night, as they do not show up well; therefore, reflective materials are needed when it is dark. Many high-vis items are both fluorescent and reflective so that they can be used day and night.

An example of this would be the kits available from companies such as

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Reflective materials help you to be seen by bouncing the light back from a source such as the headlights of a car. Reflective materials do not usually work effectively when it is light, so they are often combined with fluorescent colours.

White items can also reflect light; however, the light tends to be scattered in different directions. Special retro-reflective materials are more effective – instead of scattering the light, they bounce it back towards its source, such as car headlights. This can decrease the time it takes for you to be seen and greatly increase safety.

There are different reflective materials that can be used. Micro-prismatic tape contains many small prisms that reflect the light. It is available in different colours and is long-lasting. This tape is often used on high-quality items of clothing and can look very stylish.

Glass bead reflective tape is cheaper to produce than micro-prismatic tape. It looks silver grey and it reflects a bright white light when light shines on it. This is often used on the high-vis yellow waistcoats worn by builders.

Author: Kei Taylor

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