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While they were once the standard uniform of highway workers or trainyard employees, safety vests are now common uniform of forklift operators in warehouses, docks, manufacturing facilities, and other types of businesses.
Their bright, reflective surface make the lightweight, comfortable safety vests easier to see workers, even in low-light conditions, making them the perfect addition to practically any operation in which workers are at risk of being run over other dangers.
First Worn in Scotland
The first safety vests were developed in 1964 for use by employees of the Scottish Region of British Railways.
The bright orange jackets, known as “fire-flies”, were issued to track workers assigned to a stretch of electrified rail near Glasgow. They soon spread to other areas along the Scottish rail line, including Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness.
Thanks to their success, the vests soon spread to London and other parts of the UK before going global a few years later.
Standardized in the US in 1999
It took more than 30 years for safety vests to be standardized in the US. In 1999, the American National Standards Institute created three classes of high-visibility vests, each with successively higher levels of risk from collisions with motor vehicles and heavy equipment.
Class 1 vests are the lowest visibility and were approved for low-risk work areas, such as parking lots. They are only required to have a minimum of 217 inches of fluorescent material and 1 inch wide retroreflective strips.
Class 2 vests, which include most safety vests worn by many of today’s forklift operators and warehouse workers as well as school crossing guards, have higher visibility. Class 2 vests must have at least 755 square inches of conspicuously colored fabric and are designed for use in areas near traffic moving up to 25 miles per hour.
Class 3 vests, which includes most safety vests worn by many of today’s forklift operators and warehouse workers, have the highest visibility. They are required to have at least 1,240 square inches of fluorescent fabric and two-inch reflector bands. Because of the larger amount of fluorescent surface area required, many Clas 3 vests have full sleeves.
Wide Variety of Vests Available
Because they are used in so many applications, safety vests come in a wide variety of styles and materials. Many are lightweight mesh and are designed to fit over worker’s clothing.
Others are designed for use in colder climates, such as for forklift drivers working in deep-freeze warehouses, and may include insulated lining for added temperature protection.