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November 18, 2015

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Hi viz blindness – is it time to rethink our approach to PPE?

A year or so ago a major waste company placed 12 street cleaners, wearing yellow hi viz coats in a busy out of town shopping complex and asked shoppers coming out how many they remembered seeing. The average the shoppers reported seeing was four. A month later they repeated the test with 12 workers in shocking pink hi viz coats. The average the shoppers reported seeing was nine.

A few weeks ago I happened to be home when an employee of my electricity supplier called to read the meter. I noticed that he was wearing full safety boots. After some questioning and examination I discovered that the boots he was wearing were a heavy 200j toecap, steel mid-sole boot with s3 oil and chemical resistance. According to the personal pedometer the man was carrying he reported walking 20+ miles per day.

In the first case over the passage of time we seem to have become ‘blind’ to both yellow and orange hi viz workware. Effectively it no longer actually works to draw our attention to the presence of an ‘at risk’ person.

In the second case the safety footwear was apparently “standard company issue”, effectively everybody gets “worst case scenario” PPE. Is this caused by fear of a claim if a lesser specification is issued, or a lack of basic understanding of when and how PPE needs to be prescribed and issued? Safety footwear has just become a given, whether it is actually needed or not.

Personally I would much rather endure the wolf whistles of wearing pink whilst working on the highway, knowing that my hi viz is fit-for-purpose and that I have been seen, compared to wearing a CE marked yellow hi viz and being killed by somebody who has become visually hi viz fatigued, failed to register that I’m there and at risk.

I’d also much rather take the risk (and potential injury) of stubbing my toe on the odd curb, but avoid the development of painful and debilitating tendinopathy and similar disorders in later life.

Is it time that we rethought our approach to PPE?

Chris Jones is director of risk management and compliance for Cory Environmental

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Brian Cleary
An interesting and succinct article by Chris. Working in the word of events we have all recently been swept up into the realm of CDM2015 and of course PPE is seen as mandatory on many sites, not just the result of a risk assessment. Hi-Viz jackets undoubtedly make staff easier to see when vehicles are manoeuvring or reversing, but surely its better to separate pedestrians and vehicles? If you are working on a green field site with nothing around you, above you and nothing other than the sky likely to fall on your head, why would you wear a hard-hat?… Read more »

I agree – the belt and braces approach means that those who don’t need the higher standard of PPE are being made to wear it unnnecessarily and where gloves and glass approach there is the risk of incorrect standard of eyewear or gloves for the task being carried out. Reasonably practicable and user specific should be used, but it is ‘lazy’ organisations believing one solution fits all.

John Bartlett

I agree entirely. Should this be an IOSH campaign????


Good idea Chris. My thoughts are that we are becoming peripheraly blinded not only by hi-viz but by all sorts of additional information – how many roadsigns do you pass on an average mile? How often do we need to discuss safety? how many helmets are required to meet all working scenarios? dont get me wrong there is a requirement but perhaps too much in certain areas.

Steve P

Totally agree, my company has to ensure all our engineers have PPE specified by our clients, but when you challenge them and ask for the risk that generates the PPE requirement, they are very reluctant to provide it, and usually hide under the ‘it’s easier to police’ banner if everyone is dressed the same regardless of risk.

Kevin West


I couldn’t agree more, Blanket PPE policies with little thought to the wider impact such policies cause are a particular pet hate of mine.

Fear of litigation seems to be the common denominator.

john albutt
Is it not just a case of someone not understanding the purpose of PPE? Unless there are some meters located in a high risk location where PPE is required, a meter reader is surely just generally a pedestrian. If some meters are in high risk areas, why? If someone is walking 20 miles, why are they not wearing suitable footwear? I know common sense doesn’t have a standing in the British legal system, but a valid risk assessment would have highlighted the foot ‘wear and tear’ as a risk, not exacerbated it with a pair of iron clads.I agree entirely… Read more »
Richard Nichols
In my experience, most high visibility clothing is now used as free advertising space detracting from the real purpose which is to raise visibility in areas where vehicles and pedestrians are in close proximity. Not many kitchen fitters are going to be knocked over by a fork lift truck in a domestic kitchen. My thoughts are that PPE is required to be in place at all times to cover the likelihood of a person failing to don when it is required. Workers including safety professionals in all sectors need to be better educated in the hierarchy of control measures rather… Read more »
John Godwin
In my view this is about proportionate responses. In my experience PPE is often specified as a first response. Rather than controlling the risk as source, they try to mitigate the effects by providing PPE, unfortunately this seems to lead to an over provision, the case of the safety shoes is a case in point. Perhaps they need comfortable stout shoes for normal use and safety boots for the abnormal use where perhaps they have to go on to a building site to read meters. Don’t get me wrong I can see why it happens, e.g from the moment that… Read more »
Simon Dockerty
Reminds me of an issue we had whilst working on a large research centre a few years ago. The site was the usual mix of offices and labs with wide open grassy spaces and roads with pavements. A blanket Hi Vis rule was introduced for anybody outside their building. Thus workers walking to the canteen at lunchtime and staff getting in an out of cars had to have Hi Vis. Even though they were traversing separate footpaths. Pretty soon we all started not to see the Hi Vis. This was Ok apart from nobody saw the litter picker or the… Read more »

Good article.
Footwear aspect is sheer laziness – come across it all the time.
‘Safety footwear’ means toetectors to most. ‘Appropriate PPE to suit the risk’ – too hard.
Often paired up with (scuse pun) the ‘spend limit’ approach too – if you need footwear outside our standard ‘one-suits-all’, you have to pay the extra yourself above a certain level.

Still to find that in the PPE regs . . .

Bob Turner
Hi viz blindness. I don’t think it was a very good test. Of course people would recall Workmen poncing about in shocking pink jackets whereas Sat yellow or Hi viz Orange are required by law for people working on the Highway so are very commonplace. These colours are much more visible especially in poor light conditions or car headlights. Whilst Steel clad Safety boots may be issued unnecessarily the Modern trend is for Composite Safety boots that are 35% lighter and in fact safer than the old fashioned traditional steel ones. As more manufacturers produce them so the prices are… Read more »
Chris is right about hi-viz blindness, with every-man, and his dog, wearing it it has lost it’s effect. As a motorcyclist I wear hi-viz, not because it’s helps so much as without it in the event of a claim against another blind or distracted road user their insurers and in court legal team would claim I was negligent by not wearing it and seek to reduce the value of the claim. A fellow motorcyclist whom I speak to at work rides in and out on a bicycle, wears hi-viz and at night an dazzling array (number not brightness dazzle) of… Read more »
Christy Higgins
Hi Chris I totally agree with you regarding Hi -Vis. I have enquired about pink vests and the difference is €3.00 I can purchase yellow / orange for € 2.95 and pink quote was €5.95 per vest. I would also like to see farmers children wear Hi – vis vests when playing on farms as there is far to many casualties on farms involving children and it may encourage farmers to wear vests, it would make them more visible when working in the fields on their own, if anything should happen to them while working in the field etc. In… Read more »
Paul Lawrence
A very true and to the point article. What he says is part pf the problem that was highlight on my HS supervisors course a couple of years ago, and is why HS has become a bit of a dirty word, due to people using HS as an excuse to impose all sorts of silly rules. You only have to look at the notes put out by HSE, highlighting some of the stupid excuses people have come out with. Some people would rather blame HS for rules rather than be honest, and say some are just site rules. If you… Read more »
Mick Schilling
This reduction in remembering (It isn’t actually seeing them, just recalling they were present) a number of people wearing hi visibility clothing is probably less due to the colour and more to do with the fact that there are so many people wearing hi viz clothing these days, and the clothing is predominantly yellow or orange – and fit for purpose. The difference with pink is that it’s unusual, not because it has a different response due to anything else. It is lazy H&S management which is leading to the overuse of PPE – the footwear example supports this; by… Read more »
Ray Rapp
Another good thought provoking article and some of the issues raised I have also raised…usually on deaf ears. The principle of PPE is that it should be identified via a risk assessment and the controls to mitigate against the risks. However most PPE does not and is really not much more than uniform, or wallpaper. The real danger highlighted in the article is the wallpaper scenario, where hi-vis apparel has become ubiquitos where few people even take notice now. Even wearing pink hi-vis could result in the same myopia given time. What is needed is a robust policy, indeed philosophy… Read more »
Angus Long
hmmm…interesting one. i fully agree that yellow blobs are not the way forward (blob being a civilized human being wearing all yellow clothing, HOWEVER: – work starts on site at 07.00/07.30 and it’s November – Hi-viz or no Hi-Viz? the future is two tone clothing. this is darker more civilised clothing with just enough hi-viz on to pass legal EN20471 hi-viz requirements – either class 1 or class 2. the two tone effect also acts as a visual disrupter to get your attention. i.e. if an all yellow car drives past you barely notice. if an all yellow car drives… Read more »