Reflective means protective

Reflective means protective

It’s often the simplest things that save lives, and high visibility clothing certainly qualifies – but as DANIELLE DU TOIT discovers, there is such a thing as high-tech simplicity


The difference between life and death could be a high visibility jacket costing R100. “This is one of the most basic but most important types of PPE products available,” says Charlene Magwenzi, managing consultant for Gazelle Safety.

The use of bright fluorescent colours and reflective strips reduces work-related accidents by alerting drivers and machine operators of a person’s presence. These materials also have heat absorption qualities, providing enhanced safety and comfort by shielding employees from the sun or harsh factory lighting.

Depending on the application, one might choose fluorescent or retro-reflective high-visibility clothing.

Fluorescent materials take a portion of invisible ultraviolet light from the sun and, via special pigments, send it back to the viewer as a more visible type of light. Bright colours are used to make the wearer easily distinguishable from any background. Fluorescent material will only appear brighter than non-fluorescent material when there is a natural light source available, and is therefore more suited for daytime use.

Retro-reflective material is designed to return light in the direction of its source. This allows a driver to see the light being reflected from a person’s garment as long as the person is standing in the light beam. Retro-reflective materials are unsuitable for daytime use as there is little difference between the light reflected from the garment and the surrounding light.

Gazelle Safety is often approached by companies seeking replacements for poor quality PPE products purchased at cheaper prices – an indication that the phrase “false economy” holds very true in this sector. Companies duped into thinking cheaper is better often end up spending more than necessary for two reasons: there’s the cost of the replacement item itself, and there’s the time and effort involved in acquiring a suitable replacement product.

Liabilities can arise when incorrect equipment is used – labour lawyers won’t hesitate to fight for compensation if they can prove negligence, by the owner or manager, caused by the use of incorrect or inadequate PPE.

Companies are wising up though. Many large organisations now have their own specifications for certain PPE products, and may insist on the purchase of SABS-approved products only. Medium sized companies often go with the experience gained from using certain brands.

“We have invested a lot of time and resources to come up with the ultimate highly reflective clothing for various activities in a wide range of industries,” says Magwenzi. “For those working on our busy roads, deep in mines or in smoky or misty areas, we ensure that our products meet if not exceed safety standards and best practice guidelines.”

The range of high visibility clothing available is almost endless – from simple vests and breathable T-shirts to fire-resistant bodysuits and rainproof jackets. It all depends on application.

Durability is important, and purchasing a product that will withstand wash and wear is a key factor. Magwenzi says high visibility clothing should be able to withstand up to 30 washes in an industrial washing machine before fading begins to occur.

The right high visibility clothing saves lives and time. Limbs too, as in the case of a Cape Town man who was severely injured in August 2010 after a co-worker rode over his foot with a forklift. As the forklift driver said: “I didn’t see him.”

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