Do you know the different classes of high-visibility clothing according to the CSA Z96-2015 standard?

Do you know the different classes of high-visibility clothing according to the CSA Z96-2015 standard?


High-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) allows workers to be seen by others and warn vehicle operators of the presence of be workers nearby, especially in low-light conditions or darkness. The CSA Standard Z96-15 High-Visibility Safety Apparel describes the requirements related to this type of equipment for Canadian workers.

When should high-visibility safety apparel be worn?

The CSA Z96-15 standard recommends that a hazard assessment be carried out on each job site to evaluate the workplace or work site for known or potential hazards a worker can encounter while performing a job or task. This assessment helps determine the risk to workers of being hit by moving vehicles and the environmental conditions under which work is performed. When executing a risk assessment where high-visibility safety clothing must be worn, the following points should be considered:

  • The type and nature of the work being carried out - including the tasks of both the HVSA wearer and any drivers.
  • Whether workers will be exposed to heat and/or flames (if so, flame-resistant HVSA would be required).
  • Work conditions, such as indoor or outdoor work, temperature, work rates, traffic flow, traffic volume, visibility and traffic speed.
  • The workplace environment and the background workers must be seen in (e.g., is the visual area behind the workers simple, complex, urban, rural, highway, filled with equipment).
  • How long the worker is exposed to various traffic hazards, including traffic speeds.
  • Lighting conditions and how the natural light might be affected by changing weather (sunlight, overcast sky, fog, rain, or snow).
  • Factors that affect warning distances and times, such as the volume of traffic, the size of vehicles, their potential speeds, the ability to stop quickly, and the surface conditions.
  • If there are any engineering and administrative hazard controls already in place (e.g. barriers that separate the workers from traffic).
  • Any distractions that could draw workers attention away from hazards.
  • The sightlines of vehicle operators, especially when vehicles are operated in reverse.
  • If certain tasks need to be "visually" identifiable from other workers in the area.

Once a hazard assessment is complete, the employer can select appropriate controls. The first line of defence for workers' safety would be to control the design of the workplace and reduce the exposure of workers to moving vehicles (e.g. through the use of physical barriers and other engineering and administrative controls). Using high-visibility apparel would be the last line of defence against accidents by providing more warning to vehicle operators that workers are on foot in the area.

What are the different classes of safety clothing?

The CSA Standard Z96-15 High-Visibility Safety Apparel sets out levels of retroreflective performance (i.e. the effectiveness of material in returning light to its source), the colours and luminosity of background materials, and how much of the body that should be covered by the high-visibility components. There are also special requirements for garments that to provide electrical flash and flame protection.

CSA lists three classes of garments based on body coverage provided. Each class covers the torso (waist to neck) and/or limbs according to the minimum body coverage areas specified for each class.

  • Class 1 garments provide the lowest recognized coverage and good visibility. For example, a basic harness or stripes on the shoulders and around the waist. Other options are possible, including a shirt made of non-high-visibility material, but with high-visibility or retroreflective stripes/bands.

Figure 1
Examples of Class 1 Apparel
Harness of Colour/Retroreflective Stripes on Other Clothing

  • Class 2 garments provide moderate body coverage and superior visibility. As per the CSA standard, background materials of HVSA must be fluorescent and can be yellow-green, orange-red or red. Flame-resistant (FR) clothing, however, is manufactured from material that cannot hold fluorescent dyes; these garments can be bright yellow-green or orange only with no fluorescent properties. Garments of that class must provide full coverage of the upper torso (front, back sides and shoulders) and side coverage of at least 50% from the bottom edge to the top of the shoulder. (Specific design tolerance for Classes 2 and 3 HVSA for emergency first responders.)
  • Class 3 garments provide the greatest coverage and the best visibility in conditions of low light or from a long distance. This class combines Class 2 clothing with the addition of stripes around the arms and legs. They must be stripes, combined-performance material or a mix of background and retroreflective material. The distinctive configuration of the stripes ensures that some sections of the striping will be visible from all angles around the body (360° visibility) at all times.

Figure 3
Examples of Class 3 Apparel - Coveralls

A consultation of the CSA Z96-15 High-Visibility Safety Apparel Standard provides more information on the specifications. The guidelines give examples of tasks where different classes may be appropriate.

Care and Maintenance

  • Dirty/worn retroreflective materials provide lower visibility than clean and well-maintained ones.
  • Machine wash HVSA alone or with like colours in warm or cold water on a delicate cycle using a mild detergent. During washing, do not use bleach or fabric softener as they can degrade the FR (flame resistance) and retroreflective properties of the materials. Clothing should not be ironed or dry cleaned.
  • Avoid washing HVSA with rough clothing (i.e. jeans). The glass beads on the retroreflective tape can be worn off by rough contact. If possible, turn HVSA clothing inside out for laundering.
  • Hanging HVSA to air dry rather than using a dryer will extend the life of the garment. The heat of the dryer can degrade the retroreflective properties of the material.
  • HVSA that is heavily worn, torn, soiled or otherwise contaminated should be replaced as it may no longer provide adequate levels of visibility.
  • The Canadian Standards Association has a related guideline: CSA-Z96.1, Guideline on Selection, Use and Care of High Visibility Safety Apparel.

What should worker training include?

As with any personal protective equipment, workers should be given appropriate training in the use and care of the equipment. The following minimum information should be provided to workers wearing high-visibility apparel:

  1. When to use the high-visibility apparel.
  2. Fitting instructions, including how to put on and take off the apparel, if relevant.
  3. The importance of using the apparel only in the specified way.
  4. Limitations of use.
  5. How to store and maintain the apparel correctly
  6. How to check for wear and tear.
  7. How to clean or decontaminate the apparel correctly, with complete washing and/or dry cleaning instructions.