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Trends in Public Safety Apparel

A new standard from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) will help protect emergency responders by providing increased visibility. ANSI/ISEA 207-2006, the American National Standard for High-visibility Public Safety Vests, establishes design, performance specifications and use criteria for highly visible vests that are used by public safety industries.

Vests that comply with ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 are designed for use by emergency responders and other public safety personnel. In response to requests from user groups, the Federal Highway Administration reviewed the requirements of ANSI/ISEA 207-2006 and found that public safety vests are compatible with its requirements for nighttime visibility.

This public safety vest standard was created in response to public safety user group demand in 2005 for a high-visibility safety vest garment differentiated from ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 (American National Standard for High-visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear) compliant apparel.

The primary concern was a need for flexibility of designs that would provide tactical capability not achievable with ANSI 107 garments. In addition, user groups expressed a desire to have a high-visibility garment standard intended for law enforcement and emergency responders that would be distinct from ANSI 107, therefore differentiating from “construction vests.”

The primary distinction of the ANSI 207 standard is that the required fluorescent background material falls between ANSI 107 Class 1 and ANSI 107 Class 2. This difference allows for design accommodation of equipment belts. A lesser background area requirement allows for short designs giving tactical access to belts. The new standard also allows for design flexibility to incorporate colored panels to enhance easy, on-scene identification of wearers, as well as other options such as shoulder breakaways.

The new standard includes basic requirements such as vest dimensions, color and materials performance, but also incorporates criteria for special features for users in fire, emergency medical and law enforcement services. For example, it reflects the specific needs of public safety workers such as the need to access belt-mounted equipment (gun, CPR barrier) and the ability for vests to tear away from the body. The new standard includes the means to identify public safety entities through the use of specific color markings. It has also been expanded to keep up with the state-of-the-art in fabrics technology and design.

Today’s public safety professionals often respond to traffic accidents in busy intersections and extreme conditions. Being seen or noticed is a critical aspect to their safety as well as the safety of the public they are serving. Highly reflective apparel helps first responders stand out at night or in low-light scenarios. Below is a look at some of the new trends in public safety apparel that reflect the latest federal standards.

Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 Garments Performance

Class 1 garments as defined are for use in activities that permit the worker’s full and undivided attention to approaching traffic, which should be traveling no faster than 25 mph. Examples of workers who use Class 1 garments include: parking lot attendants, people retrieving shopping carts from parking lots, roadside “right of way” maintenance workers.

Performance Class 2 garments are intended for users who need greater visibility in inclement weather conditions and whose activities divert their attention from approaching traffic. Workers who would wear this class of garment include: railway workers, school crossing guards, parking and toll gate personnel, airport ground crews, and law enforcement personnel directing traffic.

Performance Class 3 garments provide the highest level of visibility to workers with high task loads in a wide range of weather conditions, whose attention is often diverted from traffic. The Class 3 standard should offer greater visibility to the wearer in both complex backgrounds and through a full range of body movements.

Visibility with Class 3 apparel is increased beyond Class 2 by the enhancement of background and reflective materials to the arms and/or legs. A sleeveless garment or vest alone is not considered Class 3. These garments are recommended for all roadway construction workers and vehicle operators, utility workers, survey crews, emergency responders, railway workers, and accident site investigators.

Maryland State Highway Administration

By incorporating high-visibility materials into primary apparel and offering choices to workers, the Maryland State Highway Administra-tion (SHA) is ensuring that its workers are in conformance with today’s ANSI-recommended high-visibility apparel standards. SHA workers in Maryland used to wear orange vests over garments that usually did not comply with safety standards issued by ANSI. While these vests provided the minimum Class 2 protection, the non-ANSI garments (faded orange T-shirts) provided little visibility benefit.

With the goal of having workers in compliance and as visible as possible, SHA improved worker visibility through its apparel program. Today, the SHA workers are wearing fluorescent yellow-green T-shirts or, in cooler weather, a fluorescent yellow-green jacket marked with large, reflective strips on the arms, chest and back. Now they stand out in contrast to a surrounding environment of orange cones and signs, whether it’s day or night.

SHA officials met with visibility experts at 3M to address both the requirements of the stricter safety legislation and the specific needs of the highway workers in Maryland. A number of apparel options were evaluated by looking at fabrics, background colors and a variety of reflective materials available. Customized specifications were then developed so production could be bid out to different manufacturers.

According to Cory Erickson, market development manager for 3M Visibility and Insulation Solutions, with the addition of reflective material to primary workwear, the chances of the worker wearing the garment and being compliant are much higher. That offers an obvious safety benefit. Another key feature of 3M’s new Comfort Trim is its ability to breathe. “Our Comfort Trim transmits significantly more vapor than a solid trim. That means heat and moisture don’t get trapped behind the trim, so it acts more like the background fabric in the garment,” Erickson said.


The best high-visibility apparel standards won’t protect workers unless they actually wear the garments. Supplier Dickies wants the SHA workers to wear their hi-viz gear because they want to, not just because they have to. That means an emphasis on comfortable primary apparel that users wear next to their skin rather than secondary garments, like a vest, that they may put on over another garment.

Dickies’ line of hi-viz workwear is 100% polyester, but the fabric is brushed to give it a softer feel. Keeping hi-viz products clean is another high priority. When these garments get dirty, they tend to lose some of their visibility, and workers are also less likely to put them on. Most of the items in Dickies’ new line feature moisture wicking and soil release, with some items certified for home washing, and some for industrial laundering.

The Long-sleeve Work Shirt from Dickies worn by the SHA is a Class 2 garment featuring Visa® moisture management and stain release and 3M Scotchlite reflective material, engineered for industrial laundry applications. It includes two button-through pockets with a left-pocket pencil division and a lined two-piece collar with permanent stays.

Dickies’ Double-Knee Work Pants are made up of 8 ¾ ounces twill and feature a work pant waistband, multi-use side pocket, Visa moisture management, in addition to stain release and 3M Scotchlite reflective material engineered for industrial laundry applications. It is available in the color ANSI yellow only.

Odor Control

When working in extreme temperatures, odor is inevitable on any uniform. The majority of today’s public safety uniforms are made of 100% polyester or poly-blends because they are comfortable to wear. However, that material does not breathe as well as other fibers because it absorbs oil. This allows the bacteria to grow and attach itself to the fiber of the uniform. Thus, it tends to retain odor if not treated.

Keeping bacteria that causes odor from growing on the garments is key to solving this problem. Some companies, like 5.11 Tactical Series, treat all their polyester fibers with a permanent finish that prevents the growth of odor-causing bacteria. 5.11 puts the finish on the lining of all its footwear as well. The anti-microbial finish does not wash off, even after continued use.

Uniform supplier iD by Landau has two options for combating odor. First, a chemical process similar to 5.11’s can be applied to the garment. These chemical treatments remain embedded in the fabric for the life of the garment and prevent the growth of bacteria. The second method is a wicking solution that involves weaving the fabric so it draws perspiration away from the body and to the surface of the garment, where it evaporates more quickly. This way, the bacteria simply doesn’t have time to grow.

Zero Odor

A new technology is emerging that attacks and neutralizes existing bacteria, instead of trying to prevent it. In the process, it eliminates the odor as well. Zero Odor can be sprayed onto any surface (carpet, fabric, Kevlar vest) to neutralize the molecules that cause odor.

Once applied, it completely eliminates the offending smell. In order to work effectively, Zero Odor must come in direct contact with the odor-causing molecules. During preliminary testing of the product, officers were instructed to spray the inside of their sweaty uniforms. Deep or saturated smells may require several applications before they are totally eliminated.


Created by Noble Biomaterials Inc., X-STATIC has a layer of pure silver bonded to the surface of the textile fiber. In the process, the fiber retains its textile and tactile characteristics and can be used in knits, wovens and non-wovens as a filament or spun yarn. X-STATIC has proven effective against micro-organisms that cause odor, including microbes, bacteria and fungi. Due to its high conductivity of silver, X-STATIC also features anti-static benefits.

A little bit of X-STATIC goes a long way. A layer of it delivers 100% surface coverage of pure silver. The electron release of silver molecules works on an intra-cellular level, disrupting the DNA and RNA makeup of any micro-organism that plants itself on a product’s surface. Thus, a zone of protection surrounds each silver particulate, so a garment only needs a small percentage of X-STATIC to work effectively.

As shown, the new trends in public safety apparel incorporate the new standards set by the federal government as well as the latest technology. High-visibility is a critical aspect to officer safety, but the uniforms must also be comfortable and appealing for officers to wear them in the first place.

Jennifer Gavigan is the former associate editor of LAW and ORDER magazine. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2008

Rating : 7.5

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