The Proliferation of Hi-Viz Vests

I often remark on the proliferation of people wearing hi-viz vests in the UK these days. In contrast with other countries I visit, they seem ubiquitous.

There was a time when anybody wearing a hi-viz vest could be reasonably assumed to be doing a proper job, one that was either dangerous, manual, or both. When I was a kid you’d see them on builders, guys working up pylons, people directing traffic, and on TV being worn by oil-rig workers and the people who move about on the aprons at airports.

But nowadays, somebody wearing a hi-viz vest is more likely to be a low-grade official granted minuscule authority carrying an air of self-important pomposity that would have embarrassed a 17th Century French aristocrat.

The other day I came across this photo, although I can’t remember the context:

Which of those weaing a hi-viz vest do you think has ever in their lives done a job that actually needed one?

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25 thoughts on “The Proliferation of Hi-Viz Vests

  1. There’s a really important question here;

    What the fuck is a Faith Responder?

    Some sort of vicar on a motorbike?

    The fifth emergency service?

    Can you insure against existential crises these days?

  2. High-viz clothing, particularly in Australia, has become the way to keep the unwashed masses in line. Whereas once upon a time the average working man had freedom within reason to choose his attire, now the only option is to bow down to the rigid conformity that is in place.

    This is a bigger deal than many choose to acknowledge. It is psychological in nature and the effect that I have observed is a unwillingness to rock the boat on the part of the average worker, whereas Australians have traditionally been seen as very individualistic in nature.

    It is also completely ludicrous from a safety standpoint. You wouldn’t believe how many people have to be told on repeated occasions that wearing high-viz won’t protect you from being squashed by a massive dump-truck or run over by a train.

  3. Ducky, it put me in mind of Pythons’ Spanish Inquisition. They seemed to be ‘Faith Responders’ of a different kind…

  4. Any cyclist who doesn’t wear reflective clothing when the light dims is being a chump.

    I used to wear (i) a Sam Browne, (2) cuffs on my sleeves, and (iii) cuffs on my trousers.

    A reflective band on your tyres is also a good idea. Reflectors on your spokes work reasonably well at letting motorists judge whether you’re moving.

    Otherwise, I tend to remember George Osborne in his beloved hi-viz and hard hat, and grin.

  5. Hi-Vis (or Hi-Viz, you choose) is merely a modern day uniform.

    Remember, our troops and our police are told, off duty, not to travel in their uniforms but a caring, sharing Hi-Vis wearer can wear his or hers all day long.

    Also, one size fits all. Saves on the farce of measuring people in a possibly offensive way.

  6. Where I live, hi-vis vests are an obligatory part of every motorist’s kit, along with the red warning triangle. Exit your vehicle on the roadside/hard shoulder (for whatever reason) without your hi-vis vest and you could be in trouble with the traffic police. ‘Cept that aforesaid police don’t seem to be much in evidence nowadays, judging by the number of idiots still using their cellphones whilst driving.

  7. Any cyclist who doesn’t wear reflective clothing when the light dims is being a chump.

    Well, yes.

  8. Where I live, hi-vis vests are an obligatory part of every motorist’s kit, along with the red warning triangle. Exit your vehicle on the roadside/hard shoulder (for whatever reason) without your hi-vis vest and you could be in trouble with the traffic police.

    Same here in France, hence I carry a couple of cheap ones in the car with me.

  9. I don’t know how I ever survived school trips in primary or secondary school, walking to the local library or park without my tiny Hi-Vis…

  10. Back in the day, men wore overalls. They were the lowest of the low. Now the same class wears hi-viz so can boss everyone else about.

  11. It helps those of us with impaired vision avoid the twats wearing them at the earliest opportunity.

  12. I once saw one of those “social experiment” videos where someone puts on an anonymous hi-viz jacket and sees whether they can boss random strangers in the street around – which confirmed conclusively that it confers an astonishing amount of authority, bearing in mind how ubiquitous they are.

    There is no legal requirement to keep one in your car in the UK, so far as I know, but I always have a couple stashed in the glove compartment. I’ll also stick one on if I’m going to go for a walk and the light is bad. I’m sure the risk it reduces is rather small, but it’s cheap and easy so no point dying for not being seen.

  13. When I worked in UK construction in the eighties Hi-Vis was required if you were working on live roads, I am sure it also applied to railway and other sectors where the risk of employees being struck by moving objects was higher. It made sense from that point of view, unlike the current blind faith that we all seem to have in this new found Hi-Vis culture. And as Adam has pointed out this nonsense is widespread including Australia.

    Oh and retroreflective strips are for night shift as High-Vis is no good in the dark.

  14. Hi vis is no use if no one looks. As some friends of mine have found out when they are on bikes and some berk opens his car door.

  15. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if the least effective in the hierarchy of safety controls. Paperwork is actually more effective than PPE.

  16. I had to wear a high viz even when welding you know the brightest light this side of the sun,they have yet to invent a fire proof one btw.

  17. High-viz clothing, particularly in Australia, has become the way to keep the unwashed masses in line.

    Yup. As I said once of Australia:

    For a country that prides itself on being rough and ready, and defines itself in contrast to the prim and proper UK, visitors to Australia might find themselves surprised by the hand-wringing and nannying that goes on here.

    Actually, I do know what they’re neutralising: the nagging self-doubt that beyond the cheap nylon jumper, the hi-viz vest, and the ID badge they are nothing but the school loser who had no friends and craved the day they would be in charge so they could make people sorry. Because really, that’s what this is all about. A sad fact about western society – particularly the English-speaking countries – is that a solid minority desire nothing more than to tell other people what to do, getting an almost sexual satisfaction by exerting even minuscule authority over others.

  18. I once saw one of those “social experiment” videos where someone puts on an anonymous hi-viz jacket and sees whether they can boss random strangers in the street around – which confirmed conclusively that it confers an astonishing amount of authority, bearing in mind how ubiquitous they are.

    I can well believe that. It’s rather depressing, at least for those who still live there. Of course, the real authority lies in their being able to call Plod at the slightest sign of a raised voice, who will come in and start making arrests in typically heavy-handed fashion for infractions of laws which probably don’t exist.

  19. Hi-vis vests are now being worn by shoplifters, muggers, car-jackers, armed gangs and so forth. Why? Because it allows them to blend into the background. I’ll get my coat (hi-vis, of course)…

  20. @Bardon

    What is the most effective?

    I suspect risk homeostasis massively reduces the effectiveness of PPE (“if I’m wearing hi-viz surely everyone will see me” / “with these gloves on doesn’t matter if I handle something nasty” etc)

  21. Elimination of the hazard is the most effective safety control. So in the original case for the need for Hi-Vis, don’t let the workers work on roads adjacent to live traffic rather stop the traffic, build a sidetrack etc.

    Safety Nazis get carried away with this though, it never ceases to amaze me when at the start of contract jobs when we submit our risk plans some of the things that so called safety professionals ask us to eliminate. Construction is inherently risky from both a commercial and safety point of view. That’s why good construction contractors are so highly paid and sought after.

    On your example, workers wandering under suspended loads (happens all the time) because they have a hard hat on.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierarchy_of_hazard_controls

  22. MyBurningEars:

    Good point, but it presupposes that PPE has been found to be effective in the first place. I have my doubts. Let me tell you a tale…

    I used to work in Tim’s safety-conscious industry as what we might call a public-facing service provision specialist (I worked part-time at a petrol station). Being owned by a big oil company, there was no activity that the safety boffins hadn’t analysed, and we were expected to follow their step-by-step, totally idiot-proof procedures at all times. (As an example of the granularity and overkill, there was a full laminated A4 page explaining how to change a bin liner. Step 1: get a new bin liner; step 2: unfold it; etc.) This might sound harmless, if wasteful, but actually it was a big hassle, since faithfully obeying the instructions made it impossible to get anything done on time. What do I want to be yelled at for today, being unsafe or being unproductive?

    So one day we get a memo that a fellow at another branch had been hit by a car while working on the forecourt, and the safety boffins were now reviewing the incident. A few days later we get another memo advising that the guy had been following procedure to a T: the special trolley with blinking lights had been deployed; traffic cones were in the correct triangular array; hi-viz vest, bicycle helmet and full suit of armour were all being worn. Nor was this some freak accident that no one could’ve forseen.

    So the safety boffins get to reviewing the safety procedures themselves, to see how this could be prevented in future. Quelle surprise, come the final memo: after completion of the review, it has been determined that the safety procedures are not to be changed at all.

    Of course, we all know what happened there: if the company conceded that the safety procedures weren’t up to snuff, then they’d be open to a lawsuit from the injured employee, and probably a fine from the Department of Whatever. Which clued me in to the true purpose of Health ‘n’ Safety: protecting institutions from responsibility. The absurd and overbearing safety procedures aren’t there to be obeyed, especially since obeying them would obstruct the actual business at hand. They’re there to be disobeyed, so that if someone gets hurt, the company doesn’t have to pay compensation. Whether they make things safer or not is largely irrelevant.

    Which leads me back to MyBurningEars’s remark, and the thought it occasioned: how much faith should we place in “the effectiveness of PPE” in the first place?

    To put it another way: how often can we confidently answer “Yes!” to all three of these questions:

    * Are there safety boffins?
    * Are they competent?
    * Do they have more sway than the lawyers?

  23. “They’re there to be disobeyed, so that if someone gets hurt, the company doesn’t have to pay compensation. Whether they make things safer or not is largely irrelevant.”

    Not exactly true, irrespective of the level of safety management systems in place there is higher and overriding obligation on an employer not to cause harm to an employee. The fact that someone has been injured is in the majority of occasions found to be a breach of the employers legal obligation.

    That means that if someone is injured in the workplace, the burden of proof is on the employer to prove that the employee was “that author of their own misfortune”, if the employer was found to be condoning a culture of disobedience then they will quickly find themselves liable for the outcome. So a more efficient streamlined safety procedure, standard safe work practice implementation level and good worker morale is a far stronger defense in the event of a serious accident in protecting the board than say a behemoth system coupled with an organisational culture that is accepting of routine noncompliance to its own designated workplace standards.

    * Are there safety boffins? Yes
    * Are they competent? Not all of them.
    * Do they have more sway than the lawyers? No.

  24. Safety at work tale:

    A man I vaguely knew used to travel to China to ‘outsource’ textiles. Eager Chinese businessmen would show him round their factories, where at one the Brit witnessed workers scrambling under moving machinery with no thought for their own safety.

    Of course, it would be impossible to work with such careless people, and the bloke said that until they had health and safety officers at the factory there would be no business. Two months later he was invited back to the factory and there were indeed health and safety officers with garish armbands to signal their new role. Those were the people now going under moving machinery…

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