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Mind The Gap: Raising Hi-Vis Standards in Rail

With workplace safety routinely addressed across the rail sector, Stuart Jukes of Pulsar explains the significance of hi-vis protective clothing and how the industry can continue raising standards in this area.


The rail industry faces a unique set of occupational hazards, and in order to provide a safe, efficient and sustainable rail service to the public, rail workers themselves must be protected from the various on-track risks that they’re routinely exposed to.


Hi-visibility protective apparel has played a crucial role in keeping workforces safe and functional for decades, with its introduction to the rail industry dating back to 1964. The use of fluorescent colour and reflective tape was, and still is, viewed as the most effective way of improving worker visibility in all lighting and weather conditions. As such, it is a mandatory requirement for any individual working on UK railways to wear suitable, hi-vis workwear that conforms to EN ISO 20471 performance standards.


Looking to safeguard the 100,000 employees across the sector, the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) recently published its refreshed Health and Safety Strategy, which reviews the next five years for the rail industry and places workforce wellbeing and safety at the forefront of its scheme. In line with this, decision makers are presented with an opportune time to review the current condition (and future specification) of hi-visibility garments in use across the UK’s rail network.


In sight and on track

Between moving trains and potential arc flash explosions, it’s clear why so much emphasis is placed on the safety of individuals working on or nearby train lines. Railway workers must be visible and protected from head to toe at all times and hi-vis jackets, trousers and polo shirts are designed accordingly to mitigate risks by incorporating the correct colour, placement and retro-reflection of hi-vis materials.


The fluorescent fabric in hi-vis clothing holds its own set of standards that apply to UK rail specifically. RIS-3279-TOM is a regulation applicable to hi-visibility orange garments only and is the minimum standard for protective clothing used in UK rail. The use of fluorescent orange clothing offers improved contrast in both rural and urban environments and helps to avoid confusing train drivers by removing the ambiguity of yellow and green colours, which are associated with train signalling. As such, the precise colour of orange fabric must meet a luminance factor of at least 0.4, with fluorescent and reflective areas of garments also meeting a Class 2 standard at minimum.


Where some may misunderstand the significance of these design details, Network Rail, in March 2023, released a comprehensive PPE policy for its workforce, covering the specification, issue and use of its orange hi-visibility uniforms. The guidance document lists a number of requirements to ensure employees are suitably equipped for their roles, whilst also reviewing the fit and functionality of its hi-vis workwear. Outdoor clothing for example, must conform to BS EN 343:2019 - an international standard which measures the waterproofness and breathability of weather dependent garments, such as insulated parkas and storm coats.


Both users and employers must also observe the wash lifecycle of garments, whereby after multiple washes fluorescent fabric begins to lose its colour and reflective stripes become less visible. Hi-vis garments must be replaced when they are no longer compliant, and in an environment where clothing can often become unclean, garment durability is key. As such, conscious manufacturers will wash test hi-vis products to ensure a minimum of 25 washes or more, with testing results found in wash care labels or shared online.



The extra mile

To truly align with the RSSB’s strategy moving forward, decision makers must ensure rail-spec hi-vis standards are being met whilst also delivering on modern user requirements such as comfortability and practicality.


As is outlined by the RSSB, fatigue is a contributory factor to one in five high-risk rail incidents, for example. Whilst fatigue is a multifaceted issue, the use of high quality breathable fabrics in hi-vis clothing can assist in regulating a wearer’s body temperature, with modern Class 4 breathability designs helping to alleviate signs of fatigue on-site. Equally, in colder weather, garments can incorporate zipped-in layers to provide additional warmth.


The size and fit of hi-visibility protective clothing is also critical to user safety and comfortability. Where an improperly sized or poorly fitted garment may restrict user movement, reduce productivity and heighten risk, a suitably equipped workforce can further reduce the risk of accidental slips, trips and falls - a common injury risk across the rail sector. With correctly fitted, performance-driven garments, employers can effectively support a wearer’s health and wellbeing whilst protecting them from more obvious operational risks.


As the rail industry continues to develop its strict health and safety standards, hi-vis workwear and protective apparel continues to evolve with it. Hi-vis garment design teams remain innovating and with that, decision makers across the rail sector must be proactive in their education, selecting the most suitable hi-visibility clothing for on-site operatives. Because when it comes to rail safety, there’s no room for complacency.

 


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