Safety vests are considered a part of your safety gear. And just like your fall protection safety gear or flame-resistant safety gear, you need to conduct a little maintenance on your vest to ensure they remain safe and compliant.
Safety vest maintenance involves personal inspections, cleaning, proper storage, and replacement plans and procedures. Compared to more complicated safety equipment, properly maintaining your safety vest is very easy and, if done consistently, should be a force of habit for you.
The Basics of Safety Vest Maintenance
Wearing a safety vest is an important part of many jobs, but it's not enough to simply wear one. Your vest needs to be in good condition to provide the maximum amount of protection. Here are some tips for basic safety vest maintenance:
Cleaning Your Safety Vest
You clean your safety vests the same way you clean any other garment. Step one is to read the tag and follow the care instructions. In most cases, the tag will say something along the lines of machine wash with mild detergent. Fire-retardant safety vests will indicate the number of times you can wash the vest before the fire-retardant chemical is washed away.
Shake off any loose dirt, mud, and debris. Remove any attachments or pins, and make sure the pockets are empty. Again, these are all basic laundry rules. And finally, after washing, most vests should be hung to dry. Don't worry; they don't usually take long to air dry.
Knowing When to Replace Your Safety Vest
There are a lot of reasons you may need to replace your vest. The obvious replacement reasons are if the vest is tattered, ripped, burned, or damaged/altered in any way. Safety vests aren’t the same as your favorite old t-shirt. You can’t keep wearing them after the pits give out.
Keep an eye on the reflective strips on the vest. They lose their reflectiveness over time due to washing and UV exposure. Those reflective strips keep you safe, so don't hesitate to replace a vest you think isn't performing.
Most safety vests have safety features like rip-away sections. If part of the vest gets pulled into a machine or caught by a passing vehicle, the vest will break apart rather than drag you with it. If those breakaway sections begin to fail, don't staple them or clip them back together. It’s time for a new vest.
If your vest is flame-retardant, and you've exceeded the maximum number of washes listed on the tag, you should replace the vest. You get the idea that if something is wrong with the vest, you need a new one.
Proper Storage of Your Safety Vest
When it comes to proper safety vest storage, there are no surprises here. A cool, dry place is ideal. You don't want to leave your vest out in direct sunlight, like in the back of your truck bed or on your dashboard. The constant exposure to direct sunlight will prematurely degrade the reflective striping.
Like any other garment, don't store it on or near a heat source. And most importantly, respect the vest, don't ball it up and shove it in a bag. Take the time to put it away properly, and it will last a lot longer. Balling it up will crush, crinkle, and crack the reflective taping, and it also makes the vest look bad.
Inspecting Your Safety Vest
Don't roll your eyes when I say this; you need to inspect your safety vest regularly. And by regularly, I mean every time you put it on. Treat your safety vest the same way you treat all of your other safety equipment. Lucky for all of us, vest inspections are quick and easy.
What to Look for When Inspecting Your Safety Vest
In a word, you are looking for “damage”. You are checking all around the vest for any damage or issues. Start with the reflective tape, it should still be highly reflective, not faded, and it shouldn’t have cracks, missing sections, or separating from the vest material.
Next, check the vest material. Make sure the seams are in good condition and there isn't a gaping hole in the fabric. Then check that the zipper, hook and loops, and any other vest fasteners are working as the manufacturer intended. These fasteners are safety features and should never be altered. If you see a vest has been stapled or sewn shut, you should remove it from service.
And finally, double-check the tag. If you cannot read the tag or the tag is missing, you should remove that vest from service. All safety equipment needs to have legible tags and labels. No exceptions.
How to Increase the Visibility of Your Safety Vest
If you feel like your vest does not provide enough visibility, there are a few things you can do that will help. The first thing to consider is getting a different vest. If you are wearing a class II vest, consider upgrading to a class III safety vest. Class III vests are required to have more reflective tape and more high visibility fabric compared to Class II safety vests. Learn about the differences between safety vests.
If you already have a class III safety vest, consider pairing it with a high-viz shirt or some high-visibility pants or leg gaiters. If you are working at night, headlamps and hard hat lights are also good ways to increase visibility. You can also review the meaning of safety vest colors here.
It's important not to alter the vest because you could compromise some of the safety features, and you should never wear anything over a safety vest. There are plenty of other ways to increase your visibility without resorting to creating a dangerous situation.
Maintenance Schedule for Your Safety Vest
Creating a written maintenance schedule may be overkill for most workers, but it might be a useful practice for companies that are striving to stay safe and compliant. Regardless, that’s not what we are asking you to do.
When we say "Maintenance Schedule," we want you to start doing a couple of simple things. The first thing is to start an inspection routine. Taking a minute to look over your vest and other safety gear should be a force of habit every time you put it on.
The second thing is always to be a step ahead. If you’re starting to see signs of wear, start the process of getting another vest. Don’t wait until the vest is no longer acceptable. You can get the new vest in hand and continue wearing the old vest until it no longer passes your inspections.
Keep track of how many times you've washed the vest and how long you've had it. Set a reminder after a certain amount of time to consider requesting a new vest. The duration of the reminder depends on how frequently you wear out vests. Some workers need a new vest monthly. Others have used theirs for years.
The rule of thumb is to replace a vest that has been regularly used after six months. Set a calendar reminder or write it on the inside of the vest.
OSHA Safety Vest Requirements
As previously mentioned, there are three classes of safety vests (one, two, and three). OSHA requires workers to wear one of these classes (usually two or three) depending on the risk factors of the job. A flagger will have different requirements compared to an excavator. Road workers have different requirements compared to building construction workers, etc.
Also, OSHA doesn't specifically require workers to wear a safety vest. They are required to wear a certain class of hi-vis safety gear. If you're required to conform to class III, you can wear a class III vest, class III bomber jacket, class III sweatshirts, etc.
OSHA also requires employers to provide the necessary safety gear to workers. Many companies have safety requirements that exceed the OSHA minimum requirements, so it's important to understand and conform to your company's policy.
Failed Vest Inspection
If your vest fails your inspection and it's time to grab your backup vest. If you don't have a backup vest, you need to notify your employer to get a replacement vest. If they don't have a replacement vest, tell them to contact PowerPak.
In select areas, we can deliver replacement vests and safety supplies on the same day. Custom-printed vests can be delivered within a week. Visit PowerPak.net to check out our selection of vests, place an order online, or call in and talk to one of our representatives. We're here to help.