What’s the Difference Between Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 Safety Vests?
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What’s the Difference Between Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 Safety Vests?

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If you know what you need, safety vests are very straightforward, but without all the information, you’ll pay for the wrong vest. They may seem all the same, but Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) enforcement will tell you otherwise. ANSI (American National Standards Institute) breaks down safety vests into types and classes to help narrow your search (ANSI/ISEA 107-2020).

Let's dive in.

Understanding Safety Vests

There are three different classes of safety vest, each geared towards specific situations. As with almost every safety situation, there is nothing wrong with opting for a vest that is a higher class than the minimum requirements for the work zone.

What Are the Types of Safety Vests?

Safety vests are categorized into 3 “types,” and each type splits into 3 “classes.”

  • Type O – Safety vests intended for Non-Roadway occupational use. Type O only has class 1 safety vests.
  • Type R - Safety vests intended for Roadway occupational use. Type R has both class 2 and class 3 safety vests.
  • Type P – Safety vests for law enforcement and first responders. Type P has both class 2 and class 3 safety vests.
Type O – Safety vests intended for Non-Roadway occupational use. Type O only has class 1 safety vests.
Type R - Safety vests intended for Roadway occupational use. Type R has both class 2 and class 3 safety vests.
Type P – Safety vests for law enforcement and first responders. Type P has both class 2 and class 3 safety vests.

For this article, we will mainly focus on Type O and Type R safety vests. This “type and class” system is not just for vests but for all HVSA (High Visibility Safety Apparel) such as hi-vis pants, hi-vis jumpsuits, jackets, etc.

ANSI updated its documentation defining all things safety apparel in 2020 (ANSI/ISEA 107-2020)

What is a Class 1 Safety Vest?

This one is simple. Class 1 is the only HVSA Type O safety vest and has the lowest required amount of high-visibility material.

Class 1 Safety Vests are for the lowest-risk areas. It could be situations where you are working a safe distance from the active roadway, but there is still potential for an incident. They have a safety yellow or safety orange background, and a minimum of 155 square inches of reflective strips. They are lightweight and sleeveless.

Class 1 safety vests are for work conditions without vehicles traveling at highway speeds. It could be where traffic is traveling no faster than 25 miles per hour. The ANSI documentation also states that the background of the worksite should not be visually complex.

Work conditions that may require class 1 vests include:

  • Parking lot booth attendants
  • Mineworkers
  • Oil, gas, and extraction and refinery workers
  • Warehouse workers
  • Individuals retrieving shopping carts in parking lots

Class 1 (Type O) safety vests are required to have a minimum of the following:

  • 217 sq in. (.14 sq m) of background material
  • 155 sq in. (.10 sq m) of Retroreflective or Combined- Performance Materials
  • Minimum of 1 in (25mm) width for Retroreflective Materials

What is a Class 2 Safety Vest?

Class 2 (Type R) HSVA safety vests have bumped up requirements. Like Class 1 (Type O), these vests are usually sleeveless.

The industry rule of thumb is to require these vests on worksites where traffic flow is 25mph – 50mph. These safety vests are more noticeable during the day or night at greater distances when compared to class 1 safety vests.

There aren’t explicit guidelines on who should be wearing class 2 vests, but examples for type R (Class 2 and Class 3) vests include:

  • School crossing guards
  • Public transit workers/railway workers
  • Toll operators
  • Road construction under 50mph
  • Airport tarmac workers
  • Surveyors

Class 2 Safety Vests are larger than Class 1 vests, Class 2 vests incorporate a specific amount of background material into the mix. To be a Class 2 vest, it must have no less than 775 square inches of safety yellow or safety orange background material to it. There must also be no less than 201 square inches of reflective (Reflective or Combined-Performance Materials) striping across the vest. These are required for roadway and traffic zones where traffic is moving no faster than 50 miles per hour.

Class 2 (Type R) safety vests are required to have a minimum of the following:

  • 775 sq in. (.50 sq m) of background material and a minimum of 540 sq in. (.35 sq m) for small vests. 
  • 201 sq in. (.13 sq m) of Retroreflective or Combined- Performance Materials.
  • Minimum of 1.38 in (35mm) width for Retroreflective Materials and 1 in (25mm) width for Retroreflective Materials for split trim design. We will dive into split trim later in this article.

PowerPak offers many options for those in need of class 2 safety vests.

What is a Class 3 Safety Vest?

Class 3 (Type R) HSVA safety vests have the highest material requirements compared to Class 1 and 2. The industry rule of thumb is worksites with traffic traveling over 50 mph should require Class 3 safety vests.

Class 3 Safety Vests are for the most hazardous environments where visibility is paramount. Class 3 vest provides the most background material and the most retroreflective striping. In many cases, these vests have sleeves. These vests must have, at minimum, 1,240 square inches of safety yellow or safety orange background, and at least 310 square inches of reflective striping.

Workers that may be required to wear Class 3 vests include:

  • Tow truck operators 
  • Incident site investigators 
  • Road construction workers (50mph+) 
  • Roadside assistance 
  • Utility workers 

Class 3 (Type R) safety vests are required to have a minimum of the following:

  • 1240 sq in. (.80 sq m) of background material and a minimum of 1000 sq in. (.65 sq m) for size small vests.
  • 310 sq in. (.20 sq m) of Retroreflective or Combined- Performance Materials.
  • Minimum of 2 in (50mm) width for Retroreflective Materials and 1 in (25mm) width for Retroreflective Materials for split trim design.

If you’re in need of class 3 safety vests quickly, PowerPak offers a wide range of options.

Safety Vest Materials

As mentioned, all ANSI classes of safety vests must have minimum amounts of TWO types of material. Background material and retroreflective material/combined performance material.

Background material and retroreflective material/combined performance material. Background material is fluorescent colored fabric, usually safety orange or safety yellow. It’s the brightly colored mesh or fabric you think of when thinking of safety vests. This material is highly visible during the day.

Retro reflective material is the striping you see on safety vests. People often confuse the term retro reflective and reflective, but they are different, and they perform differently.

When light hits something reflective, like a mirror, at an angle, that light bounces off in the opposite direction. Retroreflective reflects the light directly back towards the light source. This material is highly visible at night with direction lights, such as car headlights. You’ll often find retroreflective tape in silver, white, and gray.

All these materials are required to meet various ANSI standards.

A vest may have Combined-Performance material in place of retroreflective tape. Combined-performance materials/tapes have retroreflective properties and meet the fluorescent requirements of background material. Some vests have combined-performance striping that matches the background material giving the best daytime visibility without sacrificing nighttime visibility.

Vest Label

Your safety vest label should list out most of the information that you need, including:
  • Type
  • Class
  • FR rating and test method
  • ARC – rating if applicable
  • Size
  • ANSI standards that the vest meets. 
  • Care instructions. Many vests have a maximum number of times they can be washed.

What Do Safety Vest Colors Mean?

Although OSHA has no specific guidelines on vest colors, some colors work better in certain environments than others. Orange vests are ideal for settings with a lot of vegetation, a blue sky or yellow sunlight. Orange-colored vests also work well in wide-open areas, particularly in the daytime.

Yellow safety vests are perfect for night work when sunlight is minimal because fluorescent yellow is more noticeable from a distance against a dark background. Yellow vests are common among construction workers, emergency responders and utility repair people.

The general rule of thumb is to choose the most noticeable color for each specific environment. Learn more about safety vest colors here.

How Much Do Safety Vests Cost?

Depending on the supplier, vests can range anywhere from a few dollars for simple designs to several hundred dollars for products with reflective tape and multiple features. Because they have the fewest amount of safety material, Class 1 vests are typically the least expensive. As the material requirements increase, the prices generally become more expensive.

Flame and tear-resistant vests usually cost much more than those without extra durability features.

Optional Vest Features

Safety vests of any class or type can come with several features, and many worksites will require some of these options. Flame-Resistance: ANSI offers manufacturers the option of six different flame-resistant standards for rating safety vests. The test method is on the vest label.

  • Arc Rated: Personal protective equipment (PPE) with an Arc rating will protect workers from electrical arc flashes. The safety vest alone will not provide adequate protection. A complete set of Arc Rated PPE is required for work conditions where electrical hazards are a threat.
  • Water Resistant and Waterproof: Clearly, these options are for wet work conditions. In addition to these features, workers can opt for a vest that is both waterproof and breathable (vapor permeability). All these features must meet specific American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) standards.
  • Tear Resistance: The background material of your safety vest can be rated tear-resistant if it meets specific ASTM standards. This feature isn’t often required.
  • Pockets: Certain trades may require vests with specialized pockets to hold specific items or transparent pockets to display identification or credentials. Pockets also come with several features, such as dual pockets for separating items or grommet holes to dispense flagging tape.
  • Identifiers: Worksites may require workers to wear vests with printed identifiers, lettering, or logos. Any graphics of non-contrasting material cannot take up more than 72 sq in. (465 sq cm) of space on the background material of the vest. Graphics of contrasting material cannot take up more than 22 sq in. (142 sq cm) of space on the background material of the vest.
  • Hook and Loop Break-Away: If a vest gets caught in machinery, this feature will allow the vest to break off the worker rather than pull them into the machinery. Hook and loop strips are placed on the sides and shoulders for an easy breakaway when needed.
  • Mic Tabs: Vests may feature straps on the shoulders to clipping radios or shoulder speaker mics.
  • D Ring Opening: Nothing should be worn over a safety vest, including a fall protection harness. A safety vest for fall protection features a cut-out on the back to allow an unobstructed D ring.

Specialty Vests

Several types of specialty safety vests include:

  • Modacrylic: Years ago, you could not buy a lightweight, durable safety vest that was flame and chemical resistant. Modacrylic is the new type of fabric used as background material instead of a polyester safety vest. As usual new means, it costs more.
  • Surveyor Safety Vest: Available in Class 2 and Class 3, these vests are loaded with features. Zippers, mic tabs, grommets for tools, and many specialized pockets, just to name a few features.
  • MTA – NYCTA Safety Vest: These vests are required for Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) workers. They have a few key features, but the most notable is the retroreflective tape. This tape must meet stringent standards set by the NYCTA.

Understanding the classes is one thing, but you’ll also need to consider the specifics of your worksite when it comes to choosing the best class-rated vest for your team members. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with going with a Class 3 Vest for every site – greater visibility is never a bad thing.

Consider the general visibility at your work site, how far from high-speed traffic your workers will be, and if there are physical barriers between the workers and traffic. A Class 2 vest is perfect for utility operations and volunteer work, but not good enough for flagging operations. A Class 3 vest is necessary for incident response, particularly at night, but is overkill for a landscaper. A Class 1 vest is never good enough to be worn within the right-of-way of a high-speed highway.

You should also opt for color that differentiates the worker from the environment. Safety yellow isn’t going to stick out against a bright yellow or light green environment, just as safety orange won’t stick out as much in a sand or desert environment.

One thing to note, as with all personal protective equipment, proper maintenance is important. The reflective qualities of the vests can diminish over time — sun can fade them, they can get dirty, and the reflective material can rub away through heavy use. Most daily-wear vests have a service life of six months or so, while moderate use could last up to three years. If a vest is torn, dirty, soiled, worn or faded, it must be replaced before going on-site.

Beyond the Vest - Work Zone Visbility Tips

While the appropriate class-rated vests are a great start for visibility on the work site, and cover the individual, there is so much more you can do to protect your workers in traffic-heavy work zones.

  1. Create site plans and share them with your workers. Internal and external traffic -control plans, developed to take into account the conditions of every worksite and the traffic and workers, should be created and followed.
  2. Make sure the area is well lit, at day as well as at night. Install temporary lighting, and remember that even during the day, shadows can hide your workers, so they need to be illuminated.
  3. Utilize appropriate channeling devices to direct traffic away from your workers and around work spaces. Cones, drums, barricades, pavement markings, and portable signage all serve as warnings and alerts for drivers.
  4. Consider intrusion devices that can sound alarms when toppled by equipment and vehicles deviating from traffic corridors. They can alert workers that may not be able to see the intrusion. 
  5. Educate your workers on how to act and react within your work zone, dangers to look for, and general or site-specific procedures. This includes teaching them about operator blind spots for construction equipment, how to act around heavy equipment, and how to respond if something goes wrong.

Contact PowerPak Today

Work zone safety is paramount to us here at PowerPak, and our team members are standing by to help you find the most efficient and cost-effective solution to preventing incidents stemming from poor visibility on your work site. Contact our team, they are here to help keep you and your team members safe and sound!

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