Whether due to poor lighting or poor sight lines, there are environments where high-visibility clothing is a “must-have” to ensure worker safety. However, whether non-FR or FR Hi-Vis clothing almost always costs more than similar clothing that is not hi-vis.
Why? Clothing is clothing, right?
Actually, not really. There are three key factors that make hi-vis clothing more expensive to produce:
Let’s unpack these factors, one by one:
1) The Cost of Dying Hi-Vis Fabric
Simply put, the dyes required to create fabric in a color that will catch the eye of passing drivers or stand out in a poorly lit workspace cost more than the dyes required to create fabric in more traditional colors. This is due, in large part, to the fact that to qualify as hi-vis, fabric must meet strict parameters for color and luminosity. Furthermore, the fabric must demonstrate the ability to maintain that color and luminosity following extensive exposure to UV light and laundering.
These goals are easier to achieve when working with some synthetic fibers, such as polyester. Unfortunately, most plastic-based synthetic fibers are not flame resistant – and, in fact, greatly increase the risk of burn injury to a wearer caught in a flash fire or arc flash. Non-plastic-based fibers are considerably more difficult to treat with hi-vis dyes in a way that meets the required color, luminosity, and durability specifications.
Then there is the additional challenge posed by the fact that many FR fabrics are treated to add their FR properties after the fabric has been dyed. Unfortunately, the FR treatment process can sometimes alter the color of the fabric, shifting it toward the red end of the color spectrum and out of the necessary color specifications.
2) Limited Demand
Not only are hi-vis, FR fabrics more difficult to manufacturer, as a specialty product they are also in relatively low demand compared to non-hi-vis fabric. Most fabric mills want to be able to sell a minimum of 5,000 yards of a particular fabric color before they put that fabric into production. It is expensive, in both time and money, to clean a dye range and prepare to run a different color. So it is incrementally more expensive to do one run of hi-vis fabric every so often than it is to do several runs in a row of a more popular color. As a result, fabric mills charge a premium to go to the trouble of dying fabric in hi-vis colors – particularly given the difficulties they face, as described in the preceding section.
3) Dye Sourcing
Currently, all hi-vis dyes used in FR clothing come from China. Unfortunately, two things have combined to greatly reduce the supply of hi-vis dyes. First, China has instituted new manufacturing regulations that have led to the temporary or permanent closure of thousands of factories, include many that manufacture the chemicals required to make hi-vis dyes. Second, many of these same chemicals are used in other products and processes, leading to an escalating competition to obtain the limited supply – with, of course, a corresponding increase in price.
While the higher costs associated with manufacturing high visibility FR clothing are clear, you can’t put a price on the safety of workers in the field. When workers are placed in situation where visibility is essential to creating a safe work environment, employers must spend the extra money to provide their employees with the protective clothing they need. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of hi-vis FR will continue to look for innovative solutions to the challenges outlined above. Ideally ways will be found to provide workers with the visibility they need without overtaxing safety budgets.