A Safety Vest Is Not a ‘Set It and Forget It’ Product

It’s easy to get into a routine when it comes to a reflective vest. Grab it a few minutes before you hit the job site, throw it on, wear it all day, and then toss it in the back seat of the truck when you’re done. Set it and forget it, right?

That kind of attitude is a mistake that a surprising amount of people make. A safety vest needs to be cared for like any other piece of high-visibility clothing. Moreover, a vest needs to be worn correctly to ensure that you’re getting all of the safety benefits that it’s designed to provide. Let’s look at a few of the key precautions you should be taking to care of your safety vest and wear it the right way. Additionally, we’ll look at the signs that it might be time to replace your vest.

Wearing Your Safety Vest the Right Way

How hard can it be to wear a safety vest correctly? It’s pretty easy, but it does require paying attention to a few things. Here are some considerations you should be sure to keep in mind when wearing a safety vest:

  • Before putting your safety vest on, always check it for rips, tears, faded spots, or anything else that could make it less effective at making you visible.
  • Always wear your safety vest fully fastened. An open safety vest can flap around and potentially become tangled in machinery. More importantly, an unfastened safety vest is not compliant.
  • Make sure that your safety vest fits you correctly, and don’t be afraid to trade it in for something that fits better if it’s too loose or too tight.
  • Think about adding high-visibility workwear accessories, like a hi-vis hat or hi-vis gaiter, to your workwear outfit alongside your safety vest to provide an additional boost to visibility.
  • If your safety vest has pockets, be careful not to place things in the pockets that will stick out and potentially become caught on things.
  • Keep a rotation of more than one safety vest available in case one gets dirty or damaged.

How to Care for a Safety Vest

One thing that you can do to keep your safety vest in great shape is to clean it regularly. Materials and designs vary between models and manufacturers, so always check the specific care instructions for your vest, usually available on the care tag. For most models, the best way to clean the vest will be to turn it inside-out and wash it in cold water using a mild detergent.

Don’t use bleach, fabric softener, or harsh detergents on your vest when washing it. When it comes to drying, be aware that most safety vests should not be dried on high heat, and some shouldn’t be put in the dryer at all. Use a low heat setting or, even better, dry it on a clothesline. Many vests also shouldn’t be dry cleaned, so, again, check before you pull the trigger. Here are some additional tips for keeping your safety vest in good shape by preventing premature wear:

  • When storing your safety vest, hang it from a clothes hanger if possible. By keeping it stored hanging up, you’ll avoid placing extra stress on key areas like seams and reflective tape.
  • If you do use a dryer to dry your safety vest, don’t leave the vest sitting in the dryer after it’s finished. This causes wrinkles to form and creates premature wear and tear on your vest.
  • Don’t leave your safety vest sitting in direct sunlight or dry it in the sun, as this can cause the colors to fade prematurely—and that means not leaving it in your vehicle!
  • If your safety vest gets extremely dirty, wash it as soon as possible to prevent staining. If you have a job where your workwear often gets dirty, think about getting a vest with dark trim that shows dirt less.
  • Avoid eating or drinking in your safety vest whenever possible. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the less chance you give your vest to acquire stains, the better.

Safety Vest Care: Things to Look Out For

Diligently caring for your safety vest will help it last longer and stay in better condition. However, there comes a time when every piece of workwear will reach the end of its useful life. If your safety vest is showing any of these signs, it’s time to start considering a replacement:

  • High-visibility colors have become faded or stained enough that they no longer provide a strong contrast.
  • Reflective material has lost its reflective capacity and/or has begun to detach from the vest.
  • Safety vest closures, such as snaps or hook-and-loop patches, no longer work properly.
  • Vest material has rips or holes in it.
  • Seams on the vest are beginning to split or fray.

If you’re not sure about whether your safety vest has reached the end of its useful life, use a visual garment inspection guide. While these are only general guidelines, they’ll help you get a general sense of your vest’s condition. If it’s a toss-up, stay on the safe side and replace the vest.

One more thing to know: If your vest has been worn during a safety incident involving harsh chemicals, open flames, or something else that could affect its structural integrity, it’s time to get a new one. Continuing to use a worn-out or damaged vest can become a safety hazard.

Workers who need to replace their safety vests should coordinate with their supervisors to ensure that replacement gear meets all of the right standards. Management, meanwhile, should have a standard procedure for replacing worn-out PPE that takes relevant factors into account.

A safety vest is an investment—no pun intended—in your safety and productivity. When you wear your vest the right way and take consistently good care of it, you’re not just protecting the vest but some of the most important things in life.

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