ANSI Safety Vest Classes 1, 2, or 3: Which is for you?

Staying safe on the job is a top priority. When you work around hazards like machinery and moving traffic, being seen can make the difference between life and death. As a result, you’ll need to wear a high-visibility vest. But do you know what type? Not all high-vis vests are the same, just like not all job sites are the same. Some conditions are more dangerous than others, and that’s where the safety vest choice comes in.

Whether you need class 1, class 2, or class 3, high visibility clothing depends on your working conditions. For example, a school crossing-guard on a bright sunny day faces a different situation than a first responder on the freeway during a blizzard.

In this guide, we’ll look at the factors affecting job site safety, the requirements for high visibility clothing, and the organizations that set those standards.

What Are The Differences Between Safety Vest Classes?

Safety vests are an essential item of PPE designed to make the wearer stand out from their surroundings. Professionals use them in many industries, from construction crews and loggers to EMTs and air traffic controllers. 

They always have high-visibility materials like neon fabric and reflective tape, but the exact design depends on their class. There are three different classes of safety vests, defined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI sets these crucial guidelines to ensure workers’ adequate protection on the job. 

But before we go into the different classes, let’s break down some important terms. First, what does high visibility mean, and who has authority over its use?

  • High-Visibility: Sometimes shortened to hi-vis or hi-viz. This term describes clothing made of luminescent material that stands out from any background (such as neon orange, yellow or green). They have bands of retroreflective tape that bounce light back to its source.
  • ANSI: The American National Standards Institute has developed and overseen conformity standards for essentially every industry in the U.S., affecting the lives of 30 million professionals. They created the American National Standard For High-Visibility Safety Apparel And Accessories.
  • OSHA: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is an agency of the federal government that ensures safe and healthy job conditions in America. OSHA requires workers in certain professions to use safety vests. 

Class 1 Safety Vest

These are intended for people who work in relatively low-risk conditions, defined by OSHA as a safe distance away from traffic moving at less than 25 mph. Examples of workers who might wear class 1 vests include parking attendants, warehouse workers, delivery people, and people working light duty in a suburban cul-de-sac.

  • Sleeve Length: No sleeves
  • Front Closure: Velcro or zip
  • Reflective Tape: 155 square inches minimum
  • Tape Dimensions: 6.4 linear feet of 20-inch tape, or 9.39 linear feet of 1 ⅜-inch tape
  • Reflective stripes location: vertical stripes over the shoulders and a 360-degree stripe around the middle 
  • Background: 775 inches of fluorescent yellow, orange, or green material 

Think of these as the C-squad of safety vests. They’re not top performers, but they can still play well in their own games. While they don’t have reflective tape all up and down them, they do have stripes in strategic locations.

As for the color, bright orange or yellow-green are both acceptable. But one color might be better for the unique aspects of a job site. For example, in a wooded area, orange will stand out better than yellow-green.

Class 2 Safety Vest

Now we get to the JV team, ANSI class 2 vests. Wear these safety vests when there are more significant hazards from reduced visibility, inclement weather, heavy machinery, or 25-50 mph traffic. Some examples of workers who need a class 2 safety vest would be toll booth operators, airport baggage handlers, and flaggers for daytime roadwork. 

  • Sleeve Length: No sleeves
  • Front Closure: Velcro or zip
  • Reflective Tape: 201 square inches minimum
  • Tape Dimensions: 8.373 linear feet of 2-inch tape, or 12.2 linear feet of 1 ⅜-inch tape
  • Reflective stripes location: vertical stripes over the shoulders and one or two 360-degree stripes around the middle 
  • Background: 775 inches of fluorescent yellow, orange, or green material 

The ANSI type 2 safety vest is similar to the type 1; just more visibility beefed up. In compliance with ANSI safety fabric standards, type 2 vests have extra bands of retroreflective tape and more reflective area in addition to the same Day-Glo orange, yellow, or green. 

Class 3 Safety Vest

Lastly, we come to the varsity team, the best and brightest of their class: the ANSI 3 safety vests. These are a must for people on dangerous jobs, such as emergency personnel, railway crews, utility workers in blizzards and hurricanes, or tow truck operators on the night shift. These folks don’t just need any old reflective vest. They need ANSI class 3 high visibility clothing to remain visible in the most challenging conditions. 

  • Sleeve Length: Half or full sleeves
  • Front Closure: Velcro or zip
  • Reflective Tape: 310 square inches minimum
  • Tape Dimensions: 12.92 linear feet of 2-inch tape
  • Reflective stripes location: 360-degree stripes around the shoulders, waist, arms, and legs
  • Background: 1240 inches of fluorescent yellow, orange, or green material 

A class 3 hi-vis vest is the same basic concept, just more of everything. It requires almost double the amount of safety fabric and tape, so it often looks more like a shirt than a vest. High visibility clothing class 3 often includes reflective stripes around the legs to make any light shining on the person reveal the outline of a human figure. ANSI Class 3 safety shirts offer the most protection a person can get while working in hazardous conditions. 

Are Black Safety Vests Osha Approved?

Okay, so neon isn’t your style. You’ve seen black vests with reflective tape and thought they looked trendy and cool. Still, technically those don’t meet ANSI safety requirements. However, OSHA does not require all workers to wear safety vests. So, depending on your job, maybe you could get away with the black. But is it truly worth it when you consider the risks? Bright colors stand out better in every situation. The more visible you are, the less likely you will become the victim of an accident. 

So when does OSHA mandate the use of high visibility clothing? OSHA clarifies that flaggers and people in highway work zones must wear safety vests. Moreover, OSHA’s “general duty clause” states that all employers must provide a work environment free from hazards likely to cause death or serious injury. This clause is often interpreted to mean that employers must issue safety vests to their personnel in situations where their use is warranted. 

These hazardous jobs where vests are most warranted include:

  • Roadways
  • Off-road work sites
  • Excavation sites
  • Mines
  • Rescue sites
  • Airports
  • Warehouses
  • Marine and harbor environments

What makes a vest compliant? OSHA follows ANSI safety vest guidelines. Consider the ANSI class 1, class 2, and class 3 specs to choose the one that’s right for each job.

Find Clothing That Keeps Your Workers Safe Onsite

Safety vests are just one piece of the bigger picture of keeping your team safe. That means choosing the right apparel for every situation, from road crews flashing the required length of reflective tape on a foggy night to construction pros covered up by UPF clothing under a brutal August sun. 

When you care about the health and wellbeing of your people, you get them the right gear, period. Learn about sun protection and how UPF clothing works to keep you safe on the job in harsh sunny conditions:


Leave a Reply