What are the Different Types of Safety Vests?

Nychole Price

Safety vests are worn by people who are working in an environment where they are at risk to be injured by passing motorists. These vests are fluorescent in color, drawing attention to the otherwise unnoticeable person. Safety vests fall into one of four categories: class 2, class 3, public safety and economy vests.

Public safety vests are worn by police, paramedics, Department of Transportation (DOT) officials and firefighters when high visibility is a necessity.
Public safety vests are worn by police, paramedics, Department of Transportation (DOT) officials and firefighters when high visibility is a necessity.

Class 2 vests are worn by people who work in areas of high traffic, dangerous weather conditions and complex backgrounds. These people usually work in law enforcement, construction, emergency response, and utility fields. Class 2 vests are fluorescent lime, yellow or orange, and are worn over the top of shirts or uniforms. There are several styles of class 2 safety vests, including adjustable, mesh, illuminated and flame retardant. Most of the time, the vest is imprinted with the department or company name for identification purposes.

Emergency responders will wear a safety vest to help identify themselves more easily.
Emergency responders will wear a safety vest to help identify themselves more easily.

Safety vests that are classified as class 3 are worn by people who are working in the dark and in areas of higher traffic or extreme weather conditions. These vests are full, half, or short sleeves, and fit like a shirt. This draws more attention to the wearer, providing an extra level of safety. Like the class 2 vests, they are available in fluorescent orange, yellow, or lime, and can be imprinted with the department or company name. This variety of vest is available in mesh, rubber, non-mesh, jacket, overcoat and sweatshirt styles.

Public safety vests are worn by police, paramedics, Department of Transportation (DOT) officials and firefighters when high visibility is a necessity. During these times, safety officials are assigned a color depending upon their jobs. Police wear blue, paramedics wear green, DOT officials are assigned orange and firefighters wear red. These colors make it easier to distinguish the public safety personnel and their duties. Public safety personnel can often be seen wearing these vests at accident scenes or disasters.

Economy vests are the safety vests that are handed out during special events. These vests are often worn by people who are directing traffic or providing security services. These vests are fluorescent orange, yellow or lime and are worn over the top of the clothing. Most of these vests are left unprinted or they may be printed with generic terms such as "Staff" or "Security," so they may be used interchangeably with other events. These vests may also be worn by motorcyclists who are riding at night, or during bad weather conditions, to increase their visibility.

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Discussion Comments


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@sunshined - I think safety vests not only help keep our loved ones safer during their work, but also provide a lot of peace of mind for us here at home. My dad's a flagger who helps traffic navigate around construction work. He wears one of those orange traffic safety vests with the pale stripes across the middle.

Those are called autoreflective; they're designed specially to catch car headlights and reflect back much brighter than the rest of the jacket.

Dad's vest is a class 2, as the article describes above. Apparently you're required to wear a class 2 vest if the traffic conditions on the road you're working on go higher than 25 miles per hour.

Dad's work often involves flagging people around work on power lines, or painting road lines, and he does often end up working on the sides of high speed roads. It helps me not to worry, knowing he's got his vest on.


We live in a rural area and I enjoy walking my dogs on the roads by our house. I get in the habit of always wearing orange safety vest over my clothing when I head outside to walk the dogs.

I keep my vest right next to the dog leashes, so I always know where it is at. If I am walking up or down a hill, or it is starting to get dark outside, having a vest on makes me more visible to any traffic that is on the road.


Reflective safety vests have been in use on the railroads in the United Kingdom since 1964. They were first tested out in a trial run in Glasgow, Scotland. I think it's cool that the bright fluorescent orange vests got a more fun nickname than the ones I'm familiar with here in the United States; the United Kingdom called the vests "fire-flies".

The fire-fly safety vests really helped to reduce deaths of workers on the railroads by the 1970s. It was a big step, and an important one, I think. It's said that a fire-fly vest was so reflective and bright that you could see it from half a mile away in regular weather. I wonder how our American safety vests add up to that kind of bragging rights?


My husband works on a construction crew and they are required to wear reflective safety vests any time they are on the job.

Their vests are a bright yellow color with reflective stripes on the vest. I can understand why it is so important for them to wear these vests everyday.

They are often working where there is a high amount of traffic that passes by them going very fast. Any kind of extra protection they can have that makes them as visible as possible is important.


Nice article, very informative!

I particularly liked learning about safety vests. I was not aware that the colored high visibility safety vests that emergency personnel wear are color-coded -- that's really smart, actually! At a glance, people can tell which emergency assistance has already arrived, which hasn't, and which they might not have enough of for a particular situation.

You know, it would probably also assist people viewing the situation from the air in a helicopter or plane. News reporters could probably get a rough idea of how many paramedics, police and so on were on the scene just by counting the colored vests, even from an aerial vantage point.

I wonder if other vest-wearing jobs, such as different kinds of construction, are color-coded? It would be helpful in a business where there was more than one kind of worker mingling in an area. Kind of like a work uniform without being that restricting to the workers, you know?


Wow, I had no idea that safety vests had classes. I thought the different types were simply job specific -- traffic safety flaggers wear traffic safety vests, bicyclists wear refelctive safety vests, et ecetera. Why do the classes start numbering themselves at 2, I wonder? What's a class 1 vest?

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