Choosing the right workwear for your job or industry is absolutely crucial. While there are many factors which go into deciding the right workwear for your business, we will focus on the most common ones in this article- depending on whether you are a plumber, an electrician, a builder or a chippie:
How Safety Regulations Affect Choice of Workwear
Depending on the job, understandably, safety is the most important consideration when it comes to equipping your staff with the right workwear. Construction, maintenance or other high-pressure environments call for choosing the right safety gear. This is necessitated both, by the work environment and also, by regulations. Good quality, safety hi vis workwear that is functional and fit-for-purpose makes workers feel safer, resulting in fewer workplace injuries which benefits everybody in the long run. Safer and more confident staff in quality personal protective clothing (PPC) means lower fatigue, better productivity, and a more ingrained culture of workplace safety & well-being.
If you work in one of the following industries, then you will need to wear Hi-vis safety workwear as part of your uniform:
- Construction workers
- Truck drivers
- Warehouse workers
- Road and rail workers
Hi-vis workwear regulations are outlined in the AS/NZS standards. Here is a broad overview of the two most relevant standards on hi-visibility workwear in Australia:
This standard covers hi-visibility fabrics and retro-reflective materials performance requirements- for example, chromaticity levels- and how they should be used, so as to comply with the safety standard. This standard also outlines four classes of hi-visibility that can be applied to fabrics and retro-reflective materials. These four classes are:
- Class F = Daytime fluorescent
- Class R = Retro-reflective material
- Class RF = Retro-reflective and fluorescent
- Class NF = High daytime visibility non-fluorescent
This standard covers how a garment must be constructed to meet & comply with AS/NZS 1906.4 requirements which govern the use of hi-vis fabrics and retro-reflective materials. This standard also explains the position of the retro-reflective tapes on the garment and the width and quantity that can be used. Keep in mind, the use of very large logos on top of hi-vis garments may make them non-compliant. This standard describes 3 classes of hi-vis garments:
Class D = Daytime use
Class N = Night time use using retro-reflective material
Class D/N = Day/night use
Another standard to consider is that which requires workwear fabric to comply with AS/NZS 4399. This standard covers the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of the fabric used in the garment. While it’s not an essential requirement for workwear, it is something you should think about if your work is mainly outdoors under the harsh Australian sun.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, as regulations differ from industry to industry and also by state. Always ensure that staff workwear is fully compliant with the necessary regulations.
Choosing the Right Workwear Fabric
The right fabric plays a huge role in ensuring that workwear adheres to safety standards. So which is the right fabric for workwear? Again, the answer to that isn’t simple.
Depending on the role, the industry, the protection needed and the regulations of the area, certain fabrics are deemed more relevant than others. For example, working on an oil rig needs flame resistant workwear, while someone working at a bench may require a tough, heavy fabric to prevent wear & tear. Generally, there are two main factors to consider when it comes to selecting the most appropriate workwear fabric: Fabric Weight and Fabric Type.
What is the Right Fabric Weight For Me?
Fabric weight refers to the weight of the fabric in grams per square metre (gsm) and it has a critical bearing on the quality of the workwear fabric. Depending on the weight, one can expect different levels of abrasion resistance, breathability, wear & tear etc. Typical workwear fabric weights that meet Australian standards (AS2001.2.13) are:
- Lightweight – 155gsm.
- Midweight – 190gsm.
- Heavyweight – 310gsm.
It is important to judge which fabric weight class is best suited for the type of work involved. Usually, that involves striking a balance between durability & comfort. For a truck driver, comfort, and moisture wicking (lighter fabric weight) would be more important than durability. Whereas for a welder, durability may score over comfort (heavier fabric weight).
What is the Right Fabric Type for Me?
There are some common workwear fabric types available on the market, differentiated by fibre composition and fabric weave. Let’s take a look at some of the popular workwear fabrics:
100% cotton drill
Heavyweight 310 gsm twill weave is generally used in work pants and coveralls. Lightweight 190gsm & 155gsm twill weave is commonly used in hi-vis shirts and full full colour workshirts. Cotton drill has been a favourite in Australia for many decades, for its durability and comfort.
Stretch cotton canvas
Midweight 270gsm cotton/elastane blend canvas is used in cargo and utility work pants. This fabric is comfortable, stretchy, and yet, durable. The new generation of tradespeople have embraced this fabric which is poised to become the new staple workwear fabric in Australia.
Cotton back polyester micromesh
A Lightweight 55% cotton/45% Polyester 190gsm fabric which has polyester on the outside and cotton on the inside. This fabric is used in hi-vis polos. Cotton feels more comfortable and allows this fabric to breathe.
A Lightweight 100% polyester micromesh 157gsm fabric which is used in hi-vis polos. This fabric has moisture wicking properties that draws perspiration away from the body, so that you can stay cool, dry and comfortable.
Polyester brushed fleece.
A 100% polyester brushed back fleece 320gsm fabric used in hi-vis hoodies and hi-vis pullovers. This fleece fabric is breathable, easy to care and keeps you very warm. A special knitting technique makes this fleece resistant to pilling.
Polyester Oxford with PU coating
300 Denier 100% polyester Oxford with PU coating, this waterproof fabric is ideal for hi-vis wet weather gear and outerwear. This fabric has a waterproof rating of 12,000mm with a breathability rating of 3000mvp which is higher than most competitors.
Cotton vs Polyester
Both Cotton and Polyester have their own unique strengths, without necessarily being better than the other. The type of work determines which fabric is more appropriate for use.
Cotton is a natural fibre. It is soft to touch, breathable, and comfortable to wear. It is generally non-irritant and hence, suitable for those with sensitive skin. Heavier cotton fabrics also have good strength and durability. The downside of cotton fabrics is they are high on maintenance and easy to crease. Cotton also has a propensity to shrink when washed, although pre-shrunk fabrics may minimise this issue. Since it’s a natural fibre, fabric dyes typically don’t stay for long, thus resulting in the colours fading away quickly. This is exacerbated if the fabric is exposed to sunlight for extended periods. Poor dye finishing can also result in dark colours bleeding on to hi-vis colours.
Polyester is a very flexible and versatile fabric. It holds its shape hence minimises creasing and also avoids shrinkage. Ideally suited for knitted fabrics, it allows for moisture wicking properties, as well as good colour retention & vibrancy. It is also generally cheaper than cotton fabrics.
A negative quality of polyester fabrics is that, once saturated with sweat, it will stick to the skin. During summers or in hot weather, polyester can be quite uncomfortable as it won’t allow the skin to breathe. Polyester can also build up static which may not be suitable for certain jobs or workplaces.
Why Workwear Fabric Performance is Key
Imagine you have a choice between two hi-vis work shirts that appear to be identical. One shirt is an expensive and famous brand, while the other shirt is more economical but not a well-known brand. Which do you think would be better?
The answer here may not always be the more expensive shirt or the more famous brand. It all comes down to the performance quality of the fabric.
Do branded safety workwear justify their exorbitant prices? Or are you paying for their huge marketing budget instead of a genuinely superior product? As the saying goes, the "proof of the pudding is in the eating". Let’s see which factors determine the quality of the workwear fabric:
This is a common problem with workwear especially in cotton or cotton/blend fabrics. Excessive shrinkage will impact the garment length and fit, which in turn can compromise the safety of the wearer, depending on his work environment. The AS 2001.5.4 standard requires shrinkage to be maximum of 3% shrinkage for a 3-wash cycle done at 60 degrees celsius. Pre-shrinking and/or using other fibres can get around this issue.
All decent workwear brands should achieve this performance standard without major issues. If your workwear shrinks a lot after the first wash or two, then you should consider another brand. Workcraft range of products also include workwear that can withstand tough industrial laundering.
Colour fastness is the ability of a colour or dye to stick to the fabric even during exposure to sunlight and/or washing. This is an important factor in fabric performance, especially for hi-vis colours. Hi-vis fabric colour that starts fading after just 4-5 washes or after spending just 3-4 days working outdoor in the sunlight, can quickly become non-compliant to hi-vis standards. The AS 2001.4 standard requires a minimum rating of 5 for colour fastness to Light and a rating of 4 for colour fastness to Washing.
Good colour fastness is largely dependent on the quality of the dyeing chemicals, dyeing methods and finish of the fabric. Good quality workwear will have better colour fastness that sets it apart from poor quality workwear.
Fabric strength is critical due to the nature of work done while wearing the protective garments. If the fabric tears easily or wears out quickly, then that work garment becomes a safety hazard for the wearer. The AS 2001.2 sets out the minimum requirements for Tearing force and Breaking force for the fabric depending on which garment type it is used. Tearing Force is defined (ASTM D1682) as the force required to start tearing or to continue to tear a fabric, in either warp or weft direction, under specified conditions. Breaking Force (or Tensile Strength) is the measure of maximum force the fabric can bear, support or elongate before it breaks.
These parameters help determine which fabrics are suitable for what type of workwear. For example, the tearing force required for work shirts is 12N, while that for work pants is 20N. Hence, a fabric that has a tearing force of 14N can be used for a work shirt, but not for cargo pants. A good quality workwear brand will test the fabric and ensure that it meets the requirements for the type of garment used.
For the end-user, this means that lighter fabrics aren’t always more suitable. Especially if they aren’t strong enough to cope with certain work conditions.
At WorkArmour Solutions, we take pride in being an intelligent choice when it comes to choosing quality workwear and high-visibility garments. Our priority is always the safety of your workers. We offer the best quality Workwear Melbourne at affordable prices. WorkArmour Solutions supplies to a wide range of industries from Industrial to Hospitality to Healthcare. If you need more information on choosing the right workwear for yourself or your staff, get in touch with us at [email protected]