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Judge a Jacket

Tired of jackets described as "100% waterproof" leaking? Want to know what EN471 and EN343 are all about? Want to know more about breathable fabrics? Then these frequently asked questions are for you. It isn't possible for a jacket to be "100% waterproof" in all circumstances, and therefore this and other similar claims are essentially meaningless. This page will equip you to judge any jacket on the market for yourself.

Answers to the most frequently asked questions that will allow you to compare jackets for yourself

"My staff work in all weathers - how can I protect them?"

EN343 is the European standard for Protective clothing : Protection against rain. The standard encompasses both waterproofing and breathability. There are 3 classes for each within EN343, the highest being Class 3.

"What is breathability? How is breathability measured?"

Breathability means how well water vapour(perspiration) passes from inside a garmentto outside, and can be measured in two ways. Firstly, by measuring how much vapour a square metre of fabric will allow to pass through in 24 hours (gm/m2/24). The second method is the evaporative resistance of a textile (RET) - the lower the RET value, the higher the breathability. To meet Class 3, the highest level at EN343, a RET value of less than 20 is required. Again, we feel this should be the minimum standard rather than the maximum. It should be noted that in Annex A, Table A.1 of EN343:2003 it is stated that staff that are exposed to extremes of temperature should not work for extended periods without Class 3 breathable clothing.

"What is a hi vis jacket?"

This is a generic term, often used for a jacket that incorporates one or both of two elements - fluorescent fabric for daytime conspicuity, and reflective tape to reflect light sources in low light, night time and inclement weather. Calling something a "hi vis jacket" does not necessarily mean it passes any standard such as EN471. EN471 is the European standard relating to high visibility clothing for professional use. It is the responsibility of the employer to undertake a risk assessment as to whether their staff require clothing that meets this standard. Further information on this can be found below under the question "What is EN471?".

"How is waterproofness measured?"

This is measured scientifically by applying hydrostatic pressure to a fabric and measuring (in Pascals) the point at which the water penetrates the fabric. To pass the highest level in EN343 (Class 3) a fabric must reach 13000pa.

"How is waterproofness achieved?"

Generally, jacket fabrics will be 100% Polyester or Polyester rich fabrics, with the waterpoofness normally provided by a waterproof coating that is applied to the fabric or by a membrane (thin film) adhesive laminated to the textile layer. A waterproof coating wears off over time with wear and washing, whereas a laminated fabric maintains its waterproofing for the life of the garment.

"What is EN471?"

EN471:2003 is the European standard relating to high visibility clothing for professional use. Like EN343, there are 3 classes of EN471 garments, Class 3 again being the highest. All require a significant amount of fluorescent fabric (yellow or orange) and reflective tape. The following are the most commonly seen combinations for Classes 2 and 3.

"What is the law relating to EN471?"

EN471 is the European standard for high visibility warning clothing, and each country within the EU makes legislation determining where garments to this standard should be worn. The UK New Roads & Street Works Act stipulates that all staff working on roads must wear EN471 Class 2 or Class 3 clothing, and that EN471 Class 3 must be worn by staff working on roads with a 50mph speed limit and above. The Railway Group Standard GO/RT 3279:2008 sets a minimum of Class 2 to be used by those working on the railways, and stipulates that the fluorescent colour must be orange(not yellow). There are industry-specific codes of practice, or accepted best-practice, such as in the construction and aviation industries where EN471 is widely used. Likewise more generally in industries with lots of moving machinery.

"Is all reflective tape the same?"

No, there are two main technologies - Glass Bead and Prismatic. Both can offer EN471 conforming levels of reflectivity. However, tests show that with Glass Bead Technology the glass beads wear off over time and with washing, so that the reflective values drop dramatically - especially in the rain. With Prismatic Technology, the tape retains its reflectivity for the lifetime of the garment, and gives exceptional performance in the rain.

"Do my staff need EN471 certified garments?"

Each employer has a duty of care under the Health & Safety at Work Act to undertake a risk assessment, and eliminate or protect against potential hazards. Each individual risk assessment is different. Whilst risk assessments for many job roles in industries like aviation, construction and many others often conclude that EN471 is required, there are also a wide range of jobs where risk assessments conclude that EN471 is not required. In these jobs, risk assessments may still conclude that it is best practice for jackets to include a significant amount of reflective tape, even if EN471-certified garments are not needed. The fact that the reflective tape conforms to EN471 and is applied in the EN471 configuration means that risk assessors for these lower risk jobs determine that the employer's duty of care is fulfilled - even though the colour of the fabric means it cannot conform to EN471. This may then allow these staff to be in jackets matching the corporate colours, and be differentiated from the wide range of higher risk job roles wearing EN471 yellow. Reflective tape can only ever be a benefit and is a sensible precaution in a huge number of jobs and environments.