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High invisibility

First it was Jeremy Clarkson and now it's Richard Littlejohn. This week I find myself agreeing with the Daily Mail columnist and Philip Johnston of the Telegraph, who have both written articles about the ubiquity of high visibility work wear and the danger that we are losing all sight of its true purpose.

On Wantage market last weekend, I noticed a stall laden with a vast array of 'hi vis' - tabards and jackets for adults of all shapes and sizes as you might expect, but also
t-shirts and polo shirts and tiny tops for pre-school children to play in. During London Fashion Week hi-vis jackets even made an appearance on the catwalk.

There's no doubt that in some jobs high visibility coats or tabards are absolutely necessary and can genuinely be life saving - on a busy factory floor, for example, where there are people and vehicles in close proximity; at the roadside, when the workplace can be inches from traffic; on railways where you need to see a crew from a mile away to slow a train. But in offices? For workers in people's homes or children in playgrounds? What's the logic behind wearing them here?

The spread of high visibility work-wear is symptomatic of the wider over-application of health and safety - people presuming that something which is good and necessary in one circumstance must be good and necessary in other situations. More equals better. Except it doesn't - as I've said before, health and safety controls (such as protective clothing) should be introduced to help manage risks, not as part of unthinking, blanket policies.

Hi-vis gear being regarded as "cool" fashion has its upsides - it will help to remove some of the cynicism and reluctance among those who really need to wear them in high risk workplaces.

But if everyone feels the need to wear them their purpose is lost - no-one stands out in the crowd. If our senses become so used to the sight of bright clothing everywhere will we switch off from it when it really counts?

People don't have to love 'hi vis'. But we all need to be able to distinguish when it is necessary and when it is not.

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