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Mines safety bulletin no. 50 | 16 September 2004 | Version 1

Use of retro-reflective tape on work clothing

Retro-reflective material usually consists of minute glass beads or prismatic elements encapsulated in a transparent film, which reflects light back towards its source. Retro-reflective tape is often sewn or glued to clothing to increase the wearers visibility to others, especially in the dark. The tape brightly reflects other peoples lights and warns them of your presence. The tape is often applied to workshirts, overalls, vests, jackets. Even where not used on normal clothing, it may appear on wet weather gear. It is applied in various patterns including vertical bands, horizontal bands, and X patterns.

The use of reflective strips has proven very effective in such applications, however users should be aware of several potential hazards in its use:

  • In some cases where the tape bands extend over the wearer's shoulders, it increases heat build-up around the shoulders, neck and ears. Sunlight reflected from tape over the shoulders can cause discomfort and sunburn. Some sites have elected to redesign where the tape goes, removing reflective tape from over the shoulder.
  • Another potential hazard can occur when wearing the tape inside vehicles, as internal reflections from the windscreen can interfere with visibility, as shown in the photo below, showing the difficulty in looking out through a dragline cabin window. Inside cars, where most of the reflection comes from tape around the shoulders (the dash board often obscures the rest) the hazard may be reduced by removing the tape from shoulders, or only having it applied up to level with under the arms. In other situations removable vests might be required.
  • As some tape ages it can crack and fray and sometimes causes abrasion (e.g. when someone wipes their forehead with their forearm, and the shirt sleeve has sharp-edged tape).
  • The tape could smoulder or melt if subjected to heat from an electrical arc or from particles from welding or grinding work.

Some measures to control the risk might include:

  • carefully considering the amount of tape used and its position on the clothes
  • the use of flame resistant tape
  • the number of layers of cloth beneath it (on a pocket there are at least 2 layers)
  • the use of removable vests.

While the advantages of retro-reflective tape in increasing visibility are obvious, possible hazards must be recognised in the coal mines safety and health management system and in the risk management practices and procedures used by metalliferous mines and quarries.

Authorised by Peter Minahan - Chief Inspector of Mines


Issued by Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines