Engineer suffers first-degree burns from high-vis shirt, sparking medical warning

In a letter to the editor of the Medical Journal of Australia published today, emergency medicine specialist Ioana Vlad explained how she treated a man for first-degree burns caused by the reflective tape on his shirt.

The 40-year-old field environmental engineer had presented at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital’s emergency department in late January 2018 complaining of a rash across his back.

In assessing the patient, Dr Vlad noticed the rash was directly underneath a reflective stripe on the high-vis shirt the man had been wearing during the day.

Although the man’s injuries were not serious, he said it caused him discomfort for a few days.

He was treated with aloe vera and painkillers for the first-degree burn, which was similar in severity to a sunburn.

Dr. Vlad said almost anyone wearing shirts with reflective tape was at risk of similar injuries.

“It could happen to other people as well, especially if they wear the same type of shirt and the same type of reflective tape, and especially if they work out in the sun and the sun shines directly onto the shirt,” she said.

The man said the tape often became extremely hot when he was working in hot conditions and that he had to regularly change positions to ensure it did not touch his skin.

Call for more safety measures

Despite the effectiveness of garments required to be checked in three-month to six-month intervals, Dr Vlad said there was more manufacturers could do to keep workers safe.

“I guess it is something the manufacturers need to look at and see if they need to either make sure they put a different piece of cloth underneath this reflective tape … or maybe to limit the number of uses for this shirt,” she said.

Manufacturers warned that wearing retro-reflective tape could possibly cause heat build-up around the shoulder, neck and ears.

There was also a risk that the tape could smoulder or melt when subjected to heat.

But no cases of injuries arising from retro-reflective tape had previously been published in medical literature.