Christchurch hi-vis capital of the world

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 10:10 21/12/2013
Hi-vis
John Kirk-Anderson
ORANGE ALERT: A hi-vis jacket says, "I am involved in the rebuild" and therefore I am, well, slightly important, anyway.

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: If, despite the shortage of chimneys, Santa does visit Christchurch this year, you can bet he will be wearing a hi- vis vest.

This will not be because of new health and safety regulations governing fairytale characters.

It will be because Christchurch is the high-visibility capital of the world and Santa won't want to stick out like the proverbial in a red suit which does not even comply with safety standards.

It's important in his line of work not to be seen to maintain the mystery and intrigue of his supernatural role. But anyone in Christchurch not wearing hi-vis gear is guaranteed to stand out. With the abnormal becoming the normal, to be normal is the exception.

If Santa wore only his red suit he would be so conspicuous he would have no chance of passing anonymously among the Christchurch rooftops spreading joy and material goods. He needs to don a hi-vis vest to blend in with his Christchurch surroundings.

Just to stress the point a bit more. If a war had to be fought in Christchurch at the moment, the soldiers would be wearing hi-vis vests because in our context hi-vis is camouflage.

Hi-vis gear used to be worn only by railway workers and in places such as airports where you could easily be run over if you didn't watch out.

Now all you need is a clipboard to justify full hi-vis honours. Office fire wardens used to have a red band around their arm. Now they have full hi-vis protection.

In the good old days, just after the earthquakes, a hi-vis vest used to mean something.

You could put on a helmet and a vest and get through the security checkpoints without identification and make your way freely around the red zone. Hi-vis attire denoted a person of official status with vital emergency or technical responsibilities. It spelled authority and competence. A person who could be trusted. Remember Bob Parker fronting all the press conferences after the earthquakes in his hi-vis jacket. The jacket spoke eloquently of his crucial role.

With hi-vis becoming as ubiquitous as road cones (probably more so), the gear is starting to shout health and safety overkill rather than indispensability.

Well that's not entirely true. A hi-vis still conveys a hint of usefulness. It says, "I am involved in the rebuild" and therefore I am, well, slightly important, anyway.

Another strange phenomenon has occurred with the hi-vis in Christchurch.

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I know we need to get employees into the habit of wearing their safety equipment at all times but we seem to be taking this a bit too far.

People seem reluctant to take off the vests even when the gear serves no purpose in the context. The equipment as it is used in Christchurch appears to have developed some strange adhesive quality which makes it impossible to take off.

So a person sitting in a highly visible vehicle will also have their vest on just in case some danger is present within the vehicle which can only be allayed or mitigated by hi-vis gear. Some people drape their hi-vis vest over the passenger seat as though the seat is in a precarious position or the vest can be easily crumpled.

Bars even have a hi-vis policy. The Carlton in Papanui Rd, for instance, allows hi-vis gear until 7pm after which we have to assume drinkers must risk their lives by removing their hi-vis and expose themselves to the hazards of being run over by other drinkers in the establishment.

There must be people in Christchurch who go to bed with their hi-vis equipment on. Their partners might quibble but they will be told, "It will help you see me in the dark".

Already hi-vis is getting fashionable and instead of simply wearing a vest over your clothes you can buy clothes that are hi-vis. You can get a geo-breathable fluoro polo shirt and an airwear commando fluoro.

I noticed this week, when I was in Mitre 10, you can get fluoro gardening gloves, just so, I presume, you don't lose track of your hands in the soil and stab them with your gardening fork.

The more fashion-conscious hi- vis vest wearers have already cut off that silly tail that covers the backside. They are usually the same people whose hi-vis vest actually fits snugly and emphasises the contours of the body. At the moment, we have only orange and a sort of yellow/green as though they are the only conspicuous colours. Surely creative imaginations will soon be running riot.

We can of course make jokes about hi-vis equipment but we know they save lives.

Maybe we need more hi-vis and we need to make it compulsory. I notice, for instance, a lot of motorcyclists and cyclists are still mostly too cool to wear hi-vis gear.

We can indeed become the mostly highly visible city in the world.

- The Press

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