The right uniform raises the image, esteem and perceived professionalism of both the driver wearing it and the company that employs him. Few would dispute that, but in the busy road transport industry it is all too easy to regard the subject of drivers’ uniforms as an annoying distraction from the core job of moving loads. After all, we work in the logistics industry, not Grace Brothers. But if our opening statement is true, should we not make a little more effort and go the extra mile to make sure that our drivers look the part?
What to include
The first issue is what garments to supply. Some kind of shirt with a company logo on it is an obvious minimum, but most fleets will want to go further and usually choose from the following:
- stiff-collared shirts
- polo shirts
- sweatshirts or fleeces
- outer jackets
- shoes or boots
- high-visibility waistcoat
- safety helmets
This list is by no means exhaustive: some operators will even include shorts for summer wear and add accessories such as ties and belts. Then there are the more specialised requirements for those in particular industry sectors, such as the removals business whose drivers’ uniforms should not have buttons or zips that are liable to mark furniture being carried. For drivers who are liable to venture onto building sites, a bag for muddy boots is a practical measure that will help them keep their cab interiors clean.
Think about the characteristics of the garments you are choosing. Polo shirts, for instance, are among the cheapest items to buy and in many ways are more practical than shirts, but can quickly become faded and shapeless if they are of poor quality. The same is true of sweatshirts. Drivers’ tunics, meanwhile, may seem a touch old-fashioned UK but are hard-wearing and usually have plenty of useful pockets for pens, keys, paperwork. So if you are considering a move from tunics to sweatshirts, for example, think about the loss of pockets, particularly for drivers such as those on multi-drop parcels work whose hands are full but still need somewhere for their paperwork or handheld terminals. One solution is to choose trousers that have additional large pockets on the thighs.
Boots typically offer more ankle protection than shoes and so are safer on sites and uneven ground where there is a high risk of turning an ankle. Their obvious downside is that they become too hot in warm weather. Shorts may appeal in the summer but may be considered inappropriate in certain circumstances.
While some fleets regard a tie as the height of sartorial standards, they are few and far between these days, when even politicians and senior managers no longer consider a tie as essential. As far as drivers are concerned, ties are liable to become trapped or snagged when leaning forward to handball loads, for instance, so there are valid safety reasons to avoid them.
When introducing uniforms for the first time, or changing an established policy, it is of course vital to engage your workforce on the type of garments they like to wear. However, bear in mind that you stand no chance of pleasing all of them and the final choice must achieve the company’s vision and goals. But pleasing the majority enhances the likelihood of your uniform policy being adhered to with minimum fuss. The replacement policy should also be communicated to the drivers, so that are aware of how long the uniform is expected to last.
The requirement to wear the uniform at work should be written into employees’ contracts and drivers’ handbooks. Particular reference should be made to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety boots and high-visibility garments: legislation demands that employers not only provide these items but also ensure that they are used. It follows, therefore, that operators should take formal steps to check that uniforms are worn as required. Traffic office staff are the most obvious candidates for this job, with a named individual given specific responsibility for managing compliance and all uniform matters.
Standard or bespoke?
Most firms are content to buy standard, off-the-shelf garments and personalise them with a company name and logo. Others prefer to have their garments made to order in particular styles or colours.
The latter approach allows you to achieve exactly the look or colour you want, making sure your drivers stand out – hopefully for the right reasons! However, with most corporate workwear coming from places such as North Africa and Asia, lead times for bespoke designs may be a problem: waits of 12 weeks or more are not uncommon. This may be unacceptable when taking on new staff or replacing a damaged garment.
Whether uniforms are bespoke or off-the-shelf, it is a good idea to keep some spares in stock to cover your most immediate needs.
Paul Sharkey, national sales manager at workwear supplier PHS Besafe, suggests keeping around 15% of normal fleet requirements in stock, covering the most popular sizes.
When it comes to adding your company name and logo to uniforms there are several options:
- embroidery direct onto the garment
- an embroidered badge that is sewn on
- a heat-sealed badge
- direct screen-printing onto the garment
- subtle tabs bearing the name or logo, sewn into the garment
Embroidery direct onto the garment will, generally speaking, look the best and last the longest. Screen-printing is usually recommended for waterproofs to make sure they remain… well, waterproof.
Materials and prices
Most workwear is made of a mix of polyester and cotton, usually in a 65% polyester/35% cotton ratio. Garments made with fabrics that include more cotton are likely to be more pleasant to wear in hot weather because cotton ‘breathes.’ Polyester, on the other hand, is more elastic and so helps the garments to keep their shape, so trousers, for example, are less likely to go baggy at the knees or tear. The 65/35 polyester/cotton ratio is reckoned to be the optimum blend for workwear.
The cotton content is often much higher in sweatshirts to make them softer and more comfortable to the skin, so 50/50 or even so an 80/20 cotton/polyester mix is not uncommon. At the other end of the spectrum, many fleeces may be 100% polyester.
There is variety too in the weight of the fabric, measured in grams/square metre (gsm). Naturally, heavier fabrics are thicker and should last longer than light, thin fabrics of a comparable blend. It is therefore important to establish the fabric weight when comparing various brands of workwear because there can be a wide variation, even though garments may look similar. For example, cheap polos may be made of 150gsm material; 180gsm is more common but you can find others at 200, 210 or even 240gsm.
When it comes to the typical tunics and trousers, three fabric weights are most common: 245gsm for standard items; 300gsm for heavyweight garments; some are made in an intermediate weight of 260gsm. Simon Warr, head of workwear at clothing supplier BrilliantParagon, often recommends 300gsm fabrics for jackets and trousers used in driving, as heavier materials tend to hang better and last longer.
Here is a guide to the typical material weights for each item, together with some indicative prices. The price range is necessarily wide, reflecting not only differences in quality but in quantity too, with big orders attracting worthwhile discounts.
These are prices are for off-the-peg, standard items. Garments to your own individual design or colour are likely to be more expensive, with exact prices varying with the quantity ordered. Warr of BrilliantParagon suggests the premium might be as much as 30%. Embroidery of a company name or logo will add about £2.50 to each garment, suggests Warr, with heat-sealed badges or direct printing costing around £1/item.
How many sets
If the company is paying for drivers’ uniforms it is only reasonable to expect that drivers wear it at all times when on duty. This expectation in turn puts the onus back on the company to provide sufficient numbers of each item. What constitutes ‘sufficient’ is open to debate but it must be based on a reasonable approach, such as a weekly laundry regime, for example. For items such as tunics, trousers and sweat shirts, three of each should be regarded as a starting point because that caters for one in use, one in the wash and one clean ready for wear. Drivers away from home for several days will need more: so too will those who are likely to get dirty in the course of their work.
Five polo shirts is probably the minimum figure, even for drivers who are not on nights-out work. If they are away from home for several days at a time that number should be upped accordingly. David Harmer, category manager at Bristol-based workwear supplier Alexandra suggests between six and 10 would not be unreasonable.
Purchase or rental
Workwear may be purchased outright or rented from a clothing supplier. Rental companies may also offer a fully managed service that includes alterations and repairs, laundry, reports and replacement of clothing as necessary over the contract period. The main advantage of the rental option is that you avoid the initial outlay and the recurring cost of replacing uniforms.
Rental and managed service agreements normally last for between one and three years. The longer the contract, the lower the weekly charges. Paul Sharkey of PHS Besafe warns that one-year contracts are particularly expensive because the rental period is shorter than the life expectancy of the uniform. Warr of BrilliantParagon says the price of renting three jackets and three pairs of trousers that would together cost £130-£150 if purchased would be just over £1 a week on a three-year contract with garment management. Any form of company logo will add about 5p per set of three garments to weekly rental costs, he adds.
Managed contracts are normally run with the aid of dedicated lockers, with drivers required to leave their dirty uniforms in their locker ready for collection on a nominated day each week. Banks of lockers can be purchased or rented from the service provider. A locker unit, split into five, 10 or 15 individual sub-divisions, will cost about £120 to buy, says Warr, so sufficient for a 30-strong workforce would cost around £240-£720, depending on the size of each locker. Rental of the locker unit would be £1.60-£4.80 per week for a 30-strong workforce, depending on locker size, adds Warr, which covers provision of the lockers and keys and any repairs or replacements that may be needed.
The life-cycle of many clothes is determined by fashion more than durability these days: not so workwear. How long garments will last depends on numerous factors including the quality of material, the way it has been coloured, the frequency with which it is worn, the kind of punishment it takes in the normal course of work, how it is washed and how often. A poor quality garment can fail after just one wash, says Sharkey of PHS Besafe; quality clothing treated the right way may still look good after three years. “Most companies look to provide a refresh of uniform every 18 to 24 months to keep employees looking bright and smart,” reckons Harmer of Alexandra.
Managed service suppliers and third-party laundries who are required to take responsibility for garments they have not supplied themselves will often want to test-wash clothes before quoting. They need to satisfy themselves that the uniform is of sufficient quality and will not lose their colour or shrink prematurely, leaving the laundry company exposed to unforeseen replacement costs. Some uniforms are specifically described as “industrially launderable,” spelling out that they will withstand repeated washes at high temperatures and that their fasteners will not suffer when the garments are subjected to high-temperature drying.
Keeping it clean
Take care when washing hi-visibility clothing: it may make sense to replace hi-vis waistcoats rather than wash them.
Assuming that you do not run an in-house laundry, the task of keeping uniform clean comes down to a straight choice between drivers – or their wives /partners – taking responsibility for their own laundry or sending it out to a specialist laundry or managed service.
The first option is the simplest and most common, and is a fair request in view of the fact that drivers would have to wash their own clothes if the company did not provide uniforms. You will want to keep an eye on how often and how well uniforms are being washed, however.
If your drivers are responsible for washing their own uniforms they are entitled to claim tax relief for the cost of doing this. At the time of writing, the standard flat-rate allowance for drivers who do this is £60 a year, so assuming they are basic rate tax-payers this would shave just £12 off their annual tax bill. Further details of this are available on the HMRC website (see link below) under ‘tax relief for specialist tools or clothing.’
External laundries will wash clothes very differently to your staff, usually segregating different types of clothing into different processes, washing clothes at much higher temperatures (and thus more thoroughly) than your drivers would, and washing them with detergents that particularly suit each type of material.
Where specialist clothing is concerned, such as flame-retardant or high-visibility workwear, specialist services are highly recommended: no driver is going to get satisfactory results from taking a grease-caked high-vis jacket home and running it through a 30°C wash – and you might find the reflective tape peeling off very quickly unless they’re properly handled, too.
Specialist service suppliers can also provide a range of regular reports, from advising you when flame-retardant clothing has had so many washes that it has ceased to be reliably flame-retardant to simply confirming whether or not your drivers are submitting their uniforms for cleaning as often as you want.
Standards, regulations and safety
A number of items such as helmets, safety boots/shoes, gloves, high-visibility clothing count as personal protective equipment (PPE) and are therefore covered by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992.
Note that the definition of PPE includes protection against the weather, so most drivers would also need waterproofs.
The PPE regulations require employers to:
- properly assess items of personal protective equipment for suitability
- maintain and store them properly
- provide instructions on their usage
- ensure they are used correctly by employees
In addition, some of the garments you supply should meet certain standards. For example, high-visibility clothing should meet the requirements of EN471. Safety footwear should conform to EN345 and more latterly EN ISO 20345-1; waterproof garments are covered by EN343. These standards are helpful because they ensure certain minimum performance levels, simplifying the purchasing task. The standards for waterproofs and hi-vis garments are divided into three classes, making it even easier to judge relative performance and prices.
Quite apart from what the law demands, operators may like to consider adding their own practical safety touches. For example reflective bands can be added to trousers, so drivers stand always out in the dark, even if they have not donned hi-vis vests or jackets. This small distinction marks out your company as one really committed to safety.
It is advisable to keep records of when drivers are issued with new uniforms so that you know who has what. It will also allow you to evaluate the durability of garments, setting a benchmark for future purchases. Drivers should sign to acknowledge receipt of their uniforms, minimising potential for disputes if drivers have to be reprimanded for failure to wear the kit you provide. It is equally important to insist that uniforms are returned by drivers when they leave the company. Although that may seem petty, there is a security aspect to be considered. Do you really want people able to masquerade as your employees when they are not?
Stobart Group is famous for its meticulous approach to drivers’ uniforms. “It’s about lifting the image of the haulage industry,” says Neale Burdon, resource and training manager, who suggests drivers actually drive better for it as they feel more professional and part of a team.
All Stobart garments are made to order in the company colours, right down to the belts. The firm actively avoids polo shirts as well as shorts, sweatshirts and T-shirts. Driver tunics are also off the list, says Burdon. “They’re old hat,” he comments.
The company employs around 3,500 drivers and each is given between five and ten shirts, depending on their schedule, as well as three or four pairs of trousers. Drivers sign for all garments, which are individually barcoded, and carry out all the laundry themselves.
Stobart keeps a stock of around 100 uniforms itself, with a further 500 outfits at its suppliers. The garments tend to last about 12-18 months before replacement, says Burdon. Stobart employs two people full time to manage uniforms across the company. The cost of supplying uniforms overall is “substantial”, says Burdon, “but our brand is very important to us and the uniforms are part of that brand”.
Knights of Old
Knights of Old is a longstanding user of driver uniforms. “When you’re working with big multinationals, you don’t want drivers turning up in jeans and a T-shirt,” comments MD Ian Beattie. “Drivers are often in the public space making deliveries and it’s about showing people a standard.”
The firm has all its garments made to order and buys outright, usually in batches of 600. Beattie says it costs about £150 to put each driver in a uniform which includes five shirts, two pairs of trousers, a jacket, safety boots, high-vis outer top and a hat. The firm has 250 drivers on its books.
It’s important to get a good supplier to work with when you’re after made-to-order clothing, says Beattie, not just to help manage the 12-week plus lead times but also to help you work out what sizes you need and in what quantities.
Drives take responsibility for storing their garments and laundering them at home, with the exception of high-visibility vests which are simply replaced, rather than laundered. “It’s not worth getting them laundered compared to the purchase price,” says Beattie. If items are lost or not returned, drivers are made to pay for a replacement. On average, uniforms are expected to last just over a year, he adds.
HSE guide to personal protective equipment
HMRC advice on claiming for the cost and upkeep of uniforms
Guide to EN471 standard for high-visibility clothing
Guide to EN345 and ENISO 20345-1 standards for safety footwear