The Whole Package

A focus on compliance, comfort, and overall eye health allows premium protection to appeal to industrial customers.

Safety managers turn to premium performance sunwear for one main reason, says Rob Maser, Wiley X Eyewear's commercial sales director: because their workers aren't wearing the other safety glasses they've been issued.

"The stats that I've seen show that 90 percent of injuries are preventable with the proper use of safetywear," he said during a March 2012 interview. "What I know is employers that have approached us are saying that employees are not wearing it. It's painful to some degree, when they put it on their face it's uncomfortable. On the female side, women spend all that time getting ready to go to work because they want to look nice. When they get on the job and get safety glasses that look awful, they're going to be less likely to wear it."

Compliance and comfort go hand in hand with many types of personal protective equipment. Livermore, Calif.-based Wiley X sells into two markets –- military eyewear and commercial eyewear that meets ANSI safety standards. Performance and protection are critical for both.

"You know, eye injuries run the gamut. They go from a piece of dust that a worker can get out of their eye that you never hear about, to full loss of sight," he said. "The product that we make for the military must meet impact standards that are far greater than the impact standards for the commercial side. The military standards are supposed to protect personnel from flying shrapnel, but of course, you don't expect to come into contact with an explosive device on the job -- that's why the standards aren't the same. We hear from military personnel who convey stories to us about either themselves or people in their company or brigade. I've talked to people face to face who've told me that they've been on patrol in Iraq or Afghanistan and their partner was 10-15 yards away and came upon an IED and was hit with shrapnel. It basically destroyed the person's ears and nose and other parts of their face, but they took off the glasses and their eyes were in perfect condition. It frankly saved their life because, if you think about it, if that shrapnel had penetrated their eyeball it would have been straight to the brain and caused death.

"That sort of development is what has helped us develop products on the commercial side. It's allowed us to take that R&D and ask what we need to do on the industrial safety side. There are plenty of employers who are buying our product that does meet military safety, and they are putting it on the face of their workers because it's comfortable, fits, and it's RX ready.

"We're fortunate that people do like wearing our product," he added. "That's one of the big reasons that our employers choose us. Typically we're not the first name out of a safety director's mouth because our price points are at the premium end. But they come to us when the other stuff isn't working. It's typically a lack of compliance inside for an employer to say, 'We need to try something our employees want to wear.'"

He said in his experience, most safety managers do a good job of assessing the vision hazards in their workplaces, whether those are glare problems, dusts, or flying particles. Recently their PPE budgets are tight, however.

"Our premium-level product is not going to be purchased by the majority of the employers out there, we get that," Maser said. "There are budgetary issues out there, especially with the economy. Coming from the top: 'You're spending what on safety glasses??' On the other side, we all know, all you have to do is prevent one injury with the right pair of safety glasses and you've just paid for years and years of safety glasses."

However, the slump in PPE purchases has been easing as manufacturing activity rises and employers generally realize they have to restock, he said.

Their top-selling series was named Climate Control to describe controlling the climate around the wearer's eyeballs. Covered by a Wiley X patent, the series has a removable, air-permeable foam piece inside the frame of the glasses. The soft foam contours more to the wearer's face, which helps to keep debris out. The foam also can be replaced if it wears out, which is an important feature for environments with very heavy dust or dirt, such as paper mills and construction sites.

"If they're in a dusty, dirty environment, they can put the foam in. If not, and they just want to protect their eyes from the sun danger, then they can leave it out," he said. "The employers who typically are selecting our product, they're the employers who typically have the safety culture that's 24/7. They want their employees to protect their eyes off the job as well as on the job. As we all know, an injury off the job costs just as much as one off the job, so the employers want them to be protected."

This best-selling product line was introduced about five years ago. With any new product, the company wants to ensure it's of high quality, has a good fit, and is functional. "Obviously, when we develop new products we don't want it to cannibalize to a large extend something that we already have in our line that's selling well … not unlike a lot of manufacturers in that regard," he said. "The other thing about us is that when we launch new product we're not trying to become a company that has so many products available that it's hard to select. We've got a decent variety of products, but it's not overwhelming. We don't want to have an overwhelming volume of SKUs. We want to have enough SKUs in each series to fit peoples' faces from small to medium to large and XL, and also the styling in each series. And we want to make sure we're hitting the sweet spots for our premium performance sunwear/safety consumer."

Eye Health Issues
Because a lot of the company's sales to employers happen through optical practices, it is concerned with eye health as well as eye protection.

"To us it all goes together," said Maser. "The optical channel for us is a significant channel. When we're talking with an optometrist, optician, or even an ophthalmologist, we're encouraging them to reach out to the industrial community or the commercial community locally. We're encouraging them to become the eye care experts. On-the-job eye health is critical. It's not just when a patient walks into their practice and says, 'I need my prescription changed.' It's the overall health of the worker, and that spans from the moment they wake up to the moment they go back to bed. If they're on the job eight hours a day, they'd better know what it takes to take care of their eye health while they're on the job."

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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