While traditional safety spectacles satisfy national safety requirements for most hazards, employers are becoming increasingly aware of the need for greater protection. (Honeywell Safety Products photo)

Hybrid Eyewear Delivers Safety Success in Heavy Manufacturing

In extremely dirty, dusty, high-hazard industries, such as oil and gas production or heavy manufacturing, the "sealed eyewear" product category is rapidly taking center stage.

Each year when safety directors assess their companies' eye protection programs, they must take a variety of factors into account. From examining the various hazards in each work environment to understanding national safety standards, and also from considering workforce preferences to individual needs, finding suitable protective products and managing an effective eye safety program can be a challenge.

National safety standards set forth by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and enforced by OSHA are in place to help guide the selection and proper use of safety eyewear. ANSI Z87.1-2010 is the current standard that defines occupational eye and face protection requirements, and OSHA cites this standard as the minimum performance requirement for protective eyewear. Employers found in violation of these requirements may be assessed a civil penalty ranging from $5,000 to $70,000 for each violation.

ANSI Z87.1 requires the use of eye and face protection by workers exposed to any hazard that can be injurious to the eyes, including flying objects, particles, chemicals, and harmful radiation. Spectacles are the most commonly used form of eye protection and are considered sufficient for many protective applications. In environments with excessive debris or dust, or where chemical splash hazards exist, goggles or faceshields are required.

While traditional safety spectacles satisfy national safety requirements for most hazards, employers are becoming increasingly aware of the need for greater protection. Furthermore, while goggles are the safer choice for many extreme environments, if they feel too bulky, are hot, or fog easily, workers may not wear them. This behavior increases the risk of an eye injury. In extremely dirty, dusty, high-hazard industries, such as oil and gas production or heavy manufacturing, a hybrid product category is rapidly taking center stage. Commonly referred to as "sealed eyewear," this style looks and fits like a spectacle but offers the added protection of a goggle-type seal in a comfortable, secure, low-profile design.

Introduced less than 10 years ago, sealed eyewear has already surpassed direct vent goggles as the protection of choice in most environments with high particulate debris or flying fragments. Many styles of sealed eyewear are now available and come with a wide selection of lens tints for various environments, advanced lens coatings to minimize fogging and scratching, and even reader options for workers who need additional task magnification. Some styles include optional headstraps for a tighter seal and greater compatibility when worn with other forms of PPE. Further yet, some styles offer removable foam frame inserts that convert the eyewear to regular spectacles. Many of these are replaceable to extend the life of the eyewear.

Given this product's versatility, it's no wonder safety directors are adopting sealed eyewear at such a fast pace. Here we look at three employers that have made dramatic improvements in their safety records as a result of adopting hybrid sealed eyewear rather than traditional safety glasses or goggles.

Solving Multiple Problems for High-Risk Industries

  • Aircraft manufacturing. For one leading global leader aircraft manufacturer, protecting its most valuable asset -– the workforce -– is a primary objective. Safety is at the heart of operations. But many jobs involved in airplane manufacture and repair pose risks, such as grinding and sanding metal parts. While national standards call only for spectacle-style safety eyewear to be worn among such hazards, this employer recognized that additional coverage was needed to protect workers from the tiny bits of metal that could enter their eyes as they performed tasks, especially when working out of position. By switching to sealed eyewear, the employer saw a dramatic reduction in eye injuries. Furthermore, because sealed eyewear is more comfortable to wear than bulky goggles, compliance increased, and because ear muffs also are required on site, many workers opt for the headstrap instead of temples for better combined-use comfort. For this safety leader, adopting sealed eyewear has not only reduced the incidence of recordable eye injuries and driven down associated costs, but also has also improved employee satisfaction and compliance with its eye safety program.
  • Steel. Steel manufacturing is another inherently high-risk industry. Yet one of the largest steel producers in America is also among the safest because for its workers, safety is a core value. From assigning a safety coordinator in every division to holding frequent discussions on safety improvement and conducting advanced training, this company embodies a culture of safety. But the environment is one in which exposure to sand, dust, slag, and infrared radiation (IR) pose constant threats to workers' eyes. The company had tried a wide range of products in search of the best solution. It then discovered sealed eyewear and found it offers just what the workforce needed: clear vision, excellent comfort, a sealed fit for maximum protection from airborne debris, and various lens tints that protect from IR hazards. Low shades are used to protect from incidental or peripheral exposure, while darker lens shades with higher levels of IR protection are used by individuals directly exposed to molten metal. This employer found that sealed eyewear delivers the best of both worlds: a higher level of eye protection and a significant reduction in eye injuries. Based on its success, the company now mandates that nearly all of its workforce wear sealed eyewear.
  • Shipbuilding. In the shipbuilding industry, every kind of head, face, and eye hazard exists, from impact to flying debris to hazardous radiation. Workers frequently conduct welding, cutting, and grinding operations with metal or composite materials, often in confined spaces and awkward positions. However, the level of protection afforded by standard safety glasses in these conditions is compromised, and frequently non-compliance is widespread, especially among those requiring goggles. One leading U.S. naval shipbuilder recognized the dangers and associated costs of frequent eye injuries and changed the way PPE was provided to better protect workers. Formerly, employees had been responsible for purchasing their own PPE from the company's safety shop. With little direction, they weren't always choosing the eyewear best suited for the hazards or of the highest quality. The tally of eye injuries was growing, and the toll of direct and indirect expenses mounted. Recognizing the need for a shift in eye safety policy, the organization adopted a new approach to specifying and providing safety eyewear. Now, core job descriptions are matched to specific levels of appropriate eye protection, and individuals who perform grinding, riveting, or electrical work are required to wear a sealed eyewear product. Compliance has increased significantly, particularly among workers who previously had been required to wear goggles. Given sealed eyewear's comfort, styling, and anti-fog lens coatings, workers are extremely willing to wear eye protection. The resulting reduction in eye injuries has been impressive. Workers are safer, the company has achieved excellent compliance, and costs associated with eye injuries have been drastically reduced.

Versatility and Value Stand Out
Choosing the proper level of eye protection for a wide range of individuals working in various job applications on a fixed budget is no small task. Until recently, safety professionals could choose only from different styles of safety spectacles, which offer comfort and clarity but less protection than a goggle, or goggles, which afford greater protection but typically feature less style and comfort. Sealed eyewear is an emerging category that offers optimized protection and comfort, as well as incredible versatility and value.

By selecting sealed eyewear, employers in nearly any industry can benefit from a single solution that fits the greatest number of users, provides added protection, and delivers the comfort and clarity that encourage worker acceptance and compliance. It's a winning strategy for employers, the eye safety programs they implement, and the individuals they serve, whose safety is the foundation of every company's success.

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

David Iannelli is senior product manager for Honeywell Safety Products, maker of Uvex® brand safety eyewear.

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