Look Beyond Basic Protection: Vital Considerations in Safety Eyewear
By offering eyewear that is best suited to workers' safety needs first, followed closely by style, employers support a stronger culture of acceptance and compliance.
- By Daniel Birch
- Dec 01, 2016
Safety eyewear is perhaps the most common type of personal protection worn by workers. But despite national safety standards mandating the use of safety eyewear based on the hazards present on the job, more than 700,000 eye injuries occur annually in the United States, at great cost to affected individuals and employers.
Most eye-related injuries are attributed to wearing the wrong type of protection for the hazard present or the absence of safety eyewear altogether. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls for employers to ensure employees have proper eye protection wherever hazards to the eyes exist. All eyewear must meet the ANSI Z87.1-2010 standard for impact protection. Safety eyewear styles range from spectacles to sealed eyewear to goggles, each intended to provide a specified level of protection.
Most experts agree that up to 90 percent of eye injuries can be avoided through the proper use of safety eyewear. This article examines the factors beyond basic impact protection that are vital to worker safety and productivity.
Choose Attractive Styling
While protection is the most important attribute of safety eyewear, attractive styling directly supports consistent wear. Studies show that workers who are not comfortable with the style of their eyewear are more likely to remove it, even in the presence of hazards. Furthermore, when workers are allowed to select their own safety eyewear without proper guidance, they are likely to make their selection based on style over safety or fit, which can lead to serious performance problems.
Given the leading role style plays, look for modern, lightweight options such as wraparound frames, floating lenses, or sophisticated metal frames. Many safety eyewear styles—including Rx frames—are fashioned after popular recreational and sport-inspired sunglass designs. The goal is to select safety eyewear workers are willing to wear, even when a safety manager isn’t looking. By offering eyewear that is best suited to workers’ safety needs first, followed closely by style, employers support a stronger culture of acceptance and compliance.
Deliver a Comfortable Fit
Easily overlooked, the comfortable fit of safety eyewear directly supports compliance. When eyewear is ill-fitting, it slides or slips off the wearer or causes painful pressure points on the temples or nose bridge. The result is worker discomfort, distraction, and frustration, which disrupt productivity and lead to the removal of eyewear to eliminate the hassle of making frequent adjustments. Well-fitting eyewear should provide snug, gap-free coverage and all-day comfort, but beware: A style that fits one worker comfortably may prove uncomfortable for another.
An increasingly diverse workforce is contributing to vast differences in the height, width, and location of cheekbones, nose bridges, and ears, as well as overall head size and shape. To meet the needs of a variety of facial profiles, look for fit and comfort features designed—and proven—to deliver a custom fit. Padded or fingered nosepieces, for instance, ensure a secure grip, while cushioned or hinged temples allow a personalized fit behind the ear. Ratcheting temples allow workers to achieve a gap-free fit against the face to maximize protection. For the best chance of selecting a single style that’s comfortable for most, look for manufacturers that invest in anthropomorphic research and design and offer solutions proven to fit up to 85 percent of the workforce right out of the box.
Opt for Advanced Anti-fog Performance
Fogging is the No. 1 problem faced by safety eyewear users. Caused by environmental factors as well as worker exertion, fogging occurs across industries and applications; in fact, it's nearly impossible to avoid. When tasks are conducted with fog-obscured vision, workers risk not only eye injury but also bodily harm. It takes seconds or less for a potentially catastrophic event to occur: a slip or fall; getting struck by equipment or caught in machinery; or coming into contact with harmful chemicals or electrical current. Productivity and compliance are at risk, too, when workers remove eyewear to wipe lenses clear.
Maintaining a fog-free view is vital to the well-being of workers and employers alike. Look for proven anti-fog lens coatings that deliver the longest-lasting and most consistent performance. The most reliable coatings employ dual-action properties: hydrophilic properties that absorb moisture into the lens and hydrophobic properties that shed moisture off the lens. Applying such coating so it goes on and stays on permanently—even after repeated washings and wiping—is key to the coating’s durability. Look for manufacturers that bond anti-fog agents permanently to the lens, rely on controlled application methods, and employ vigorous product monitoring. A long-lasting, consistently fog-free safety lens is one your workers can wear shift after shift with the clear, fog-free view vital to performing tasks safely and efficiently.
Block Harmful Light
Optical radiation from both natural and artificial sources is an easily overlooked hazard, yet its effects range from short-term injuries to permanent vision loss. Overexposure to visible light, either direct or reflected, can cause headaches and eye fatigue, redness, dryness, and irritation, all of which undermine productivity. Long-term exposure to the sun’s invisible ultraviolet light is a leading cause of cataracts and blindness.
To combat natural light hazards, eyewear with standard gray, brown, or mirrored lens tints offer suitable protection and may be selected based on user preference. In environments where glare from sunlight is reflected off surfaces such as water, glass, sheet metal, or concrete, look for lenses that are mirrored, polarized, or darkly tinted and marked with an “L” denoting effective glare reduction. Employees who spend any time outside should be outfitted with eyewear that blocks more than 99 percent of invisible UV rays. Look for safety lenses marked with a "U," which ensures ample protection from long wave ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) and short wave ultraviolet B radiation (UVB).
Many indoor applications feature specialized lighting that also can take a toll on performance. To support visual function in artificial light, unique dyes are incorporated into the polycarbonate lens material that absorb select wavelengths of radiant energy. Such lenses manipulate light to reduce a spectral hazard or provide distinctive filtration for specific viewing tasks. For instance, in operations where a high level of yellow light is present, specialized blue lenses counteract the resulting color distortion and help prevent eye fatigue. Vermilion (scarlet) lenses are useful in some inspection operations where the color shift enhances contrast or highlights shadowing for better inspection results and increased productivity. Other specialized lenses range in color from cobalt to orange and amber. Keep in mind that because many colored lenses affect the wearer’s ability to identify colors correctly, selecting lenses with true color recognition is essential for traffic signal identification and other applications that rely on color coding.
It is easy to see why protecting workers' eyes should be a top priority in every environment, and by selecting the proper type of eyewear for the physical hazards, employers are off to a good start in doing so. But there are several factors beyond basic impact protection that directly support compliance and ensure safety. By considering the importance of style, comfort and fit, anti-fog performance, and specialized lens tints, employers can reduce eye injuries, promote long-term eye health among workers, and improve overall productivity.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.