Ensuring that safety eyewear fits every worker properly—and comfortably—is a tall order, but a vital one. (Honeywell Uvex photo)

How to Simplify Eye Protection Selection Among Diverse Oil & Gas Applications

When outfitted with the proper lens tint, workers benefit from reduced eye strain, enhanced visual perception, and increased safety and productivity.

America's oil and gas industry is poised for continuous growth through 2035, according to a new study1 from the American Petroleum Institute, fueling new jobs in upstream, midstream, and downstream applications alike. From exploration and production to refining and transportation, the hazards workers face and the corresponding personal protective equipment (PPE) they require are as varied as the types of petroleum products produced.

Selecting the proper eye protection for an increasingly diverse workforce across equally diverse oil and gas applications can seem overwhelming. Protecting individuals' eyes from impact, airborne debris, chemicals, and harmful radiation is a priority. But considerations for a safe, gap-free fit, personal comfort, modern styling, anti-fog performance, and price also must be weighed.

Whether you have tens or hundreds of workers to outfit, it might seem as though the only way to find the right solution for everyone is to source eye protection from multiple manufacturers. Or maybe it seems easier to take a one-size-fits-all approach. But when you consider the importance of sending workers home safely each day—with their invaluable vision intact—it's clear to see why safety eyewear selection is worth the extra time and attention. This article explains how to simplify the selection process so your workers can confidently focus on the task at hand without risking the well-being of their windows to the world.

Select a Manufacturer That Understands Your Industry
It might seem like there are as many eye protection manufacturers as there are barrels of oil being produced, but only a select few truly understand your industry's specific needs and provide targeted solutions to meet them. When you partner with a trusted manufacturer that has specialized industry knowledge and offers a portfolio of solutions designed for your needs, the task of outfitting any size workforce is simplified.

First, wherever eye protection is required, be sure every pair meets the ANSI Z87.1 requirements for impact protection. Then, based on a thorough hazard assessment, take into account other visible and invisible hazards. For those working upstream in exploration and production, for instance, extreme outdoor environments add to the hazards, and safety eyewear must meet the rigors of the job. Look for rugged and reliable, premium, full-coverage styles that protect not only from impact, but also from wind, airborne debris, and fog. Wrap-around frames with 8- or 9-base lenses offer robust, flexible, close-to-the-face coverage, as well as uninterrupted peripheral vision, important among high-hazard environments. Sealed eyewear (a low-profile hybrid of spectacles and goggles) is popular among those working on rigs who face extreme wind, moisture, and equipment hazards.

Workers in midstream operations such as pipeline, transportation, and storage also spend a lot of time outdoors. Consider providing specialized lens tints designed for the specific lighting. Pipeline workers, for example, should be outfitted with lenses that block 99.9 percent of UVA/UVB light, as well as dark brown or gray tints to reduce the risk of vision loss from progressive eye diseases such as cataracts.

Individuals who frequently transition between indoors and out may benefit from photochromic lenses, which darken when exposed to UV and return to clear in its absence. For those working among reflective surfaces such as concrete, sand, water, or snow, opt for polarized lenses to protect from harmful glare. When outfitted with the proper lens tint, workers benefit from reduced eye strain, enhanced visual perception, and increased safety and productivity. Lens tint options are vast and should be considered carefully for the best performance.

Select Eyewear That Supports Compliance to Improve Productivity
In the downstream sector where refining and processing take place, value eye protection may be sufficient to protect from common hazards. In fact, value eyewear can be an ideal solution to outfitting the abundance of part-time workers on your force. But whether you opt for premium or value solutions, don't overlook the important role that fit, comfort, and style play in supporting compliance and productivity.

OSHA calls for employers to select PPE that properly fits each affected employee. But fitting eyewear is a special case because every individual has a unique set of measurements for head circumference, nose bridge width, and ear and cheekbone placement. Ensuring that safety eyewear fits every worker properly—and comfortably—is a tall order, but a vital one.

When it fits poorly, eyewear may fall out of position upon impact or gaps may allow flying debris to enter the eyes. Furthermore, uncomfortable eyewear that causes soreness (usually around the ears, back of head, or nose) is distracting, can lead to headaches, and ultimately results in the eyewear's removal. Poorly fitting or uncomfortable eyewear directly impacts an individual's output: When workers frequently remove eyewear to rub sore spots and relieve pressure, work halts. Furthermore, the removal of safety glasses leaves them vulnerable to injury, and if caught without their PPE, their non-compliance could cost the company in OSHA violations.

To combat the effects of ill-fitting eyewear, look to manufacturers that conduct ongoing research into facial profiles and anthropomorphic fit. Millennials now comprise the majority of the U.S. workforce, and they're also our most diverse generation yet. Be mindful of their preference for customizable eyewear that affords them a personal fit. Recent innovations in eyewear design and materials have led to significant advances in adjustability, flexibility, and comfort features so more workers can achieve a safe, secure, personalized fit.

There is also a direct link between safety eyewear style and compliance. When workers don't feel their eyewear looks good, they are more likely to remove it, even in the presence of hazards. Look for eyewear from manufacturers offering popular sport-inspired, three-quarter or half frame styles that look as good at play as they do at work. With abundant shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from, there’s a style to meet everyone's needs so workers can wear their eyewear all day long with confidence.

Combat Fog to Bolster Safety and Productivity
Fogging is the No. 1 challenge faced by safety eyewear users. Another way to support productivity and compliance is by selecting eyewear with an effective anti-fog lens coating. Hot and/or humid environments, transitions between warm and cold environments, and worker exertion—all key ingredients for fogging—are common across oil and gas applications. When moisture condenses on lenses, the amassing water droplets distort or completely compromise workers' view both of the task at hand and of nearby hazards.

To eliminate fog, workers must remove their eyewear and wipe it clear. If done in the work zone, productivity dips, compliance is in violation, and the worker risks injury to the eyes and body. If he leaves the work zone to clear lenses, productivity dips further. Combat the effects of fog by choosing a proven, consistent, long-lasting anti-fog lens coating from a reliable manufacturer. Those with dynamic dual-action hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties applied using an intense curing process achieve the longest-lasting results. Recent breakthroughs in AF coating allow workers to enjoy a clear, safe view even in extreme heat and humidity.

Most people value their sense of sight above all others, and providing the proper eye protection is key to keeping oil and gas workers' eyes safe each day. This process can be simplified by aligning with a manufacturer that understands your industry, its diverse hazards, and its workers' unique needs. By making informed safety eyewear selections, employers can support not only overall safety, but also compliance and productivity, benefits in which every organization sees great value.

1. http://www.api.org/~/media/Files/Policy/Infrastructure/API-Infrastructure-Study-2017.pdf

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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