Are You Focused on Price or Cost?

Style, comfort, and functionality are taking over safety eyewear.

Safety directors have good intentions when determining the types of safety eyewear to provide for their programs. After all, program managers are truly interested in protecting the eyes of their employees.

They consider several factors when making the protective eyewear buying decision; many times, price is the most determining reason. This is understandable, especially with the vast array of inexpensive safety glasses on the market and the current status of the world's economy. However, cost (as opposed to price) many times is not considered during the buying process.

The cost of a safety eyewear program isn't confined to the price of the safety glasses. Program costs also include the cost of eye injuries caused by employees' not wearing their safety glasses.

The wide range of these injury costs have been well documented in multiple studies and include the cost of medical bills, missed time from work, installing backup or temporary labor help, reduced production, increased worker's compensation insurance costs, and beyond.

Many eye injuries would be prevented if employees would simply wear their safety glasses. Oft en, their glasses are dangling from a strap around their neck or left in their pocket, purse, or locker. Worse yet, many employees don't even know where their glasses are and wouldn't wear them if they did know. What's the reason for this?

If safety glasses are provided as part of a safety program, what are the root causes when people do not wear them? Many factors can be cited: style, comfort, functionality, safety culture, perceived danger, and more. Let's explore these further.

Perceived Danger

This can be the "it's never going to happen to me" attitude or the "I don't notice anything around here that could get into my eyes" thinking.

People frequently just don't realize the potential hazards in which they work. Certain groups of people around the world clearly recognize the potential hazards they face on a regular basis. Those groups are the brave men and women who fight to protect the freedoms of our great country. American servicemen and women around the globe are faced with hazards on a daily basis against which they must protect themselves. They wear body armor, protective boots, gloves, and helmets. They also wear protective eyewear because they realize without their sight, they're not much help to themselves, their units, or their country. They turn not just to the eyewear they were issued upon deployment, but to the product they actually want to wear in combat because they know it will protect them, it's comfortable, and it's functional.

Several brands of protective eyewear are issued to deploying U.S. forces. We have heard from countless service members who rave about the glasses they wore in combat. The stories are vivid in detail and confirm the product has helped a brave soldier survive another mission, bringing him or her that much closer to returning home safely.

Safety Culture and Functionality

Safety cultures vary among organizations. They range from ignorant to domineering. The organizations with 24/7 safety cultures are typically the ones with strong safety eyewear programs. These cultures breed safety as part of the everyday thought process, whether the job is operating a lathe on the shop floor or trimming a hedge in the backyard. Employees in these cultures are trained that safety matters every day, everywhere; they understand that protecting themselves offthe job so they can be productive on the job is every bit as important as being safe while on the clock. Companies with this culture typically provide safety eyewear employees actually want to wear. Why do they want to wear it? Usually, they want to wear it because it is comfortable, looks good, and functions properly—not because it's the least expensive.

The technology used to produce military- grade eyewear is also used to produce civilian safety glasses. Several questions are asked during the eyewear design process. Are the glasses reliable? Do they provide the necessary coverage and field of vision? Are the lenses the proper tint for indoor and/or outdoor use? Can the frame accept a prescription lens? Do they have a foam component that's comfortable and prevents wind, dust, and debris from entering the eye? Is the foam removable and replaceable? The list goes on.

Workers who are indoors can use glasses with clear lenses. Workers who are outdoors should use properly tinted lenses to protect from the sun's harmful UV rays. If the sun's glare effects the work environment, polarized lenses should be worn to reduce glare and prevent eye strain and fatigue. Workers who transition from indoors to outdoors can use photochromic lenses that change from light to dark based on sunlight conditions. Workers in environments with a lot of wind, dust, or debris should use glasses that have a soft foam seal around the eyes. Ideally the foam should be replaceable so if it gets dirty or wears out, the entire eyewear does not need to be replaced.

With an aging workforce, safety frames available with prescription lenses are very important. The difficulty is finding safety glasses that are prescription-ready but also provide the coverage, fit, and style employees want.

Different work environments demand different safety eyewear functionality. Several safety demands can be met with just one pair of glasses if it is chosen properly. Wrap style, performance safety glasses with soft , removable foam are available with various lens options and also are prescription ready. Because these styles are so diverse, one pair can be worn for many uses, both on and offthe job.

Comfort

Safety glasses are certainly more likely to be worn if they're comfortable and fit properly. Comfort and fit are automatic considerations when deciding on clothing, but oft en they are mistakenly overlooked when determining a safety eyewear solution.

The facial features of a given workforce are as diverse as the workforce itself. The available eyewear varieties need to match that diversity. Whether it's narrow faces or wide, long faces, or short, flat noses or thin ones, the eyewear needs to match. The eyewear also needs to feel right when workers put it on. Not too heavy. Not too sharp. Not too tight. Not too loose. The U.S. military has encouraged development of ballistic eyewear that includes a comfortable, adjustable nose piece that expands and contracts to adapt to the many nose shapes and sizes in the armed services. Industrial safety programs can take advantage of this technology and the eyewear that utilizes it. Successful safety eyewear solutions have the proper product selection to ensure proper comfort and fit for a diverse workforce.

Style

Which brings us to style, or lack thereof— one of the most common reasons mentioned for workers' shunning their safety glasses.

Many safety programs offer simple, boring, flat framed glasses that require sideshields to gain the necessary protection. They look like they've been on the shelves for decades and were selected as an aft erthought at a blow-out sale. Workers are demanding better styling, and safety eyewear manufacturers have begun responding to those demands.

Manufacturers also are responding to the demands of 24/7 safety cultures looking for solutions the workforce will be willing to wear, both on the job and off. Still, plenty of styles continue to fall short. The glasses might look stylish in the package, but in an attempt to keep pricing low, the styling hasn't translated into comfort. It's difficult to achieve sufficient style for a 24/7 safety culture without spending more for it. Remember, spending more per pair for glasses workers will actually wear will reduce costs in the long run.

Performance sunglasses that also meet ANSI safety standards have been on the market for years, but only recently have safety programs begun to take notice. Performance sunglasses are those sleek styles with bold wrap designs that are worn for biking, running, motorcycle riding, and fishing, and they also look great while just cruising around town. Some are ANSI Z87.1-2003 certified sunglasses that are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors with different lens options, including photochromic, polarized, and clear. Many are prescription ready. Some feature soft , removable foam for activities where wind, dust, and debris are concerns. Performance safety sunwear can be a great solution for almost any safety program if the proper styles and lenses are selected. These products will change the behavior of workers from ignoring their safety glasses to never letting them out of their sight.

Price shouldn't always be the determining factor for safety eyewear decisions, especially within 24/7 safety cultures. Don't underestimate the value of stylish, comfortable, functional safety eyewear employees will wear. It's available, and if it is chosen properly, overall safety eyewear costs will decrease while compliance and employee satisfaction grow.

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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