Make sure your eyewear comes with a statement or certificate from the manufacturer verifying third-party test results. (Armourx Inc. photo)

Put Safety Eyewear to the Test: Ask for Proof

The markings that are placed on the eyewear convey the protector's capabilities to the employer and employee, and this marking scheme will vary by product type.

On Feb. 27, 2014, the American Academy of Ophthalmology published the following statistics on workplace eye injuries:

  • 20,300 on-the-job eye injuries forced employees to take time off work in 2012;
  • 300,000 Americans visit the emergency room each year to treat a workplace eye injury;
  • $300 million is the estimated yearly cost of occupational eye injuries in medical treatment, workers' compensation, and loss of productivity in the United States alone;
  • and 90 percent of workplace eye injuries are preventable with protective eyewear.1

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "each day about 2,000 U.S. workers have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment. About one third of the injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments and more than 100 of these injuries result in one or more days of lost work."2 In fact, three out of every five workers who experience an eye injury are wearing either the wrong kind of eye protection or no protection at all at the time of the accident.3

These statistics are more than just a little concerning.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to ensure the safety of all employees in the work environment. It requires the use of eye and face protection whenever there is a chance of injury that could be prevented by equipment, chemical, environmental, and radiological hazards or mechanical irritants. OHSA specifically states that employers must identify the right eye protection for each work situation depending upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, other protective equipment used, and individual vision needs. Add the American National Standards Institute's updated standard for occupational and educational eye and face protection in April 2010 (ANSI Z87.1-2010), and one is left to question why more than half of our workers are either wearing the wrong protection or no protection at all, knowing that 90 percent of all workplace eye injuries are preventable.

Is there an issue with compliance to industry standards? Are industry standards being met? Can employers and employees be sure that the eye protection equipment they are using passes the applicable ANSI test requirements?

The American National Standards Institute has created detailed safety standards by defining rigorous tests for eyewear, and OSHA specifically cites ANSI Z87.1 as the minimum performance requirement for protective eyewear. ANSI Z87.1 calls for 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, vapors, and harmful light radiation. Employers are legally responsible for conducting workplace hazard assessments to determine whether a site requires eye protection and what corresponding level of protection is required to ensure compliance with the standard.

Protective eyewear meeting the ANSI standard must be tested by the manufacturer and, if it complies with all performance aspects of the standard, must be marked with information about the manufacturer, the product, and the standard to which the product performs. Particular attention should be given to the markings that are placed on the eyewear. These markings are used to convey the protector's capabilities to the employer and employee, and this marking scheme will vary by product type.

Understand the Markings
The marking scheme used for protective eyewear varies by product type, so for simplicity, we will look at two examples of markings for spectacle impact protectors.

Our first example is a plano impact-rated complete spectacle with no replaceable parts. As required by the standard, the manufacturers mark or logo (Mfg) must appear first, followed by the standard (Z87). As this is an impact-rated device (an optional claim), the "+" mark is required. Because this is a complete device, the markings can appear on either the lens, the frame, or both the lens and frame. The correct (and only acceptable) sequence for marking the device is: "MfgZ87+".

A second example is for a prescription (Rx) impact-rated spectacle with replacement lenses. No other optional claims are made. As required by the standard, the manufacturers mark or logo (Mfg) must appear first, followed by the standard mark for an Rx device (Z87-2). As this is an Rx device, the frame front must be marked with the A-dimension and DBL; the temple must be marked with the overall length. As an impact-rated device with a replaceable lens, the "+" mark is required on both the frame and the lens. If lateral (side) coverage is achieved using detachable sideshields, both must be marked Z87+. All marking is required to be sequential and consecutive (i.e., no additional characters, including spaces, can interrupt the sequence). The markings on this device are as follows:

  • Frame and at least one temple: "MfgZ87-2+"
  • Frame Front: A-dimension and DBL
  • Temple: Overall length
  • Lens: "+"

As you can see from the above examples, the marking requirements can be dramatically different, depending on protector type. This requires adherence on the part of the manufacturer to both the testing and marking requirements and a full understanding of the markings by employers to ensure that their employees are using the right eyewear. But take note: In the end, the standard establishes that safety directors and end users are legally responsible to conduct a proper assessment of the working environment and to select the proper eyewear for the job. And it turns out to be a bigger challenge than just checking for markings.

Self-Certification Should Be Seen as a Conflict of Interest
In the United States, compliance with the standard is self-certified, based on test results generated by the manufacturer. There are some manufacturers who rely on overseas testing by their production facilities or in-house testing of their own, and that opens the door for several potential issues.

First, testing is not regulated. While ANSI writes the standards and OHSA adopts the standards, neither is in a position to monitor the manufacturer and ensure that the standards are met. In fact, there is no industry-wide governance. This is further complicated by the fact that the markings on your eyewear are not necessarily proof of compliance, either. In many instances, markings are applied during the manufacturing process, long before testing has been done. Furthermore, there is the issue of conflict of interest for manufacturers testing their own products. The integrity of testing and reporting can be compromised, resulting in non-compliant and unsafe eyewear.

Ask for a Certificate of Third-Party Testing
Some manufacturers currently provide third-party testing and certification from accredited laboratories. These companies are serious about compliance, serious enough to take the extra steps to ensure thorough, independent testing before any product is released to market. And, remember, ANSI Z87.1-2010 states that manufacturers of lens and frame components, as well as the complete prescription safety eyewear device, must provide test results to the purchaser upon request.

Make sure your eyewear comes with a statement or certificate from the manufacturer verifying third-party test results. This is an important step toward ensuring that all aspects of the safety standard have been met in every pair of safety eyewear.

References
1. http://www.aao.org/newsroom/release/industrial-workplace-eye-injuries.cfm
2. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/eye/
3. http://www.cpwr.com/sites/default/files/publications/CPWR_Eye_Protection_2.pdf
4. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/eyeandface/employer/requirements.html

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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