Always make sure your selection of eyewear meets the ANSI Z87.1+ Standard. (Radians photo)

A Common-Sense Approach to Your Protective Eyewear Selection

Doing your homework on the manufacturer you choose is of paramount importance.

Manufacturers always tout the many eyewear styles they offer, and we enjoy the variety that exists in today’s marketplace, perhaps because of the incredible impact resistance polycarbonate or other plastics might have or even the coverage a particular style may provide to their users. But you still have to keep the safety eyewear on your head if you want to be protected from the hazards that exist in the workplace. You can have the most protective style available, but you'll never enjoy its safety benefits if the eyewear is placed in your pocket or is nearby while you are performing your work. In the event of an eye injury, you, your company, your co-workers, and your family may be adversely affected.

Why would someone not wear protective eyewear while they work, you ask? The safety glasses might not be particularly comfortable to the user, maybe he or she is getting headaches from a distortion in the lens, or the eyewear might not allow the user a full field of vision. Maybe those glasses just fogged up and the lack of being able to see clearly was more of a hazard than not wearing them at all! Workers should never have to face any of these situations with today's selection and increased technology.

Thinking back to the '70s and '80s, perhaps even the '90s, our choices were limited to Big & Bulky and the quality just wasn't what it is today. Today, we have so many styles of safety eyewear and goggles for every conceivable situation. Today's compliance officers can assess the user's environment and come up with a hundred styles that might fit a given application. But do we go further than a particular hazard and budget constraint to include user acceptability of what they wear?

About 10 years ago, I was asked by a large chemical plant in Southeast Texas to speak to their safety committee on personal protection use at home. They were having abnormal lost-time issues that were not related to the workplace, but from their associates being injured while at home doing lawn and house maintenance. It was so bad that the chemical plant decided to select PPE products that their associates could take home to protect themselves against injury. As a result, they did see a decrease in off-hours accidents. The cost savings were compelling when compared to the enormous cost associated with medical care and the actual lost time, not to mention reduced duty cases. Because they also decided not to be so frugal, but selected products that their associates liked to wear, they also established a different culture and increased acceptability of PPE usage.

Questions You Might Ask About Your Safety Eyewear Selection
Here are a few things to consider next time your safety committee convenes to assess your current selection of PPE products and, specifically, your eyewear protection:

  • Have you tested a selection of eyewear that your associates might want to wear, or do you find the most economical solution and demand that everyone conforms to one solution?
  • Have you looked at the manufacturer's claims of its eyewear meeting the ANSI Z87.1+ Standard, and does it have third-party testing results to back up its claims?
  • Is the manufacturer closely involved in the design of its eyewear models or is it completely reliant on a design that it took no part in perfecting?
  • Is the manufacturer or importer’s primary business eyewear, or was it just added to its line to create growth outside of its primary focus products?
  • Would your associates wear them at home as well as at work to prevent injury on and off work? Does your company even allow them to take the eyewear home for that purpose?
  • Does your company do a site or work cell assessment to determine needed attributes for the specific job (impact resistance, dust protection, fogging issues)?
  • Do the feel and how the eyewear looks on a person really matter?

A selection of eyewear that meets budgetary constraints never takes into consideration what might happen if the product is not suited to the job activity, whether it fits properly, or if the user will be happy in the adoption process. Every head that eyewear goes on is different, so the feel, security, and even the protection can vary.

Full ANSI Z87.1+ compliance is extremely important and can cost a company dearly when OSHA follows up on an accident claim or unfortunate event and you can't explain or mitigate the failure of your PPE product selection. Doing your homework on the manufacturer you choose is of paramount importance. Ask your distributor to provide you with the testing or compliance documents to have on hand. Having a copy of the Z87.1 Standard (available from the ISEA at safetyequipment.org) will show you the markings that each product should have if it is compliant. There are many non-safety manufacturers or importers selling PPE products these days with little to no expertise in any safety standard.

One can walk around town anywhere in North America and see so many people wearing safety eyewear as sunglasses. I  encourage family members to wear ANSI Z87.1+ compliant eyewear while driving. Years ago, a co-worker was wearing our company's eyewear while being involved in a traffic accident. The accident was so violent that the windshield was shattered and, if it had not been for the safety glasses she was wearing, she might not be able to see today. If she was your worker and you depended heavily on her expertise and contributions to your organization, the small cost of having her protected outside the workplace might be something to consider.

Finally, Fogging!
Probably the single most-talked-about attribute for safety eyewear today is fog protection. The solution can be drastically different based on the activity you might be involved in or the work you are performing. Also, if you work outside, the area of the world you are in can require an extraordinarily different solution.

Regardless of the environment, when glasses fog, you are in the middle of a major dilemma. If you can't see, you can't be careful—period. You are suddenly unprotected and at the height of vulnerability. So, what do you do? You take your protection off to see clearly what is in front of you. Unfortunately, your eyes are now extremely vulnerable because you have no protection. This clearly illustrates the need for a site assessment to ensure that this type of situation doesn’t occur.

Luckily, unlike in the past, technology has finally arrived for our safety's sake. We don't have an unequivocal solution yet, but the current use of certain eyewear coatings and new plastics are helping to mitigate the fogging dilemma. There are two primary coatings made in the United States and Asia that are now able to meet the demanding EN166K and EN166N tests in Europe. The EN166N test measures the fog resistance capabilities of a coating on eyewear. The EN166K measures the abrasion resistance of the coating. Both are designed to optimally meet most environmental hazards one might encounter. There are also other films and the use of acetate to fight potential fogging issues.

As I mentioned before, nothing is foolproof when it comes to the different types of solutions that combat fogging, but we at least have options now that we didn't have in the past. Consult your eyewear professional to make the proper determination on what your particular solution might be. And always make sure your selection of eyewear meets the ANSI Z87.1+ Standard.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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