A Modern 2020 Vision: How PPE Can Work Together

A Modern 2020 Vision: How PPE Can Work Together

Successfully combining vision protection with face coverings to protect workers from COVID-19 may be logistically challenging, but it is not impossible.

As the CDC continues to require face coverings in public settings, PPE users are becoming hyper aware of the disconnect between face masks and eye protection. From eyeglasses to sunglasses to safety glasses, nearly all eye protection and enhancement users know that when paired with a face covering, their glasses easily fog up and/or don’t fit comfortably with other PPE, ultimately hindering visibility.

Unfortunately, not all PPE is created equal, even more so when it comes to eye protection. Proper eye protection is critical, however, as standards evolve and mask mandates increase. In turn, this frustration forces users to question protection offerings and can cause users to choose between vision and health compliance or dust protection on the jobsite.

Emergence of Masks

Safety glasses have been a staple on the jobsite for years, but now, with mask mandate requirements, workers must use them simultaneously with respirators, face coverings and/or face shields. For many, these new requirements have led to a constant imbalance between glasses and face coverings. Unfortunately, there isn’t a comfortable trade off and this imbalance often leads to constant lens fogging, headaches or irritation from ill-fitting equipment.

Luckily, manufacturers of eye protection and other forms of PPE are taking these newly required factors into play when designing products and are striving to create PPE that works together in harmony, ultimately providing users with solutions that allow them to protect their eyes and also abide by mask mandates without any interference.

Eye Know the Factors

To adhere to this ever-changing landscape, there are multiple new factors that manufacturers must take into consideration when creating eye protection such as industry standards, testing methods and user preference.

According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 44 percent of all occupational eye injuries happen in the construction field. In 2018, there were nearly 20,000 eye injuries across all occupations and over 8,000 eye injuries on construction jobsites alone. When it comes to eye protection, there are multiple standards and testing methods detailing performance and safety. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) divides eyewear and face protection regulations into different sections. Within the ANSI Z87.1 standard, optical, physical and markings requirements make up the first segment and optional requirements such as anti-fog properties make up the second. A third section further details any optional feature requirements and describes the physical requirements of the different projectiles used for any impact procedures.

Alternatively, there is also a European Standard (EN) for eye protection. EN166 covers the physical and optical requirements of spectacles, goggles and face shields and the different markings for the varying required and optional performances. In order to meet these standard requirements, eyewear manufacturers are required to run their products through a series of tests:

Anti-Scratch. To test scratch resistance performance, safety glasses are often put through a series of abrasions and then put into a machine that measures the resulting haze. The higher the haze, the more scratches the lens, which leads to a lower scratch resistance performance rating.

Anti-Fog. To measure anti-fog performance, manufacturers soak the lens in distilled water for an extended period then allow them to air dry naturally. Once dry, they are once again placed in water and fog-resistance is measured by how long it takes the lens to fog up. For maximum performance, some manufactures surpass the standard when testing fog-resistance.

Z87.1 Compliance. To see if eye protection meets the Z87.1 Standard, glasses are tested to see if they meet a minimum light transmittance and don’t exceed a set value of astigmatism that would distort vision. Finally, glasses are also exposed to ignition and impact tests.

Military Grade Impact Protection. To see if eye protection meets military standards, they are challenged to ballistic fragmentation tests. If perforated, cracked or shattered, the lens will not pass the test.

However, despite all these standards and testing procedures, not all modern eye protection is living up to user needs and expectations. Historically, eye protection has been perceived as consumable because scratches, breakage, fogging and other frustrations are expected to occur at one point or another. Simply meeting the standard requirements is no longer enough. To exceed user expectations, manufacturers must take fit, performance and style preferences into consideration.

Fit. It is crucial for eye protection to not only fit comfortably when worn alone, but also when paired with other protective equipment such as respirators or facemasks. To comply with user needs, many manufacturers now offer a wide range of PPE solutions.

Performance. According to many users, the performance standards in place still aren’t enough to live up to the harsh elements and activities commonly found on a jobsite. For example, even if a lens is anti-scratch rated, that doesn’t necessarily translate to scratch proof, and unfortunately for users, even a small abrasion can lead to distorted vision and the need to replace their glasses. Fogging is another jobsite hinderance. While many manufacturers offer anti-fog safety glasses, standards still leave room for potential fogging. Manufacturers must now take these standards and testing procedures to go above and beyond, hopefully turning safety glasses into a more long-term investment.

Style. Beyond performance, users want eye protection that fits their style. Users are often willing to increase their determined price point if their safety glasses not only meet all their performance needs, but are also complete with a sleek, stylish design.

How Does This Fit the Industry?

With the current landscape in mind, contractors and safety managers not only need to integrate face coverings into their jobsite safety plans, but they also need to ensure that their current PPE requirements work with them hand in hand. When manufacturers play to these standards, testing procedures, and user requirements for eye protection, they will ultimately help users stay safe and productive while minimizing eye injuries and overall discomfort.

With these factors in mind, manufacturers, safety managers, and contractors have an excellent opportunity to start working towards a jobsite united in mask mandate compliance and eye injury prevention.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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