three rows of safety glasses, the first all white, the second yellow and the third black

Reframing Eyewear: Meeting Workforce Needs with Technology and Advancements

New eyewear technology can help workers stay safe and comfortable while doing their job.

As construction projects continue to ramp up in a post-COVID environment, the time is right to revisit major operations and safety protocols. Variables such as machine standards, employee (re)training, and protective gear for personnel are all important items that are worthy of renewed attention and consideration. Further, time away from work has shifted the focus away from the daily rigors of a job towards that of family and personal health, which makes for a divided focus and therefore an increased probability of more on-the-job accidents.  

As a longtime product development professional in the protective eyewear space, I focus almost solely on the protection of eyes in the workplace. From sharp objects to particulates to chemical vapors, there is no shortage of things that can get in the way of work being done safely. According to The Center for Construction Research & Training, more than 10,000 eye injuries put workers on sick leave each year. It’s my job to ensure these numbers go down.  

The small and potentially sharp particles that may get caught in the eye can cause punctures, abrasions and contusions of the cornea. Corneal abrasions are the most common type of eye injury in the construction industry, particularly in dusty environments. Damage to the eye may range from minor scratches that can heal in several days to more severe abrasions that can cause permanent damage. 

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that almost 70 percent of the accidents studied resulted from flying or falling objects or sparks striking the eye. Injured workers estimated that nearly three-fifths of the objects were smaller than a pinhead, and most of the particles were said to be traveling faster than a hand-thrown object when the accident occurred.  

One of the ways I go about prioritizing safety is by gaining feedback from the market. Time and time again the data tells me two things: workers need to see their work clearly and be able to perform their job safely. While seemingly simple, the variables mentioned at the top of this article can get in the way of these objectives. Since protective eyewear is my specialty, let’s talk about using technology to address the needs of the market.  

First, let’s address the clarity issue. Data shows that workwear glasses often fog up and/or gather a film from material particulates. This leads to a lack of visual acuity as well as an annoying distraction on the part of the wearer. Workers speak of having to stop to clean their glasses (oftentimes just wiping them on their uniforms) or simply removing their glasses so they can finish one last cut/sand/bevel etc. This is not optimal, to say the least. This scenario, played out again and again, results in wasted time and money and an increase in accidents.  

Second, we know from worker feedback that safety matters to them. Beyond their work environments, they have families to get home to and other pursuits that require them to be healthy and not out of work. Our feedback has been to create eyewear that is lightweight, stylish, comprehensive and agile.  

Lightweight, stylish eyewear has only really come into the market in the past decade or so. Before then, cumbersome models were the only products available. Today’s eyewear manufacturers understand eyewear weight should be evenly distributed between ears and nose to avoid unnecessary pressure points and ensure prolonged wear. Lightening up the frame and lens has been imperative to maintaining this balance. This creates a “forget it’s on your face” experience that enables workers to work a full day without interruption.  

Comprehensive technology has come a long way as well. The earliest eyewear only focused on shielding the eyes from debris and had not yet considered how to make the eyewear perform in a way that increased clarity of vision in a variety of harsh environments. The importance of different specificities, like anti-fog, anti-scratch, and anti-glare properties, cannot be overstated. While just over 20 percent of workplace eye injuries come from the constrictions sector, “the construction work site itself is a hazard,” claims Edward Johnson, safety manager for Black and Veatch and a member of the ASSE’s Construction Precative Specialty Group. By focusing on the nuanced work safety issues that arise, we can meet the demands of today’s construction workers.  

Anti-fog technology comes into play where humidity is present. Fogging eyewear is caused by heat, worker exertion and improper fit of the eyewear. One company works on a proprietary technology that involves dipping both sides of the lenses in a permanent coating that keeps fogging from occurring. This technology provides a unique user experience in the toughest environments (heat and humidity), particularly when eyewear is used in combination with respiratory protection products, and eliminates the need to often wipe off the fog from the lens to ensure constant protection.  

Anti-scratch technology matters most when it comes to the wear and tear of glasses. One company works with a proprietary, double-sided coating with high-scratch-resistant properties to cut down on any scratches and abrasions to the lenses. This robust coating, combined with anti-fog, is key to keeping the eyewear fully functional for longer periods, ensuring both a better performance on the job and a reduced cost of ownership by increasing time before replacement is needed.  

Anti-glare technology is vital in construction environments as most work takes place outdoors. Glare from UVA/UVB rays means workers must also be protected from these visible and invisible rays. When correct precautions are not taken, we expose ourselves to myriad risks associated with eye damage including the formation of cataracts, eye cancers and other serious eye conditions. The polarized technology is embedded into the lens to shield the eyes while boosting the acuity in all UV and light-sensitive scenarios while blocking 99 percent of all UV rays.  

Finally, agility cannot be overlooked. Historically, workers needing prescription lenses were relegated to one or two frames that may or may not fit their face or work needs. Worse, many workers had to switch between protective eyewear and everyday glasses depending on the nature of the work. Now, many products are prescription ready. Workers can be free to select frames that fit their face and style preferences without having to compromise their quality of vision. Most frames can have a prescription ready within days.  

By combining user data with state-of-the-art eyewear advancements, we are more poised than ever to meet the needs of an evolving workforce to ensure safe working environments in today’s construction sector. 


This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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