Eye Spy Safety
By Angela Stelmakowich
Let's be clear. The main function of safety eyewear, as its name implies, is to protect. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of comfort, design and clarity -- attributes that can...
By Angela Stelmakowich
Let’s be clear. The main function of safety eyewear, as its name implies, is to protect. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of comfort, design and clarity — attributes that can work individually or as a team to influence whether or not gear finds its way onto workers’ faces, and stays there.
Staying put — be that safety glasses, safety goggles or face shields — is critical in light of the many work-related hazards that threaten to put eyes in harm’s way. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) in Toronto notes that these include flying objects such as bits of metal, glass, stone or wood; unsafe handling of tools; particles like sand or sawdust; chemical splashes; radiation; sparks and slag from welding and cutting; and the sun and wind.
Of an estimated 1,000 eye injuries in North American workplaces each day, the CNIB notes about five per cent “will be debilitating enough to interfere with work on a short-or long-term basis.”
But making the right choice of gear has not always proven an unqualified success. Three out of every five workers who suffered eye injuries were not wearing eye protection, reports the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) in Mississauga, Ontario. “Half of those who did use safety eyewear wore the wrong type,” notes the 2009 user guide for the CSA Z94.3 standard, “Selection, Use and Care of Protective Eyewear.”
The standard offers direction on proper selection, states an information sheet from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton, Ontario. Below are examples of hazards and recommended gear:
• options to guard against flying objects from drilling, riveting, grinding, polishing, heavy sawing and hammering include spectacles, goggles, non-rigid hoods and face shields;
• protective equipment to avoid injurious optical radiation that may occur while electric arc welding, heavy gas cutting and inert gas shielded arc welding includes welding helmets and welding hand shields; and,
• gear to protect against acid splash and chemical burns that may occur during degreasing, glass breakage and chemical spray includes goggles, non-rigid hoods and face shields.
There’s no denying it; everyone is getting older. There will likely come a time when an individual needs what Phil Johnson, director of technology, eye and face for Sperian Protection in Smithfield, Rhode Island, calls transitional eyewear. “You get to be older and your eyes start to get a little weaker, so you want to get in a little bit closer to see your work. When you do that, now you’re a little closer to being in harm’s way.”
Gateway Safety Inc. in Cleveland cites figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. With the number of workers 55-plus estimated to increase almost 50 per cent between 2002 and 2012, bifocal safety eyewear is becoming a personal protection equipment (PPE) must.
“Bifocal eyewear allows workers to clearly read instrumentation, work with small parts, or perform other close tasks without having to switch between regular safety glasses and reading glasses, a dangerous practice that can result in errors and injuries,” notes a statement from the company.
Makers of safety products seem prepared to meet the need to help workers see things up close and personal. In August, Magid Glove & Safety Mfg. Co. LLC in Chicago announced the availability of its own safety spectacles with bifocals. The glasses — so-called readers or cheaters — come in five magnification levels: +1.0, +1.5, + 2.0, +2.5 and +3.0 diopter.
“In response to the aging population, we have seen an increased demand for magnification eyewear and other solutions for improved visibility,” says Carrie Mailloux, product marketer, protective eyewear and welding solutions, at 3M Canada in London, Ontario. The company’s reader-style safety glasses, which feature built-in bifocals in a variety of magnifications, are available in the same frame styling as standard safety eyewear, Mailloux reports.
Sperian Protection, for its part, has come out with another offering in this vein — although with a twist. In July, the company released what it calls the industry’s first safety goggle with reading magnifiers. The goggles offer five diopter strengths, ranging from +1.0 to +3.0.
Other features include the following: 99.9 per cent ultraviolet (UV) protection; clear lens with anti-fog coating; wraparound style for complete coverage and unobstructed vision; wide, adjustable slide headband with pivoting clips for easy-to-adjust fit; and a soft elastomer body for a secure, gap-free fit. The goggles meet both the American National Standards Institute standard for high-impact protection and CSA Z94.3.
Even if “you’re in an operation where you have to wear goggles, you should be afforded the same kind of opportunity to be able to do that close-in work,” says Johnson.
Dave Shanahan, oh&s standards project manager for the CSA, says several minor changes have been made to Z94.3 over the last two years. Two of the more noteworthy relate to allowance for testing and certifying powered, non-prescriptive eyewear, and to recognition of compliant prescription safety lenses based on the material of construction and minimum thickness, Shanahan reports.
Readers can certainly do the job — and do it safely — for some people, says Roger Paquette, manager of product marketing for the Americas (head, eye, face and hearing protection) at Honeywell Safety Products in Anjou, Quebec. “What I’m concerned about is that people who do need prescription glasses default to using these,” Paquette says. Readers will not help with distance, meaning that only one aspect of worker needs may be fulfilled with the glasses, he says.
His recommendation? “When you decide to go with these types of spectacles, always have an eye exam before, and listen to your eye care professional.”
Doug Dean, director of vision care plans for the Canadian Association of Optometrists in Ottawa, would likely agree. While things like readers and built-in bifocals fit a niche, Dean cautions that they do not take into account difference in prescriptions between the left and right eye, and do not correct for astigmatism.
“They’re a very general response to a very specific need,” he says. It may be that a worker, through trial and error, identifies a product that is comfortable, “but it may be masking an underlaying problem that requires a further correction.”
Johnson expects the demand for reader-type products as well as full-fledged prescription programs to increase. Makers of frames and lenses must continue working with ophthalmic laboratories “to make sure that they can process lenses correctly to go into frames, maintain impact resistance and the optical properties that are needed.”
Of course, seeing clearly is welcome regardless of age. 3M Canada now offers protective eyewear with LED lighting mounted on each temple to provide hands-free task lighting, says Mailloux. The gear has proven a hit over the last two years with plumbing, HVAC and auto markets, she reports.
Dean sees yet another trend. In the last couple of years, in large part in response to changes to standards south of the border, a trend has formed to move to plastic-only glasses for electrical workers, he says. “You’ve got non-conductive categories so there are no metal parts to the frame at all.”
LENS ON THE WORLD
Citing information from CSA Z94.3, the CCOHS offers a comparison of lens materials:
• polycarbonate– the lightweight material is the strongest for impact resistance, can be coated for scratch resistance and most have built-in UV protection;
• plastic– about half the weight of glass, the material is resistant to solvents and pitting, and offers more choices for coatings and tinting; s trivex– the material is more impact resistant than plastic, but less impact resistant than polycarbonate, and has UV radiation absorption properties; and,
• glass– as a high-density material, it loses impact resistance if scratched and does not meet CSA impact criteria.
Sperian Protection has responded to user feedback by introducing coatings to meet stated needs, including one that is five times more scratch resistant than typical hard coats.
Consider a foundry where a lot of dust is being generated, Johnson says. “Think about all those little particles sitting on the surface. Even though they’re small, they’ve got little sharp corners on them and the more you sweep them across the lens, the more opportunity there is for them to dig in.”
If glasses used in rugged applications become scratched, making it difficult for a worker to properly see, the temptation will be to remove the gear, Johnson says. And removing the gear takes with it any protection that it affords.
As for anti-fog coatings, Johnson says their value becomes very clear with regard to goggles. The gear must offer a good seal to keep out hazards like dust and chemical splashes, but “as you work, get hot and start to sweat a little bit, that moist air gets trapped on the inside,” he says. The coatings “will help dissipate the water or prevent the condensation on the inside.”
Whether a coating is designed to absorb humidity or repel moisture, it will reach a saturation point and become less effective, if effective at all, Paquette suggests. If fogging is a persistent issue, he recommends that “people use their standard glasses, but with a face shield over the glasses.”
Paquette says a major emerging trend is sealed eyewear, in effect a hybrid of spectacle and goggle. To his mind, however, fogging continues to be a concern.
Fogging can impair vision, as can dirt and debris. This can be as much of an issue indoors as it is outdoors. And work on the outside certainly presents some hurdles, what with the dust, wind and that troublesome glare.
In May, Gateway Safety released polarized protective eyewear with a wraparound frame that offers glare reduction and impact protection. Glare can come from reflective surfaces such as the hood of a vehicle, the surface of water or even a paved roadway, notes a statement from the company. “Reducing such glare helps minimize eye strain, which can lead to headaches, and improve vision clarity for the wearer.”
A GOOD FIT
But good features will do little without good fit. The CSA’s Shanahan calls proper fit important for a number of reasons, key among these that it ensures “eyewear provides the needed protection all around the eye area.” A secure fit will also pre- vent gear from being dislodged, for example, “in case of impact of a large object or spray of liquid,” he says.
Fit is also so very important because of its direct influence on comfort. And central to comfort is adjustability.
Johnson points to one of Sperian Protection’s newer product lines, which features a wire hidden in the temples of the spectacles. If glasses feel too tight or too loose, the wearer can bend the wire in and out or up and down until a secure and comfortable fit is achieved, he says. “We put those people in control with almost an infinite range of adjustment.”
In July, Kimberly-Clark Professional in Roswell, Georgia added two new glasses to its line of protective eyewear that reflect the “commitment to offering today’s workers a wide variety of ergonomically advanced, stylish and comfortable protective eyewear products,” notes a company statement. “Safety directors are continually looking for eye protection with both of these features, because style and comfort drive compliance, which helps keep workers safe,” Christine Hand, category manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional, says in the statement.
Discomfort as a hurdle to compliance is far from cleared. At a recent safety show in Baltimore, 98 per cent of respondents answered “yes” when asked if they had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been. Worse than that, 30 per cent of those taking part in the Kimberly-Clark Professional poll reported that the non-compliance had happened on numerous occasions.
“Increasingly high non-compliance with PPE protocols is an alarming trend and a serious threat to worker health and safety,” Gina Tsiropoulos, manufacturing segment marketing manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional, says in a release.
Reasons for non-compliance, in general, were varied, but 40 per cent of those polled selected “uncomfortable” as a contributing factor.
“The best product in the world is the worst product in the world if it’s not comfortable and not worn,” says Paquette.
Eye protection has “been around for so long,” Dean says. “People feel kind of uncomfortable bringing it up over and over again,” he says. But, as is the case for any task, reinforcement is necessary.
3M Canada regards style as one of the most visible trends in safety eyewear, Mailloux says. “Consumers are very aware of design and style trends and have come to expect the same in their safety eyewear choices,” she says.
But style is not just for glasses. The company offers a goggle that provides advanced dual lens design for improved sight and comfort, as well as a low profile reminiscent of eyewear, Mailloux adds.
Appearance is certainly an important secondary factor, says Shanahan. “One of the reasons we converted the [CSAZ94.3] standard in 1999 from a design-based standard to a performance-based standard was to allow the wide range of styles and designs that are available in the marketplace today.”
But key to choice is that products continue to meet the safety needs of Canadian workers. “We caution employers and workers that there are some very stylish-looking products being sold that do not meet any standards,” Shanahan says, citing as examples narrow-width lenses and slim side protectors.
There is a school of thought that safety glasses should not be made as attractive as possible so they will be regarded as safety gear first and foremost. Dean says some people would argue that “when safety glasses become more and more attractive, or more like dress glasses, that differential is blurred.”
He cites CSA Z94.3, which now specifies that side shields be permanently attached or integrated to the frame. The issue was that some employers and employees felt the shields could be removed and this, invariably, ended with the protection not being in place at times when it should have been.
Work is continuing at the technical committee level for CSA-Z94.3, Shanahan says, with members looking at several issues, including the following: new types of auto-darkening filter lenses for welding protectors; advances in eye protection around lasers; new criteria for eye and face protection from electrical arc flashes; and changes to criteria for assessing prescription eyewear dispensing laboratories.
It is important that employers involve workers in the eyewear selection process so that employees do not feel that requirements are being imposed. Providing protective eyewear that lasts longer, stays clear, has a good range of vision and provides an economic benefit, Johnson says, can “feed into the culture of safety.”
Consider a worker who has been doing metal grinding for 10 years, Johnson says. “All the little sparks bounce off, no issues, he goes home happy every day.”
But then comes the day the worker gets close to the grinding wheel and it breaks, sending sharp shards into the air. “That’s the day I’m glad I’ve got my eyewear on,” he says.
Paquette suggests that the success of an eye protection program will revolve around several key points: the gear is safe and compliant with standards, it is comfortable and it is attractive. If those needs are met, “you’ll have more people buy into the program, and volunteer to wear the eyewear,” he says.
Honeywell Safety Products, in fact, is expected to soon launch a new program, he reports. “All workers — regardless of gender, physical attributes or ethnic background — deserve maximum
protection, comfort and fit,” he says.
Angela Stelmakowich is editor of OHS CANADA.