OHS Canada Magazine

Eye Spy Safety

October 11, 2016
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 the following: 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.” 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.

Up close

There’s no denying it; everyone is getting older. There will likely come a time when an individual needs what Phil Johnson, director of optical sciences 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.”

“In response to the aging population, we have seen an increased demand for magnification eyewear and other solutions for improved visibility,” says Carrie Mailloux, a marketing manager 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.

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.

Readers can certainly do the job — and do it safely — for some people, says Roger Paquette, a former 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 at work 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 underlying 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 offers protective eyewear with LED lighting mounted on each temple to provide hands-free task lighting, says Mailloux. The gear has proven a hit with plumbing, HVAC and auto markets, she reports.

Dean sees yet another trend. 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, 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;
— 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.

A good fit

But good features will do little without good fit. Proper fit is important for a number of reasons, key among these that it ensures that eyewear provides all necessary protection around the eye area. A secure fit will also prevent gear from being dislodged by a large object or spray of liquid.

Fit is also so very important because of its direct influence on comfort. And central to comfort is adjustability.

At a 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. Reasons for non-compliance 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.” But, as is the case for any task, reinforcement is necessary.

Lookin’ good

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, but the key to choice is that products continue to meet the safety needs of Canadian workers. 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.”

Moving on

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.

Angela Stelmakowich is a former editor of OHS Canada.

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