Eyes are among our most vulnerable organs. The risk of injuring our windows to the soul is even higher for those who are exposed to projectiles, dust, gases, wood pellets and chemicals on the job. As such, safety glasses and goggles have become mandatory in many professions.
“Every single industry that you can imagine is using some type of eye protection,” says Claudio Dente, president of Dentec Safety Specialists, a Newmarket, Ontario-based company that sells and distributes workplace safety gear. “It is really a huge market where eyewear is being used,” he notes, citing construction, manufacturing, utilities, mining and transportation as among the biggest customers.
According to Dente, the primary purpose of safety eyewear is to protect against high-speed projectiles, followed by dust and smaller particles. Safety glasses are especially important for jobs that involve cutting material with machinery, which can send small fragments flying in the air. Goggles are necessary for occupations in which workers may come into contact with dust or dangerous chemicals or gases, such as chlorine or ammonia, which can cause major damage in even low concentrations, while face shields are available to provide further protection.
Seal of safety
There are many types of safety glasses and goggles on the market, but the best protection comes from sealed or close-fitting safety eyewear, according to Jodi Draghici, a licenced optician and consultant with Regina-based FO Safety Eyewear, a subsidiary of Optics International, which specializes in prescription safety eyewear.
Close-fitting eyewear uses a wrap-around style of frame that tightens the grip on the user’s face to better guard against debris, smoke, spraying fluids, glare and wind. These glasses are especially suitable for workers in oil and gas, in which work conditions tend to be dusty and dirty, Draghici explains.
Dangerous chemicals and solvents in the air are a risk at these worksites as well. “Close-fitting or sealed eyewear helps give them the splash and debris protection they would need,” she notes, adding that some products allow the user to adjust the fit through removable foam gaskets.
MSA, a manufacturer of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, makes safety glasses and goggles for work indoors, outdoors or both. The goggles differ mainly by the lens tints.
“The indoor ones are completely clear; the ones that are indoor/outdoor are a little bit tinted,” says Ashley Gaworski, the company’s product-line manager for industrial head, eye, face and hearing protection. “We have some amber, some blues, some light tints. And then the outdoor glasses are completely tinted, like a black/grey kind of lens.”
3M Canada, a PPE company based in London, Ontario, carries a wide variety of glasses and goggles, including sealed safety eyewear, products with anti-fog properties and what is known as “pressure diffusion technology”, which makes the glasses more flexible, lightweight and comfortable for users. “We are always looking to make sure we have a modern design for them that is comfortable, but also introduces a high level of protection and something that uses the latest technology,” says Danielle Norris, an application-development safety professional with 3M’s personal-safety division.
Although added features can enhance the protection of safety eyewear, they come with a price tag. Simple plastic safety glasses with no extra functionality will have a lower price, but adding a telescopic temple arm, a ratchet or a shaded lens will entail costs, Dente says.
The right choice
With so many variations and brands of safety eyewear out there, how can an employer choose the right one? “It really depends upon the type of work that the company is doing,” Draghici says. While sealed or close-fitting eyewear is right for industries with flying debris, a lighter manufacturing job with fewer atmospheric hazards could settle for a simpler glasses. A hazard assessment of the work environment is the first step.
“You really need to have a good understanding of what the hazards are on a job for your workers and what you primarily need to protect them from,” Norris says. Safety eyewear should also be compatible with other safety gear that workers wear, such as hearing protection, hard hats, face shields or respirators, she adds. “You don’t want to select eyewear that is going to compromise the use of any other types of PPE.”
Involving employees in the decision-making process is a good idea, because they know best what fits them and are more likely to use safety eyewear in which they look good and feel comfortable. Dente says some glasses come with fitting capabilities, such as telescopic temple arms or ratchet adjustments to increase comfort. “That comes down to the user’s need.”
Dan Birch, senior marketing manager for industrial eyewear with Honeywell Industrial Safety in Lincolnshire, Illinois, agrees that style, comfort and fit can significantly influence whether workers use eye protection. “Safety eyewear cannot protect unless it is worn. If it looks good and it is comfortable, it will be worn,” he says, describing Honeywell’s Uvex Hypershock and Uvex Acadia eyewear products as “cool” and “very stylish.”
An employer should also consider whether specialty lenses are needed to protect against specific hazards like sunlight, chemical hazards or high impacts, Birch adds. “If there is the likelihood of lenses fogging and compromising clear vision, then you want to select the best safety eyewear with the best FFT — fog-free time.”
Also crucial is that the chosen product meets the proper certifications and standards. CSA Group, which authors official standards for PPE in Canada, has released an updated version of its standard for safety eyewear last year. Z94.3-15, or Eye and Face Protectors, includes revisions on optical requirements for plano eyewear with non-prescription reading segments and on provisions for the proper types of lenses.
Safety eyewear can be particularly vulnerable if it is exposed to flying shards and pellets. As such, proper maintenance can help safety glasses or goggles last longer and save costs. “We recommend daily inspection,” Gaworski says. The defects to look out for include cracks in the lenses, especially for goggles, and rips or tears in any of the sealing points around the face.
“The best thing to do is definitely follow the manufacturer’s user instructions,” advises Norris, who recommends keeping safety eyewear clean and storing it in an environment that is not too hot or wet. “Keep your eyewear away from anything that is abrasive. Also keep it away from certain really strong chemical cleaning agents, anything that has a solvent in it. That can degrade the coatings we put on our eyewear.”
Birch advises customers to use only the most rigorously tested chemicals and cloths when cleaning safety eyewear. “Never use a shirt that is dirty or has been worn on the jobsite,” he says. The company even offers product-specific cloths and towelettes for its Uvex brand.
Another mistake is overusing the same cleaning cloth, which leads to scratching of the lens, due to residual dirt build-up in the cloth. Birch recommends that users first rinse safety eyewear under cool tap water before adding a cleaning solution specifically designed for the product, as common household cleaners can remove the coatings on the lens.
“Wipe the lens in small circles gently to remove any smudges from the lenses, and don’t forget to clean the nose bridge and the temples to remove dirt that could get trapped against the skin,” Birch says.
However well one takes care of safety glasses or goggles, their lifespan depends on the environment and tasks for which they are used. “If your application is constantly seeing chips and impacts, then you are going to have to replace them more frequently,” Gaworski says.
One development in the field of eye protection over the past few years is safety glasses with thin foam liners built around the outer edges of the lenses to provide additional sealing in environments with a lot of particulates in the atmosphere.
“Even though the safety glass provides protection against the impact of a projectile, what we are trying to do with these foam liners is prevent the dust particle from entering behind the safety glass,” Dente explains.
Another recent innovation is a new anti-fog coating that is imbedded into the glasses’ lenses rather than just applied to the outsides, where the coating often wears off over time. Norris says that 3M’s eyewear with the imbedded coating has been selling well. “With a lot of workers in different industrial settings, fogging is one of the top complaints.”
Honeywell has also invested in anti-fogging technology for its line of safety glasses and goggles. Birch adds that the manufacturer has tested HydroShield coated lenses under the European standard, which is far stricter than North American anti-fog standards.
“The lens showed an ability to remain fog-free for more than two minutes, compared to two seconds or less with other lenses,” he says. Impact resistance is another function that Honeywell is looking to improve in its line of safety eyewear. “Anti-fogging properties and scratch resistance in lens design have improved remarkably in recent years,” Birch adds.
MSA has developed a product called the Vertoggle, a combined visor and goggle that shields both the eyes and the face from projectiles and more. The Vertoggle can be worn with head protection and/or with disposable respirators under the shield, and the shield part can be shifted into five positions.
“It is a standard goggle, and then it has a face shield that comes down to your chin,” Gaworski describes. “It has been tested at face-shield speed. It is not eyewear-speed, which is about 30 per cent faster, but you still get the protection of a goggle, and you just get a little bit of face protection.”
As a proper fit can determine whether employees use safety eyewear and how well it works, 3M has developed a new eyewear fit system. “If you have ever heard of respiratory fit testing, this is kind of our equivalent to that, but for eyewear,” Norris illustrates. The system consists of a kit that includes two gauges: one to measure the lenses’ coverage and the other to identify any gaps in the eyewear. The fit test can be done as quickly as in less than 10 minutes.
“We have some statistics from our U.S. colleague,” Norris says, “and they have investigated that of all the eye injuries that are sustained in a year on the job, about 40 per cent of workers were actually wearing safety eyewear at the time. So there is clearly a gap in the types of eyewear they are selecting.”
Regardless of whether it involves fit-testing, offers extra protective features or is compatible with other PPE, choosing the right eye protection and taking care of it is more than meets the eye.
Jeff Cottrill is the editor of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News.