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Prescription Eyeglasses and Sunglasses vs. Safety Glasses and Goggles – Are your Employees Getting a False Sense of Safety

- September 22, 2016 by Dan Heinen, ASP (View all posts by Dan)

If your facility or job site requires protective eyewear, look around. Do you notice employees wearing prescription eyewear or sunglasses? While these employees may think their eyes are protected from flying wood chips or other dangerous debris—they’re not.  Standard prescription glasses and sunglasses can provide protection from UV light, depending on the lens type, but offer minimal if any impact resistance.

How is Eyewear Protection Different than Regular Eyeglasses?

Both sunglasses and prescription lenses are available in safety goggles and glasses that are rated by ANSI (American National Standards Institute).  Proper eye protection will have a stamp on the arm of the frame (usually the right side) that reads “Z87” or “Z87+.” This certifies that the lens and frames meet a specified impact resistance. Ratings are either a basic, (Z87), or a high impact, (Z87+).

For the basic rating, a “drop ball” test is performed. A one-inch diameter steel ball is dropped from a height of 50 inches. The lens must not crack, chip or break, this gives the Z87 rating.

The high impact test is done by shooting .25-inch steel ball at the lens at 150 feet per second. To pass, the lens must not crack, chip, break or become dislodged from the frame or lens holder. This gives the Z87+ rating.

While prescription glasses generally cost more than standard lenses and frames, it might be beneficial for employers to look for a provider that will offer a discount on prescription safety glasses for employees. Some companies will offer reimbursement if glasses are purchased through the provider. When employers add up the direct and indirect cost of an injured employee, the benefits can easily outweigh the initial out of pocket expense.  At a minimum, an employer should provide approved Over-The-Glasses (OTG) safety glasses that can be worn over standard prescription glasses.

OSHA Takes Eye Protection VERY Seriously

On the regulatory aspect of eye protection, while I was doing an internship with OSHA years ago, I saw firsthand how OSHA does look at eye protection and doesn’t take it for granted that “covered eyes are protected eyes.”

While doing an inspection of a roofing contractor, the OSHA Compliance Officer asked to look at the sunglasses the employees were wearing. They turned out to be regular sunglasses and not safety rated. We did educate them on how to look for the Z87 or Z87+ designation, but unfortunately for the contractor, a citation was issued.

By enforcing a protective eyewear standard in the workplace, whether it is by working with a provider for a reduced rate and/or a reimbursement program, offering to help offset the cost of eyewear protection reinforces that you value the safety of your employees.  Additionally, it helps ensure that your crew is safe off the jobsite as well—a critical part of a behavior-based safety program