Workplace-related eye injuries are all too common and happen more than 200 times each day in Canada.1 These injuries affect Canadian workers of all ages and genders across almost every industry, and the saddest part of this statistic is that the largest majority of these injuries could have been prevented if employees wore the right type of safety eyewear.
Why don’t employees wear the safety eyewear provided to them? While complacency if often cited as a reason, another top factor is that employees say their safety eyewear is uncomfortable. When safety eyewear is uncomfortable, restrictive, fogging, ineffective, or even not stylish, employees are more likely to wear it up on their heads or not at all, raising the likelihood of an eye injury. Another contributing factor is the “one size fits all” approach to safety eyewear management.
Awareness about the impact of ill-fitting eyewear is growing and increasingly special attention is being given to addressing the need for fitting safety eyewear for today’s diverse workforce. A particular design or style of safety eyewear that one employee finds comfortable may be uncomfortable to another. Differences in face size, shape, and facial features all come into play and impact the comfort. As an example, the facial structures of men and women are different, the facial structures of people of different ethnic background are different, and the size and shape of employee’s cheekbones, nose bridges and ears all have an impact on fit and fit is the major determinant in comfort.
Current research and development have led to innovative safety eyewear designs that take into account differences in the height, width, or location of cheekbones, nose bridges, and ears, as well as overall head size and shape. Compatibility with other personal protective equipment, like hard hats, earmuffs and respirators is an important factor effecting fit and comfort. Ensuring that all the required personal protective equipment fits comfortably together is a key to wearer compliance. This is one of the major reasons that a good fit in safety eyewear can be a challenge.
Part of fitting safety eyewear involves assessing the wearer’s view and ensuring they can see in all directions without any major obstructions. Fitting also involves ensuring the safety eyewear stays put while the wearer moves their head through the full range of normal motions such as left-to-right, up and down, and shaking the head, even when in hot and humid conditions. Properly fitted safety eyewear provides good coverage of the soft tissue areas around the eyes. You need to check the gaps between safety eyewear and the face as too large of a gap may let debris in and too small of a gap may cause discomfort if the safety eyewear rubs on the face. Some safety eyewear manufacturers provide a gauge to allow you to accurately measure the coverage and the gaps to assess more specifically the fit. While the use of a fitting gauge for safety eyewear is not too common CSA Z94.3.1 recommends that the eyewear fit should be assessed every two years or whenever significant changes occur to an employee’s physical condition, plus there are CSA standards regarding the size of the gap.
Comfortable safety eyewear also has low pressure points on an employee’s nose bridge, against the sides of their head, and behind their ears. A good fit ensures that full, unobstructed peripheral vision is available. Wrap around safety eyewear styles reduce blind spots and lenses of high optical quality reduce eye fatigue that can lead to headaches. Anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings increase performance, and this will increase wearer confidence in the PPE leading to greater wearer compliance.
Style also matters. Employees want to look good when wearing their safety eyewear. When they think they look good, they feel good, and this increases wearer compliance. Confidence in style is a big factor in wearability and compliance.
If you are having problems with compliance or if you are just establishing your safety eyewear program, you’ll need to offer choice and make sure a range of safety eyewear is available that can provide the necessary protection. Proper fitting of the safety eyewear to the employee needs to be part of the program. The Eyesafe program can provide all of these services. The bottom line is wearability is all about fit and properly fitted safety eyewear is comfortable. Employees will tell you comfortable, stylish safety eyewear is easy to remember to use every day.
¹Eye Opening Advice to Protect Your Vision in the Workplace, COHS Health and Safety Report, Volume 12, Issue 3 (retrieved from https://www.ccohs.ca/newsletters/hsreport/issues/2014/03/ezine.html)
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 35 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada, and he provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificate and diploma programs.