Should Employers Pay for Prescription Safety Glasses?

January 20, 2015

Eyesafe has hundreds of Alberta employers on our program, ranging from the largest companies in the oil sands, to small operations with just a few employees. So, does being on the Eyesafe program mean all these employers are paying the full cost for prescription safety eyewear? Not at all.

The mix is about 50/50 actually. About half of employers cover the full cost of prescription safety eyewear while the other half set a limit of what they will cover, with the patient paying anything over and above that set amount.

And there are a few key reasons why it may be worth at least partially covering this cost:

  • Ensuring Safety. Without prescription safety eyewear, employees may layer glasses under safety eyewear, which then carries the risk that employees will remove safety eyewear for cleaning, or discomfort, even when it is not safe to do so. Injuries could then fall to the employer’s liability.
  • Competing for Employees. As employers compete for the best employees, small benefits like prescription safety eyewear do matter. Especially in Alberta, workers on the front lines will compare benefits programs just as they do salary packages; this helps the best employers bring in new people by word of mouth.
  • Level Playing Field. Most employers already pay for hard hats, boots, coats, gloves, etc. Basic, non-prescription safety glasses are also a part of standard PPE (personal protective equipment). But if you have employees who need vision correction, wearing safety glasses over dress glasses seriously compromises their vision, comfort, and consequently, safety. Why discriminate against them by not ensuring them an equivalent level of safety?

Now, there is no law requiring employers to fully fund the cost of prescription safety eyewear. However, according to Occupational Health and Safety, Code 2009, “ It is an employer’s responsibility to assess the presence and significance of the relevant hazard, determining if workers should use a particular type of personal protective equipment.”

The Code provides detail on specific types of safety eyewear required for various kinds of risks. As stated in OHS Code, Subsection 229 (2), “Even if prescription eyewear is made with “impact resistant” plastic lenses, the eyewear still does not protect the eyes like safety eyewear.” As Optometrists, our members are well aware of this. The problem is, a layer of plastic, even a regular lens or sunglasses, can trick an untrained person into thinking he or she has at least some eye protection, sometimes to their detriment.

Optometrists look at eye injuries all the time. The reason the AAO developed the Eyesafe program was not to make employers foot the bill for more benefits. In fact, putting employees on the program ensures prescription safety glasses are more affordable, and keep consistent standards.

So, should employers pay for Prescription Safety Eyewear? Our recommendation is definitely yes. And unless employers cover at least part of this cost for employees, Eyesafe cannot be put in place to give you the safety and cost consistency you need. Having a program will show your employees that you care about their safety, reduce your exposure to safety liability, and help you remain competitive as an employer.

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