How millennials are shaping the future of safety eyewear

May 31, 2022

Today’s workforce is different than it has ever been with four generational cohorts at work together– Baby Boomers (born 1946-1963), Gen-Xers (born 1964-1980), Generation-Y (born 1980-1995) and Generation-Z (born after 1995).  Social, cultural, and political factors shape the individual values, work ethics, needs and wants of these four groups. They have different ways of thinking about work and make different demands on employers, and this includes their needs for different safety eyewear.

Your personal protective equipment (PPE) program should be built with the end user in mind.  Selection of safety eyewear being made available to employees is typically the responsibility of a group of middle managers, typically Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers.  Inevitably the selection process is made with their preferences in mind.  Missing from these programs can be the types and styles of safety eyewear that meet the needs of the other, and soon to be the biggest generational cohorts, Gen-Y and Gen-Z.

In designing a PPE program that includes safety eyewear, we need to think about each generation and what makes each of them tick.  The Baby Boomers are a committed group that grew up during an unprecedented period of great economic growth.  They have an extremely strong work ethic and will do what they are told out of self-respect. The Gen-Xers are a group of practical independent minded people but are described as more difficult to engage.  Generation-Y is the off-spring of the Boomers.  They are classed as the coddled generation and they may be described by the other generational cohorts as having a sense of entitlement. Generation-Z was born into a world of peak tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion — where infor­ma­tion is imme­di­ate­ly acces­si­ble and social media increas­ing­ly ubiquitous. Their prag­ma­tism leads them to explore and eval­u­ate a range of options before set­tling on a prod­uct. They love what’s new and leading edge.

One thing common for all cohorts is the need for safety eyewear that works to shield the eyes from dust, dirt, flying debris, and other projectiles created at work. Style is where we are seeing the biggest changes. With the demands of the Gen-Z group, safety eyewear is now available in many more options and it’s a time when style is king.

Gen-Y and Gen-Z want something trendy.  They have seen the safety eyewear that Boomers and Gen-X wore, and they want something different. They’re looking for flashy and lots colours.  The cosmetics and appearance of safety eyewear has had to improve dramatically over the last few years in response. The new designs include attractive, lightweight safety eyewear with an angle-adjustable ratchet temple and wire-core temples, a floating nose loop, soft temple tips, foamed frame and temples, and adjustable and removable foam pads to improve the fit factor for all wearers.  Key features include indirect venting and anti-fog coatings to reduce fogging, and an anti-reflective coating to reduce glare.

Safety sunglasses are in. The clunky look of the past is gone in favour of high-end, high-fashion sunglasses. Gen-Y and Gen Z want to look cool with things like blue-mirroring and gold-mirroring and other stylish features.

Baby Boomers and Gen-X are placing additional demands on the safety eyewear industry, too.  As employees age their needs change.   This aging workforce will leave its own mark on eye protection in the years ahead.  Going forward, more workers will require prescription safety eyewear, and many will require progressive lenses as opposed to standard single vision.  When you wear prescription glasses in a factory environment you’ll still need protection and often with lenses quite advanced compared to the past.

Another phenomenon that manufacturers must deal with is the need to fit an increasingly varied range of facial profiles, while still ensuring the product is attractive and stylish. And, while style is the trend of the day, comfort and facial diversity opportunities available through ratcheting temple arms and lens-tilt options are also important.

While the concepts of “tremendous cosmetics” and “incredible comfort” are what is now in demand, safety eyewear needs to feel good while providing optimal protection.  With all the different demands being made by employees it has never been clearer that one size no longer fits all.  We have seen dramatic improvements in eye protection and use of safety eyewear over the past forty years. Ensuring that we offer choice in design, while providing safety eyewear with the options necessary for workplace protection, is the key to ensuring wearer compliance and comfort, while reducing the risk of workplace eye injuries.

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.

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