By Glyn Jones
The History of Safety Eyewear
The first safety eyewear was developed in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1909, the Julius King Optical Company in the United States developed the first safety goggle in collaboration with American Optical. They were called SANIGLAS. A few years later, in 1914, American Optical worked with industry experts to provide prescription lenses for the safety goggles of workers with imperfect vision. By 1935, forge and furnace workers were using goggles to protect their eyes from sparks, scale, and emitted light. Although functional, this first-generation safety eyewear was bulky, heavy, and quite unfashionable.
By 1979, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and later the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), developed and refined performance standards for safety eyewear to include high-speed and high-impact testing. Most safety eyewear at this time was still rather bulky, with heavier glass or plastic lenses that provided good protection. With impact performance standards in place, safety eyewear started to become more commonly used as a control strategy for protecting workers’ eyes on the job.
Today’s Safety Eyewear – How Standards Have Changed
Modern safety eyewear is flexible and can be integrated with other safety gear, such as welding helmets and hard hats. Numerous manufacturers of such equipment continue to invent new products that improve the overall effectiveness of vision protection for workers. The advances include improvements in design, style, improved materials, and lens technology. Let’s look at the major changes and the resulting improvements made in safety eyewear.
The designs today focus on function and ergonomics, including fit and comfort. Unlike the safety eyewear of yesteryear, today’s frames are designed to fit securely with adjustable side arms, nose pads, and temple tips. These designs offer improved performance and are better at resisting flying particles and blown dust in windy conditions.
Today’s safety glasses are also available with a foam-lined gasket to help limit eye exposure to debris while providing added comfort and cushioning. This also helps to reduce self-inflicted eye injuries that may occur when the worker rubs his or her eye due to debris falling into it, possibly resulting in a scratched cornea.
Historically, safety eyewear was all about function with little attention being paid to style. Today there are many stylish options, including wrap-around frames with sporty designs that are functional, and that workers enjoy wearing.
Safety eyewear today is made of a range of durable, lightweight, impact-resistant, and scratch-resistant materials such as polycarbonate, Hi-Vex (thiourethane), Tri-Vex (polyurethane), and plastic (CR39). While polycarbonate lenses have become the standard for safety eyewear, these other materials are also available and in some cases are a better choice. Polyurethane lenses (Hi-Vex and Tri-Vex), for example, have a very high level of light transmittance, resulting in brightness, clarity, and crispness. They also have a higher tensile strength than polycarbonate lenses, allowing for a lighter lens while ensuring impact protection. Both options provide a good lightweight choice for safety eyewear lenses.
Lens technology –
Safety eyewear today offers a range of technological improvements including anti-glare, anti-fog, and UV protection, making them a great choice for a wide variety of work environments. These coatings are a great advancement. Anti-fog coating causes moisture droplets to flatten out and form a thin film, reducing the scattering of light and allowing workers to see more clearly. Anti-fog coatings are designed for working in hot and humid conditions, on physically demanding tasks, and in climate-controlled areas. New advancements in design technology have improved safety eyewear performance by resisting fogging longer than traditional anti-fog coatings after washing multiple times—up to 25 washings. These coatings can have the additional benefit of creating lenses that are more scratch-resistant than uncoated lenses. Many manufacturers also offer polarized lenses or lenses with a wide variety of shades for different lighting conditions. For example, safety glasses are available with a gray-tinted and polarized lens to help reduce glare and reflections, respectively, as well as photochromic lenses that automatically adjust to UV rays from sunlight.
Historically employees who needed prescription eyewear either had to choose between wearing their regular glasses which allowed them to see clearly, or safety eyewear which was often uncomfortable and ill-fitting but rated to protect against impact from flying objects. Today, safety eyewear manufacturers offer a wide range of well-designed, stylish, safety eyewear that meets CSA standards for performance and are available with the wearer’s prescription lenses. Most are also available with built-in “reading lenses” at the bottom of the lens for close-up work.
Eye protection is an important part of workplace personal protective equipment. It is necessary to safeguard workers’ eyes and allow for a clear field of vision in highly varied work settings. Wearing safety eyewear whenever tasks that create eye hazards are being completed is paramount. Workers need to be trained in the use and care including the need for regular cleaning and inspections, and employers have a responsibility to ensure their safety eyewear program meets safety standards and best practices. We’ve come a long way since the first safety goggles in the early 1900s. Thanks to the many advances, today’s safety eyewear is functional, protective, and so lightweight and comfortable that, once it’s on, often workers forget they are wearing it.