While the expense of new safety eyewear is a cost consideration, it is important employees be warned against trying to use damaged safety eyewear or try to repair damaged safety eyewear. The resourceful side of each of us wants to ensure efficiency and cut costs, but when it comes to safety eyewear cost cutting can be a false economy. Eye injuries cost Canadian employers millions of dollars in lost-time and compensation costs. Beyond eye injuries resulting in untold pain and suffering, many eye injuries can result in permanent disability.
In Canada, approved safety eyewear must meet regulatory compliance requirements established by each individual province. Standards may include CSA and/or ANSI and in every case approved safety eyewear has gone through rigorous testing and has had to pass a series of tests such as an impact resistance test for the frames and lenses. You will know the safety glasses have passed these tests because the CSA logo, and other relevant markings, will be visible on the lens and frame or body of the safety eyewear.
Most employers avoid the pitfall of having employees use broken or damaged safety eyewear by providing formal education and training that ensures proper inspection of safety eyewear before each use. Many employers also simply replace safety eyewear on a regular basis to reduce the likelihood of employees using damaged or broken safety eyewear. While there is not complete agreement on how long safety eyewear should last, some safety professionals suggest replacing the basic safety eyewear every year, while many manufacturers report their goggles and safety glasses will last up to three years. The variability is really related to the range of work environments, and here are some of the issues to consider:
- In high-dust environments containing metal grinding sparks, dirt, sawdust, or other airborne particulates, safety eyewear can gradually scratch over time creating a type of haze that impairs visibility. When viewing the world through scratched lenses the brain can easily filter out a few scratch marks, but there is a point where the optical quality becomes very poor when the lenses get scuffed with too many scratches. While the safety eyewear may not be entirely compromised from their purpose of protecting eyes from flying debris, reduced visibility can create a different safety concern. Using the glasses will be like wearing dirty glasses except that the “dirt” is permanent. If you use them in a dark environment, glare will be a significant problem because the scratches act to scatter incoming light. The poor vision caused by this problem can present a significant safety issue.
- A crack on the lens, regardless of how small, is a serious safety issue and likely means the lens has lost much of its impact resistance. A cracked lens means it has been weakened, which means it may not hold up to the rock flung by your lawn mower, or the flying fragment from the blade of a power saw. The same is true of a cracked frame. In order for the frame to hold the lens in place, the frame must remain intact. Once the lens or frame material has a crack, stress from any impact will increase the size of the crack. At some point, the lens or frame will simply break apart.
- Even if the safety eyewear appears to be in good condition everything degrades with time, especially plastics. Polycarbonate, which is a common safety eyewear lens material, will degrade over time as a result of UV exposure. Chemicals in the atmosphere, even at low concentrations can also cause degradation safety eyewear lenses and the fame. The impact of chemical exposure may also reduce the optical clarity and impact resistance over time. Some will degrade more quickly than others depending on special manufacturing processes used for some makes. UV resistant can be built in, but over time even the most resistant lenses break down. The same applies to the frame of the safety eyewear if it is plastic.
It is important to inspect your safety eyewear and check for damage and degradation regularly – before each shift at minimum. Any pitted, scratched, broken, bent, or ill-fitting safety eyewear should be replaced. If there are damaged parts, replace only with the same manufacturer-issued parts to ensure the same safety rating and compatibility. When in doubt employees should be encouraged to speak to their supervisor and replace the safety eyewear when needed.
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with more than 30 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.