Why does my safety eyewear hurt to wear?

April 25, 2018

More than 700 Canadian workers per day sustain eye injuries1 on the job resulting in lost time and/or temporary or permanent vision loss. Since a majority of these injuries are preventable, let’s look at one of the reasons workers are not wearing safety eyewear.  Very simply, it can hurt to wear.  Complaints include that wearing safety glasses causes headaches, eye strain, soreness on the bridge of the nose, and pain around the ears.  We know that employees that experience discomfort are less likely to wear their safety eyewear all the time and this non-compliance creates a risk of eye injury and loss.  So why does safety eyewear cause these issues and how can we prevent it or otherwise solve the problem?

For starters safety eyewear is not one-size-fits-all. Head, face and nose shapes are different, and so finding properly fitting eyewear is crucial to “wear-ability.”  Wear-ability is a convenient term that describes the overall comfort and function of safety eyewear.  High wear-ability means the safety eyewear fits, provides the necessary protection, the lens prescription is correct, and it is comfortable to wear so compliance of use is high and workers are protected.

Wear-ability is impacted by many factors.  The three most common causes of discomfort are related to the fit factor, equipment care, and employee use.

Fit Factor: Safety eyewear needs to be worn securely on the face so that it stays put as a worker moves around doing day-to-day activities, but not so tight that it pinches the nose or the sides of the head. Poor adjustment can lead to headaches, because the safety eyewear can impact the blood circulation behind your ears.  No two faces are the same, which is why Eyesafe offers many different styles of prescription safety eyewear that is fitted by professionals.

One of the most frequently asked questions Eyesafe receives is: Why do my safety glasses not feel the same as my dress glasses?  This is because CSA/ANSI mandates a minimum lens thickness to provide the necessary protection.  Also, the frame is sturdier and heavier.

Equipment Care:  As with all personal protective equipment, care and maintenance are key aspects of optimizing performance. Safety eyewear needs to be kept clean. Care of the lenses is required to prevent scratching and scuffing.  A dirty and damaged lens can lead to reduced visual acuity and eye strain. Bent or broken frames can result in a poor fit and uneven or uncomfortable pressure on the nose or sides of the head, and will not provide the necessary protection. Safety eyewear needs to be regularly cleaned and properly stored when not in use to protect it from damage.

Employee Use: Safety eyewear needs to be worn as designed if it is to fit comfortably and if it is to perform its intended function.  Allowing safety eyewear to be worn pushed up to the forehead or half sliding down the nose can create uncomfortable pressure that results in pain.  Employees need to be trained on proper safety eyewear use.  A poor fit factor may lead to employees deciding to wear the safety eyewear improperly leading to discomfort.  Take time with employees to educate them on safety eyewear selection, use, and care.  Train employees to wear safety eyewear properly.  Review employee use of safety eyewear in the field, and reinforce proper use and provide coaching for employees not following best practices.

In addition, to the three most common causes of discomfort there are a few other aspects of safety eyewear that may impact wear-ability.  These are related to use of prescription and coloured lenses, use of low cost safety eyewear products, and infrequent use.  Let’s look at these four additional issues.

Employees wearing prescription safety eyewear may find that a wrong prescription can result in eye fatigue, headaches, and poor vision. Employees who experience ongoing or gradual changes in their prescription will notice this the most.  Encouraging employees get a regular eye exam can reduce this issue by ensuring the prescription of their safety eyewear is kept up to date, and as part of the exam the doctor of optometry will also look for early signs of serious medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Safety eyewear lenses come in a full range of colours.  Some manufacturers offer more than 25 colours and shades of safety eyewear lenses.  Having the wrong lens colour or shade for the work conditions can cause eye strain or fatigue.  Glare and the overall lighting levels can also be exacerbated by having the wrong lens colour or shade in your safety eye wear.

Low-cost or budget safety eyewear may be adequate for very infrequent use, however low-cost options have fewer features designed to improve comfort.  If your employees are required to wear safety eyewear every day and all day, a quality product will improve wearer fit and comfort.  The proper investment of time and money is required to select the range of styles and brands to allow all employees to get the right fit that will increase wearer comfortability over the long term.

Inconsistent use of safety eyewear may also reduce comfort.  Wearing any personal protective equipment takes some getting used to and employees who don’t regularly wear safety eyewear may experience mild discomfort at first.  The solution to this may be to find a different style or brand of safety eyewear with a more “flexible fit” or to get employees to wear safety eyewear more frequently to become better acclimated to its use.

Safety eyewear is an important part of many employees’ everyday workwear.  We know that employees that are properly fitted and trained to properly wear safety eyewear get the most comfortable fit and employers experience the greatest use compliance.  Consistent use of safety eyewear when the hazard dictates is the best protection against eye injury at work.   With time and persistence, all employees can wear safety eyewear comfortably and in compliance with work demands.

1 Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 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.

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