A well-developed eye safety program ensures employees have the proper eye safety education in addition to the correct safety eyewear. This education needs to help employees understand why it’s important to wear safety eyewear and, more importantly, when they need to wear safety eyewear.

The selection of appropriate safety eyewear includes three steps:

  1. assessing the hazards in the workplace to determine the type of protection required,
  2. reviewing available CSA-approved safety eyewear appropriate for the hazards, and
  3. finding the right safety eyewear based on a combination of protection, comfort, price, and, surprisingly, aesthetics.

Let’s look at each of the steps.

Assessing the Hazards

Working in hazardous environments creates a risk of getting dust, dirt, flying debris, and other projectiles in your eyes. There are many jobs that require tasks such as cutting, hammering, and crushing, and each can generate particulates and the potential of flying objects. Other work environments that have the potential for eye injuries include those with splashing liquids, molten metal and fume, UV, Visible and IR radiation, as well as extremely bright light.

The first step is to complete an assessment of the workplace and the tasks that may create an eye injury hazard. A properly completed hazard assessment will help to identify the protection characteristic of the required safety eyewear. Observing the work in progress allows you to make this assessment and these job observations will be useful when planning a control strategy. Safety eyewear with various features exist to protect against many types of hazards, so take the time to understand the best choice for the workplace and hazards.

Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Approved Safety Eyewear

Once the workplace hazards have been assessed, a review of available CSA approved safety eyewear needs to be completed. All CSA approved safety eyewear is subject to rigorous testing to confirm that it performs to established standards. CSA Z94.3 Eye and Face Protectors applies to eye and face protectors used in all occupational settings where hazards to the eyes or face may exist. CSA Z94.3.1 Selection, Use and Care of Protective Eyewear provides further guidance. Protective eyewear that has been certified by CSA as meeting its standards will bear the CSA mark on the frame or temple of the eyewear.

Finding the Right Safety Eyewear

Selection of CSA approved safety eyewear needs to consider protection, comfort, price, and aesthetics. It needs to perform and protect for specific hazardous conditions. There are a range of coatings, tints, and lens types available to meet the protection and comfort requirements of any specific work environment. The safety eyewear selected needs to be able to perform under often harsh conditions. Employee compliance with safety eyewear use is highest when the safety eyewear is comfortable across the range of temperature, humidity and work activities being completed. The peripheral vision also needs to be clear and undistorted. If employees are wearing prescription safety eyewear it’s important the prescription is correct. An employee survey could be completed to confirm if employees find the safety eyewear comfortable or you could simply ask them. You can also find out about wearer comfort by watching employees while they work. Are they wearing the safety eyewear consistently? How often do they need to make adjustments to the glasses? Are they having to take off the safety eyewear for some parts of the job or task? All of these are signs that the safety eyewear is not comfortable.

Price isn’t just about the initial purchase. The cost of safety eyewear has to be considered over the service life of the safety eyewear. In addition to the initial purchase price, you have to know how long the glasses will last so that the annualized costs can be determined. If the safety eyewear is easily broken or scratched it will need to be replaced. If you buy cheap you will likely have to buy often. It is the responsibility of the person buying the safety eyewear to ensure that the quality objectives of the personal protective equipment program are being met. Poor lens clarity and distortions in the periphery of the lens is another feature of the cheapest safety eyewear. Fogging may be a big issue with the cheapest lenses because they do not have the benefit of the best and latest anti-fogging technologies. All of these problems lead to increased eye fatigue for the wearer. Be cautious of price point safety eyewear. It’s likely you will end up spending more in the long-term.

Although it may not seem important, aesthetics matter. If you talk to your employees they will tell you it's a matter of some concern for most workers who are required to wear safety glasses. For better or worse, safety eyewear has morphed from a simple way to provide eye protection to a full-fledged fashion accessory. These days manufacturers are well aware of this issue and offer a full range of stylish, fashionable, high performance safety eyewear.

There are so many safety eyewear options available. Making the right choice might seem overwhelming, but the Eyesafe program can help. By consulting an Eyesafe optometrist, employees can receive professional advice and through a routine eye exam, receive a much broader insight into the health or their eyes, eye safety, and their general health.

There is a comfort level in knowing employees are receiving the care they need and that the proper safety eyewear is selected for every job.

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.