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The Eyes Have it: Eye Protection in the Workplace

According to Prevent Blindness America, more than 2,000 people injure their eyes at work each day; about one in ten injuries requires one or more missed workdays. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) estimates that “using the correct eye protection could lessen the severity or even prevent 90% of eye injuries.” ANSI is a private, non-profit organization that creates quality and safety standards for a variety of products, including safety eyewear. OSHA has adopted the safety eyewear standards established by ANSI.

Historically speaking, the first “standards” for head/eye protection began in 1922 with the first edition of the Z2 standard by the War and Navy Department and the National Bureau of Standards. In 1960s, the eye and face protection standard was first published with the Z87 designation (Z87.1-1968). Since 1968, Z87.1 has been revised five times–in 1979, 1989, 2003, 2010 and 2015. Throughout the revisions, the purpose of the standard has stayed true–to provide minimum requirements for eye and face protective devices. This includes the selection, use and maintenance of the devices.

These glasses from Gateway Safety offer comfort and style and are independently, third-party certified by UL to meet ANSI Z87+ and CSA Z94.3. They meet the U.S. Military ballistic impact resistance requirements for eyewear (MIL PRF-32432 (GL)). Each lens option offers 99.9% UV-A, B & C protection.

All Eyes on OSHA

Occupational Safety and Health Standard (OSHA’s) Personal Protective Equipment Standard “Eye and Face Protection” general requirements state that:

1.) 1910.133: The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation;

2.) 1910.133(a)(2): The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects. Detachable side protectors (e.g., clip-on or slide-on side shields) meeting the pertinent requirements of this section are acceptable;

3.) 1910.133(a)(3): The employer shall ensure that each affected employee who wears prescription lenses while engaged in operations that involve eye hazards wears eye protection that incorporates the prescription in its design, or wears eye protection that can be worn over the prescription lenses without disturbing the proper position of the prescription lenses or the protective lenses; and

4.) 1910.133(a)(4): Eye and face PPE shall be distinctly marked to facilitate identification of the manufacturer.

General personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements are also addressed in Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.132 – Occupational Safety and Health Standards. They state:

“Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition, wherever it is necessary, by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.”

On Sept. 9, 2009, OSHA issued a Final Rule concerning 29 CFR (Part 1910 and others) that revised the personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements for eye and face protective devices (as well as head and foot protection). This Final Rule incorporated the latest versions of national consensus and industry standards.

OSHA also announced its use of “direct final rule” to ensure that when standards change, the law is automatically updated. Therefore, employers must comply with this Final Rule by using and providing for employees with eyewear that is constructed in accordance with any of the last three American National Standards (ANSI Z87.1-2003, -2010 and -2015). Although the “direct final rule” applies, the process to actually incorporate ANSI Z87.1-2010 and -2015 into the federal law might take time.

2010 and 2015

The 2010 standard focused on hazards; it is organized by the nature of the hazard-impact, optical radiation, droplet and splash, dust and fine dust, and mist. This was a dramatic shift away from product configuration requirements toward a hazard-based focus structure. This focus encouraged users to evaluate the specific hazards that they are exposed to and to select appropriate protection.

Because of this change, required product markings were changed. Users had to match the hazard that they need protection from according to the device’s marking.

SafeVision’s prescription frames are ergonomic, well-designed and extremely durable. Such eyewear alleviates issues of personal protection gear not being worn; end-users get thethe protection they need with styles they want to wear.

Products are either standard minimum-impact or high-impact protectors. In addition to the manufacturer’s monogram, Z87 marking and impact marking, manufacturers must add lens type (welding, ultraviolet [UV] filter, visible light filter, infrared [IR] filter, variable tint or special purpose) and use protection against splash/droplet, dust and fine dust markings when claims of impact rating, specific lens type and/or use are made.

The 2015 eye and face selection guide was expanded to contain:

  • Irritating mist added under chemical–liquids, acid and chemical handling, degreasing and plating, although there are currently no marking designations for eye protection to irritating mists exposure in the Z87.1-2015 standard
  • Optical radiation was expanded to include Infrared Radiation (IR); Arc Welding: Arc expanded to include process examples and welding respirator added as a possible protector; and Oxyfuel Gas Welding separated from Oxyfuel or Oxygen cutting
  • Ultraviolet Radiation (UV) added
  • Lasers added although there are currently no marking designations for eye protection to lasers in the Z87.1-2015 standard

Seeing Through Lens Types

In order to understand what is required, one must know what types of eye protection are available and how they relate to individual workers’ needs. Here is a brief overview of the types of eyewear and eye protection, plus some of the terminology used by the industry.

Lens coatings can be used for enhanced functionality. They include anti-fog coating, which is designed to help reduce fogging in cold-to-hot temperature transitions or in high-humidity environments. Scratch-resistant coating helps protect and extend the lens’ life when used in abrasive environments (to help reduce scratches). Anti-static coating reduces dust and particulate attraction to the lens. A hard coating is permanently bonded to the lens, to help extend lens life.

There are also multiple anti-UV coatings; this type of lens treatment can absorb up to/more than 99.9% of harmful ultraviolet radiation.

Color Matters

In essence, the color of the lens matters. To determine what color or tint might work best for any given application or environment, one must first understand the functionality of task-specific lenses. When it comes to workplace safety, a good rule is the “rule of opposites”—that is, choose a lens based on color opposites—i.e., blue is the opposite of yellow and red is the opposite of green. So, red lenses absorb green light and yellow lenses absorb blue UV light. Green lenses absorb red light…etc.

From clear lenses, for general indoor applications where impact protection is required, to brown lenses used in outdoor applications where sunlight and glare cause eye strain and fatigue, to amber shades that block the blue portion of the visible light spectrum, choosing the correct lens for the proper environment takes some research. Happily, many guides are available from makers of protective eyewear.

In addition to color, the shade of the shade, as it were, also has significance. Filter shades offer protection from optical radiation; this is directly related to filter lens density. One caveat is to always select the darkest shade that allows adequate task performance. So, lighter shades might be appropriate for torch soldering, while the darkest should be used by electric arc welders.

During the last 10 years or so, there have been dramatic changes to the way safety eyewear is viewed (pun intended) by both wearers and manufacturers. Several eyewear manufacturers make prescription safety eyewear with more modern frames, as well as stylish colors and patterns. (For more on eyewear designs that stay in compliance and do it with style, see this issue’s “In Perspective” column, page xx.)

Hazarding a Guess—with Precision

It’s also important to choose the proper eye protection based on hazard assessment. For example, will workers be facing flying fragments or objects; large chips, particles, sand or dirt? Such hazards might be present when doing chipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, riveting or sanding. In such cases, some possible eyewear requirements might include safety glasses with side protection, goggles with direct or indirect ventilation, a full-face shield worn over the glasses/goggles, a welding helmet, or partial-to-full-face respirator.

Furnace operations that involve pouring, casting, gas cutting, welding or hot dipping mean workers need protection from hot sparks, splashes from molten metal and/or exposure to high temperatures. Such work, again, requires specific protection. In addition to the above-mentioned eye protection, employees working in these environments might benefit from a screen face shield over safety glasses, or goggles with a reflective face shield over those safety glasses/goggles. WMH&S

Editor’s note: Many excellent sources exist for understanding and referencing eye protection guidelines. Some of those used for this article include: 29 CFR 1910.132, General Requirements; 29 CFR 1910.133, Eye and Face Protection; American National Standard Institute (ANSI)/ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015; and Prevent Blindness America.

Keeping up with the Standards

The 2015 American National Standards Institute revision focuses on product performance and harmonization with global standards; it also elaborates upon the 2010 hazard-based product performance structure. Here are some of the key changes in the 2015 rule:

  • Deleted minimum lens thickness from general requirements
  • Deleted additional impact requirements for specific protector types from impact protector requirements
  • Added automatic darkening welding filter devices to optical radiation protector requirements
  • Added angular dependence of luminous transmittance test for automatic welding filter devices
  • Added Illustrations to aid in refractive power, astigmatism and resolving power testing
  • Added examples of protector markings (acceptable and unacceptable)
  • Added minimum thickness requirements for prescription lenses
  • Added refractive power, astigmatism and resolving power tolerances and prism and prism imbalance tolerances for “readers, full-facepiece respirators and loose-fitting respirators”
  • Added “magnifiers” and “readers” to the marking requirements table
  • Added information that is to be provided with welding protectors
  • Hazard Assessment and Protector Selection expanded to include goggle ventilation and peripheral vision

The 2010 and 2015 versions contain a minimum frontal requirement and for impact-rated devices. They state that “The frame front encircling one lens and lens must cover in plain view an area of not less than 40-mm (1.57-in) in width and 33-mm (1.30 in) in height (elliptical) in front of each eye.” In addition, “Frames designed for small head sizes must cover in plain view an area of not less than 34-mm (1.34-inches) in width and 28-mm (1.10-inches) in height.

Impact-rated protectors must provide continuous lateral coverage from the vertical plane of the lenses tangential to a point not less than 10-mm (0.394-in) posterior to the corneal plane and not less than 10-mm (0.394-in) in height [or 8-mm (0.315-in) for small head sizes] above and not less than 10-mm (0.394-in) in height [or 8-mm (0.315-in) for small head sizes] below the horizontal plane.”


Eye and Face Protection Device Definitions in ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015

Accessory: Item that is added to a complete device that may or may not affect the performance of that complete device

Aftermarket component: Component that might or might not be manufactured by the complete device manufacturer and is not supplied with the original, complete device

Cover lens:  Expendable lens used to help protect another lens from surface damage and is not intended to contribute to user protection. It is not a safety plate

Faceshield: Protector commonly intended to shield the wearer’s face, or portions thereof from certain hazards, as indicated by the face shield’s markings

Full facepiece respirator: Tight-fitting respirator that covers nose, mouth and eyes from approximately the hairline to below the chin

Goggles: Protectors intended to fit the face, surrounding the eyes in order to help shield them from certain hazards, depending upon goggle type. Available in non-vented or with direct or indirect vents

Hand shield: Hand-held welding helmet

Impact resistance: Ability of safety eyewear to withstand impact when tested according to ANSI requirements

Infrared radiation: Electromagnetic energy with wavelengths from 780-2,000 nanometers (nm)

Loose-fitting respirator: Respiratory inlet covering that is designed to form a partial seal with the face, or that completely covers the head and neck and may cover portions of the shoulder

Luminous transmittance: The fraction of light (380-80nm) passing through a medium

Magnifier: Mass-produced lens (non-prescription) that incorporates plus refractive power throughout the entirety of the lens. This includes spectacle lenses but does not include magnifiers inserted into welding devices, which are considered accessories

Nanometer (nm): Unit of measurement of wavelength equal to one billionth of a meter (10-9 meter)

Optical radiation: The part of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths between 200-2,000 nm

Protector: Complete device meeting, at a minimum, the requirements of Section 5 of ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015

Reader: Mass-produced, non-prescriptive spectacle that incorporates plus refractive power in a portion of the lens

Sideshield: Component of a spectacle that provides lateral protection

Spectacle: A protector intended to shield the wearer’s eyes from certain hazards, depending on the spectacle type

Ultraviolet radiation: Electromagnetic energy with wavelengths from 200-380 nm

Welding face shield: Face shield intended to provide optical radiation protection for limited welding applications

Welding goggle: Goggles intended to provide optical radiation protection for limited welding applications

Welding helmet: Face-shield-type device intended to provide protection specifically to the eyes and against optical radiation and weld splatter

Welding respirator: Respirator intended to provide optical radiation protection for welding operations

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