Many workers who wear prescription glasses in hazardous workplaces believe that their regular glasses are sufficient to keep them safe, but they are absolutely incorrect. Indeed, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an explicit requirement that “employees who wear prescription (Rx) lenses or contacts use personal protective equipment (PPE) that incorporates the prescription or use eye protection that can be worn over prescription lenses.” The reason for this regulation is that, according to the CDC, “2,000 U.S. workers sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment each day” — a number which would be far higher were it not for the government safety mandate.
Unfortunately, most of this incredible number of daily workplace accidents were actually preventable. Reportedly around 3/5 of accidents occur because workers were not wearing any safety glasses at all, with most of the others the result of wearing improper or ill-fitting safety glasses.
When purchasing your next pair of safety glasses, consider these points to be sure you are wearing what is appropriate for your needs:
If you are working with chemicals, you should of course wear goggles, and if you are working with hazardous radiation (e.g. welding), you should of course wear specialized eye-wear. However, for most work sites on which workers will commonly come into contact with particles, flying objects, or dust, OSHA requires the use of approved safety glasses with side protection (also known as “side shields” or “wrap around” glasses).
While OSHA makes clear that regular safety glasses can be worn over contact lenses or glasses, anyone who wears prescription glasses can tell you how uncomfortable and clumsy it feels to be wearing two pairs at the same time. Over-wear can be a good option for contact lens users, but for those who wear glasses, prescription safety glasses are a far better option. Too often do workers sacrifice their eye protection in favor of comfort, when the better option of prescription is available.
Though safety glasses often look like regular glasses, they have actually been constructed with special materials that will not shatter or splinter under impact. This is important as such shattering can result in damage to the eyes after impact, in addition to any harm caused by the debris itself. If you are looking for a new pair of safety glasses, look for those approved by the American National Standards Institute: they will have a Z87 mark on the frame. While such glasses are commonly made of glass, plastic, polycarbonate and Trivex, the American Optometric Association recommends polycarbonate as it is the strongest of the four materials.
When purchasing glasses you must make sure they fit properly. If your new pair does not have a snug fit to your bone structure, openings may be too wide and any safety they are meant to provide might be undone by an errant piece of debris which makes it through the gaps. Do not be afraid to keep searching until you find a pair that fits you just right.
Workplace safety is simply too important to ignore, as an injury resulting from a safety infraction has high costs. 100 workers a day will incur an eye injury which puts them out of work for at least a day, while many others may not be able to return to work at all. Vision loss is a serious and often career-ending disability. Make sure that it does not happen to you by always wearing the proper personal eye-protection equipment.
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