When you are issued a pair of safety spectacles or a welding helmet, have you ever noticed a certification label on the packaging and/or on the product itself and wondered what it really means?

There are lots of expressions used to capture your attention: "Safety Inspected," "Stamp of Approval," "Quality Checked," "Tested and True." The list is endless. What does it all mean, and how do you really know if the product will do what it is supposed to do - that is, protect you from a potential hazard while you are working? We all want to buy a quality product, particularly where personal safety is concerned.

Distinctly marked

In the United States, eye and face protection is required by OSHA where there is a reasonable possibility of preventing an injury to the eyes or face from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, potentially injurious light radiation or a combination of these. Every protector shall be distinctly marked to facilitate identification of the manufacturer. Where products are certified by a third-party, you will also see the certification mark of that organization.

Many organizations and government agencies require that all personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased must be certified by an independent third-party. Additionally, since OSHA requires that protective eye and face devices purchased after July 5, 1994, must comply with ANSI Z87.1-1989, American National Standard Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection, it is important to ensure the products are certified to that ANSI standard.

Minimum requirements

In addition to compliance with the ANSI Z 87.1 standard, according to OSHA, protectors must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Provide adequate protection against the particular hazards for which they are designed;
  • Be reasonably comfortable when worn under the designated conditions;
  • Fit snugly without interfering with the movements or vision of the wearer;
  • Be durable;
  • Be capable of being disinfected;
  • Be easily cleanable; and
  • Be kept clean and in good repair.

Each affected employee shall use equipment with filter lenses that have a shade number appropriate for the work being performed for protection from injurious light radiation. OSHA provides a table on its Web site at www.osha.gov that lists the appropriate shade numbers for various work operations.

Additionally, persons using corrective spectacles and those who are required by OSHA to wear eye protection must wear face shields, goggles or spectacles of one of the following types:

  • Spectacles with protective lenses providing optical correction;
  • Goggles worn over corrective spectacles without disturbing the adjustment of the spectacles; or
  • Goggles that incorporate corrective lenses mounted behind the protective lenses. When limitations or precautions for a particular protective device are stated by the manufacturer, they should be provided to the user and strictly observed.

Confidence is key

To help in meeting the OSHA requirements, employers need to consider training as well as purchasing quality products. A user of safety eyewear simply needs to look for the SEI mark, to obtain the confidence needed in the product.

In the U.S., the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredits third-party certification organizations. As a service to the public, ANSI publishes a list of those accredited organizations and their approved scope on the ANSI Web site at www.ansi.org.

Confidence is the key in allowing an employee to safely do their job. An employer must make the "right buy" in safety equipment to ensure that the product will protect as it claims. Product certification helps safety directors and purchasing professionals in the area of safety and protective products. That is why it is important for you as a safety director or purchaser to be familiar with the various manufacturers of eye and face protectors and which manufacturer has taken the extra steps to have an independent third-party organization verify that its product does conform to the ANSI Z87.1 standard.

Product certification

So, what does product certification mean to someone who wears a safety spectacle or welding helmet, and who performs such a service? Certification bodies are organizations that verify that a product conforms to a specification or standard through product testing and quality assurance controls. They are unbiased organizations that have formal systems in place that include examining a product sample, initial and annual testing, making periodic follow-up visits to the manufacturing facility and auditing the facility's quality system.

An example of an accredited certification body is the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI), a non-profit organization that has been certifying safety and protective equipment sold in the U.S. and throughout the world for more than 22 years. When the SEI mark appears on a safety spectacle, goggles, welding helmet or face shield, you will know that the product not only conforms to the ANSI Z87.1 standard, but that the manufacturer operates in such a manner as to consistently produce quality products.

The comprehensive ANSI Z87.1 standard sets minimum performance criteria for markings and tests such as impact resistance, penetration resistance, ignition and flammability resistance, lens thickness, prismatic deviation, haze, luminous transmittance, corrosion, and so on.

When a product is certified by SEI to the ANSI Z 87.1 standard, a two-pronged approach is used. SEI's third-party certification program allows the manufacturer to use the SEI mark only when:

  • 1) The product models have successfully passed performance tests at SEI's test laboratory, COLTS Laboratories, and meet the stated requirements of ANSI Z87.1-1989.

  • 2) The quality assurance auditor completes an extensive audit of the manufacturer's operations and determines that the manufacturer complies with SEI's quality assurance requirements.

Assuring quality

The quality assurance audit, conducted "on location" at the manufacturer's facility, is a unique and important facet of the SEI certification process. Certification is not based on a one-time test; it is comprehensive and ongoing. SEI wants to ensure that products coming off the assembly line are made to the same exacting specifications as the product models tested at the independent laboratory.

After the initial audit, the SEI auditor will conduct audits at least annually and will randomly select products for annual compliance testing. If products not meeting the standard are found, SEI can require a recall. This protects the buyer of SEI-certified eye and face protectors.

Part of the value in relying on third-party certification is seen in the fact that manufacturers' operations usually include proprietary information normally protected closely from outsiders. "Opening the doors" requires serious consideration by the manufacturer and is a necessary check and balance. Voluntary participation in a third-party certification program demonstrates a manufacturer's integrity and responsibility by showing a willingness to provide auditors the access to their operations. The SEI program provides independent confirmation of a manufacturer's in-house testing and quality assurance programs.

Also, all products displaying the SEI mark are required to be re-certified annually. This means that all products must be re-tested annually, and the manufacturer must continue to meet all SEI quality assurance requirements during the annual follow-up audits.

Balanced perspective

To assure objectivity in developing policies and procedures, SEI requires a balanced perspective through a seven-member Board of Directors comprised of representatives from organized labor, the fire service, the insurance industry, safety equipment user organizations, and a manufacturer of safety equipment. These representatives use or recommend the products purchased by safety professionals to protect employees. The work these representatives do in helping protect workers and for SEI serves an important purpose.

Over the years, many types and styles of eye and face protective equipment have been developed to meet the demands for protection against a variety of hazards. A listing of SEI-certified eye and face protection manufacturers and models may be found at the SEI Web site in the Certified Product list at www.SEInet.org.

Protecting your employees is not a simple task. However, with the resources available through manufacturers, professional associations and organizations such as ANSI, OSHA and SEI, a reduction in the possibility of eye injuries can be achieved.

SIDEBAR: Impact Protection

The majority of eye impact injuries result from flying or falling objects, or sparks striking the eye, according to OSHA. Most of these objects are smaller than a pinhead and can cause injuries such as punctures, abrasions and contusions.

While working in a hazardous area where the worker is exposed to flying objects, fragments and particles, primary protective devices such as safety spectacles with side shields or goggles must be worn. Secondary protective devices such as face shields are required in conjunction with primary protective devices during severe exposure to impact hazards.

PPE devices for eye impact hazards include:

Spectacles - Safety spectacles with side shields are primary protectors intended to shield the eyes from a variety of impact hazards. The lenses of safety spectacles are designed to resist moderate impact from flying objects and particles, while the frames must fit comfortably and correctly to provide the necessary protection.

Goggles - Goggles are primary protective devices intended to fit the face to protect against impact hazards such as flying and airborne particles. Safety goggle lenses are designed and tested to resist moderate impact. Safety goggle frames must be properly fitted to the worker's face to form a protective seal around the eyes.

Face Shields - These secondary protective devices protect the entire face against exposure to impact hazards. When worn alone, however, face shields do not protect employees from impact hazards. Use face shields in combination with safety spectacles or goggles for additional protection beyond that offered by spectacles or goggles alone.