When a golfer selects his clubs, does he fill his bag with only putters? Does a maintenance worker head to a job with only hammers? Of course not; these individuals face a variety of challenges in a variety of environments, so they come prepared with a wide range of tools. Using only one piece of equipment to tackle various tasks is undoubtedly ineffective.

Yet, the selection of safety eyewear is often treated this way: one style for everyone. In an effort to reduce the cost and complexity of supplying personal protective equipment, some companies simply purchase a large volume of one type of eyewear and distribute it to every employee, perhaps missing whether it is designed to protect individuals from the specific hazards they confront on the job.

Safety officers who want to keep injuries down and costs low should beware of this practice. They know better than anyone that worker safety is vital to every company’s success, and that something as important as PPE deserves a more comprehensive selection method. Safety officers should employ a portfolio approach when selecting eyewear; that is, they should evaluate their PPE portfolio as a whole, taking into account all of the hazards each worker faces, and purchase a spectrum of PPE to ensure that each worker has the appropriate equipment for his or her job.

Meeting essential standards

Most companies require a range of safety eyewear, and every piece should meet certain safety standards. First and foremost, all safety eyewear should comply with the American National Standards Institute’s ANSI Z87.1 standard for impact protection regardless of its cost or how durable it may otherwise appear. This is an OSHA requirement.

Unfortunately, some low-cost eyewear may fail to meet this standard. Although it may be marketed as “impact resistant,” any eyewear that lacks ANSI Z87.1 performance and markings can deliver inferior protection against impact and is simply not worth the risk or investment. Another less obvious but equally important shortcoming of low-quality eyewear is poor optical clarity. This can lead to on-the-job mistakes, chronic complaints caused by constant eye strain, and possible injuries. Low-cost eyewear also tends to lack even basic comfort features. When eyewear is uncomfortable or ill-fitting, employees are less likely to wear it and are therefore more vulnerable to injury. Finally, low quality lenses are easily damaged. Scratches and pits compromise the entire lens, requiring frequent replacement of the eyewear to combat reduced visual clarity.

Identifying hazards

Now the question becomes, “How do I determine who needs what?” Providing each worker with the appropriate level and type of eye protection is the foundation of the portfolio approach, and a physical walkthrough to identify hazards is vital to any audit of a safety program. If different types of work take place within one environment, the same space may require a variety of eyewear. For example, on a single factory floor, those working closely with dangerous machines may need heavy-duty goggles, while inspectors or guests may need only lighter duty spectacles known as plano eyewear.

Even workers with the same job description may face different hazards based on their location within the workspace. Depending on the complexity and variety of your work environment, the walkthrough process can require time and effort, but the main goal is clear: to assess the hazards faced by each employee so you can provide them with the PPE they need to do their work safely.

Impact, dust and chemical splash

The most obvious concern when identifying hazards is impact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 70 percent of workplace injuries are caused by flying or falling particles striking the eye. On your walkthrough, look and listen for sparks, chips or particulate that could present an impact hazard, as well as stationary objects that employees could encounter. Safety directors looking for assurance beyond the ANSI Z87.1 standard for impact protection should consider eyewear that passes the ballistic impact requirements of the military eyewear standard, Mil V0. Eyewear that passes the Mil V0 ballistic test can withstand impact energies seven times higher than that required by ANSI testing.

Plano eyewear — usually augmented with sideshields, or with a wraparound design to increase angular impact protection — will often suffice, but some workers may require additional coverage and the 360-degree impact protection of goggles. In impact-heavy environments, eyewear with anti-scratch coatings will resist minor damage and require less frequent replacement.

Goggles, which fit flush on the face, are ideal for workers in high-dust environments and for those who face exposure to hazardous chemicals. During your walkthrough, be on the lookout for containers of chemicals that could splash on an employee, and for high levels of dust or particulate in the air; if either is present, goggles that seal tightly to the face are a must. Low quality goggles can be cumbersome, making employees reluctant to wear them, so finding goggles with highly adjustable fit and comfort features are important in supporting compliance.

Glare and fogging

Not all hazards are as readily visible as sparks, dust and chemicals. Chances are a portion of your PPE portfolio will need to provide protection against less obvious hazards such as radiation and fogging.

Glare hazards are among the most commonly overlooked in safety audits. Outdoor glare, generated by either direct sunlight or reflection from open water, snow and ice, can be reduced with mirrored or darkly tinted eyewear, preferably in wraparound style frames designed to provide angular coverage. Indoor glare, often caused by specialized lighting, can be counteracted with specialized tints: yellow or sodium vapor light can be cut by a light blue lens filter, while pink-colored lenses can solve glare problems involving fluorescent or halogen lighting. Tasks such as welding or work with special light sources or furnaces will call for lens filters that block hazardous ultraviolet and infrared radiation which are both invisible to the eye.

Finally, always be aware of the temperature and humidity conditions of each work environment, the transitions each employee must make between different environments, and the fogging that can result. Very hot or humid environments or sudden changes in conditions — between refrigerated storage and a temperate work floor, for example, or between a heated warehouse and a frigid loading dock — can cause tiny droplets of water to condense on the lenses of eye protection and therefore obscure vision. A worker with fogged goggles has two options, neither of them very appealing to a safety manager: he can continue working with limited visibility and risk causing an accident, or he can remove his eye protection in a dangerous environment and open himself up to injury. To minimize this situation, special lens coatings have been developed that maintain lens clarity and keep eye protection where it belongs, on the employee’s face.

The right tool for the job

The portfolio approach is not necessarily the lowest cost or the easiest method of supplying PPE. It requires more attention and effort on the part of the safety officer, and a greater investment of time and money on the part of upper management. It can be very tempting to simply purchase a large volume of the same low-cost product and consider it “good enough.” But as experience shows, this approach leads to more injuries and lower productivity.

The winning strategy is a sophisticated approach that accounts for the company’s entire range of environments and potential job hazards. When safety eyewear is purchased as a coordinated portfolio, every employee will have the protection he or she needs to be safe, and the company will meet its PPE obligations while avoiding lost time due to worker injury. That’s clearly a win-win situation and a great way to establish and promote a company-wide culture of safety.