Sight for sore eyes: safety eyewear

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Safety eyewear is a basic requirement in many roles and tasks in the workplace and it is there to protect the eyes and eyesight from foreign objects, such as chemical or metal splash, dust, projectiles, gas, vapour and radiation. While safety eyewear is essentially just a barrier to such hazards, it can also be so much more.

The vast majority of employees are entitled to company-funded eyecare. This may be because they use a VDU screen or require prescription safety eyewear. While providing eyecare is obligatory in these cases, there is so much more both the employee and their employer can receive from the process than a simple prescription for glasses.

Communicating the wider health benefits of eyecare is likely to help encourage employees to take up their entitlement but also to make the provision itself a more highly valued benefit. There are also obvious advantages to the employee and employer alike, in the early detection of illnesses such as diabetes and heart conditions.

Detection and monitoring of medical conditions 
An eye examination does not simply check visual ability. It is not hard to appreciate that an eye examination can help with the detection of various eye conditions, like cataract, glaucoma, and detached retina. What is less commonly understood, however, is that the same simple eye examination can also assist with the detection and monitoring of systemic conditions like diabetes, raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and thyroid problems. The list is long and varied.

Prescription safety glasses
There are no finite statistics to demonstrate how many people in the UK require glasses but many are likely to need glasses or contact lenses by the age of 45, due to age-related long-sightedness (presbyopia). Add to these all those employees under the age of 45 who also wear glasses and the chances are that an employer will be providing non-prescription safety eyewear for a few people.

Technically, it is possible for wearers of spectacles to use over-goggles as safety eyewear. These are not, however, suitable for long-term or regular use as they offer less comfort than prescription safety glasses. The obvious physical discomfort of wearing two sets of eyewear is one issue but the light refraction caused by two sets of lenses also makes this a generally unacceptable solution.

Prescription safety glasses provide increased robustness and are suitable for low-energy impact situations, as recognised in EN166F, which are the European standards and markings for eye and face protection. This is the level required to resist a 6mm, 0.86g ball, travelling at 45 metres per second. Once medium energy impact is required, denoted as EN166B, or if there is need for protection against corrosive materials, electrical arcs or welding materials, then prescription glasses will not suffice and goggle or visors must be used. Visors or face shields must be sourced for high-energy impacts, as defined in EN166A.

Compulsion and choice
While the regulations regarding the provision of safety frames are firmly set, there are still choices available to employers and their employees. Frames can be either metal or plastic and should be chosen to provide the best level of comfort for the individual, taking into account flexibility and weight. There may, however, be industry-specific requirements, which will limit the choices. For example, metal frames are unsuitable for food preparation environments.

Styling of safety eyewear is of course limited by its functionality, but it is still possible to choose between male, female and unisex styles, in a variety of colour and finishes. The development of this new range has been largely due to the premise that if employees like the look and feel of their safety eyewear, they are more likely to actually wear it.

Provision of lens options
The HSE’s Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 do not specifically state whether the employer is responsible for providing bifocal or varifocal lenses for prescription safety eyewear. It makes sense, however, to provide the individual with the lens type that they most commonly wear. Safety glasses should not be seen by the employee as an opportunity to experiment with varifocals; equally, it would be irresponsible of an employer to only fund the provision of single vision glasses for an employee who wears multi-focal lenses in day-to-day life.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is not obligatory for an employer to provide an eye examination prior to the selection and provision of safety eyewear. However, besides the strong health arguments for offering a full eye examination, there is also the financial sense of making sure that the wearer’s prescription is up to date, to avoid shortening the life of the glasses.

Making eye protection personal
Personal protective equipment should be just that – personal. The basic requirement is to provide impact-resistant eyewear but the possibilities for improving health and wellbeing go a great deal further. Providing suitable personal protective equipment is vital for safety as well. For instance, research undertaken by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare earlier this year revealed that a staggering 78% of employers worry that staff remove safety eyewear if it is not comfortable.

They key to solving this issue is to allow as much choice as possible in the selection of eyewear and also to ensure that individual fitting is undertaken. While it is possible to purchase safety eyewear from a catalogue, there is no substitute for actually feeling the quality and weight of the glasses, trying different styles for comfort and having the eyewear professionally fitted.

Value for money
When it comes to safety eyewear, a little extra really does go a long way, with benefits for the employee and employer alike. Often, the added-value benefits of additional choice, professional advice and fitting, and wider health screening, do not even bear any additional cost. They simply require a little extra thought during the procurement process and an understanding of what is available.

Jim Lythgow is director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare


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