When safety managers are selecting protective eyewear, do they only focus on the eyes? Or do they think about protecting the entire head, if necessary, and how integrating eyewear with other protective equipment can provide better protection for employees.

We should view “the head” as the total head (including brain, eyes, ears, mouth, etc.) and focus exclusively and relentlessly on safeguarding it. Work injuries that occur above-the-neck are, after all, the most likely to result in death or permanent disability. We believe that by protecting the head, the creativity and judgement that shape our world is safeguarded.

We recently conducted research to gain insights from more than 250 UK specifiers and end users, to focus on the key aspects of selecting, purchasing, testing and ultimately wearing above-the-neck PPE solutions.

When asked to rank (between 1-10) the key factors when selecting PPE, the research determined that specifiers, purchasers and wearers continue to place considerable importance on:

  • Comfort for the wearer (55 percent gave this a 9 or 10 in importance).
  • Compatibility of the product with other equipment (45 percent gave this a 9 or 10 in importance).
  • Style and how it contributes to the company and wearer’s image (19 percent rated this a 7 to 10 in importance).

The research uncovered an increasing concern and need for hassle-free selection and compatibility. Both specifiers and the end users want to feel more confident that their PPE (i.e. hardhats, eyewear, face protection and hearing protection) are compatible with one another. Checking products for compatibility, various risks and the necessary regulations is daunting, especially above the neck, where stakes are at their highest. One of the clearest solutions to this problem is to embrace head protection more as a system and intuitively integrate key elements.

Compatibility

The frustrations of end users around compatibility reveal that still more can be done to drive awareness for such solutions. There are several benefits when considering integrated eyewear in a head protection system:

Increased impact protection: Within EN 166, there are different grades of impact strength given to eyewear and face protection. Stand-alone safety glasses conform to grade F (low-energy impact), which equates to withstanding an impact from an object traveling up to 45 meters per second (145 feet per second). Integrated eyewear systems often can provide a higher level of impact protection.  

Eye protection requirements under ANSI in the United States are divided between basic Z87 approval and the more stringent High Impact Z87+ standard. For approval to Z87+, safety glasses must pass a high mass test of dropping a 500-gram, pointed weight from a height of 5 feet onto the lens.  Safety glasses must also withstand a test where a 1/4” steel ball is shot at the lens at 102 MPH from a distance of 150 feet to meet the Z87+ approval. 

Easier and less expensive to accommodate eye glass wearers: The donning of prescription glasses in the general population is increasing globally. In East Asia, for example, 80-90 percent of urban 18yr olds+ suffer from near-sightedness. In the UK, the rate of people wearing prescription glasses has increased 8 percent over the last 5 years, from 61 percent in 2011 to 69 percent in 2016.

For the UK, this poses a health and safety challenge in that – of the 17.4 million people (of working age in UK) in manual roles – 12 million employees will be wearing prescription glasses while conducting their day-to-day work.

A key advantage of integrated eyewear within the head protection system is that a significant proportion of solutions available are designed to allow prescription glasses to be worn underneath the integrated safety eyewear. One of the alternative safety eyewear solutions is to provide workers with prescription safety eyewear, which is both time consuming and costly. Another option is to wear specialist safety eye glasses over prescription glasses (sometimes called “over specs”), which, by nature create discomfort and therefore reduce likelihood of usage.

Reduced costs: Health and safety professionals and facilities managers continue to cite frequent loss or damage of the safety eyewear issued to workers as a problem. This issue not only has a financial implication (for replacements), but also raises the question of inappropriate eyewear being worn for certain tasks, putting workers at risk of injury. Over a prolonged period, through the reduction of loss and damage to eyewear, a head protection system can save significant cost. According to our 2015 extensive market study, companies can save up to 29 percent (versus premium head protection and standalone safety glasses) annually per worker.

It is all too easy for safety eyewear to become damaged or scratched once removed. Workers often place them on tables or benches among tools, or put them in pockets with keys and other objects, where the lenses can become scratched. Workers also run the risk of dropping them or dropping tools or other heavy objects on their safety glasses, which can break both lens and frames. An integrated system puts the safety eyewear out of harm’s way (within the hard hat), ensuring it stays damage-free and eliminating the likelihood of the eyewear being removed and misplaced.

Comfort and compliance: PPE compliance is simplified by the introduction of comfortable equipment. Conversely, even the most protective safety glasses offer no protection at all when the user keeps them on top of their head, or avoids wearing them altogether due to discomfort.  Issues introduced by too much pressure on the temples or bridge of the nose, and poor fit leading to slippage and ineffective coverage, are eliminated by the use of eye protection integrated into the hard hat.

The research also highlights that for those aware of integrated eyewear systems, there is some concern of added weight when eyewear is not in use or required, but the integrated eyewear element of the system can be added with minimal additional weight versus many standalone hardhat and eyewear options, which need more material to provide the same protection.

With so many benefits to the specifier and end user, it comes as no surprise that hardhats with integrated eyewear is a growing trend.  When the systems are designed to overcome compatibility concerns – and with comfort top of mind – employees are more likely to wear their PPE and avoid eye and head injuries.