Safeguarding Your Vision: Why Safety Glasses are a Must on the Fab Shop Floor
By Jamy Bulan, Emily Cull and Frank Stupczy, The Lincoln Electric Company
Eye safety on the job isn’t just something that’s good to practice. It’s necessary and important. Consider this staggering statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Each day, approximately 2,000 U.S. workers receive medical treatment after suffering an eye-related injury on the job.
||Such work-related injuries result in blindness for thousands every year, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The majority of these injuries are a result of improper eye protection or, even worse, a complete lack of correct protective equipment. Case in point: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that three out of five workers who do not wear eye and face protection wind up with injuries.
It’s no surprise OSHA requires employers to provide proper eye protection to all workers who might encounter hazards in the workplace environment. Welders and metal fabricators are no exception. It is critical that anyone working in these applications wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure that his or her eyes stay safe and healthy while on the job.
Although eye protection for the welding industry includes everything from welding helmets to face shields, perhaps the simplest, but still vital, eye protection is safety glasses. Inexpensive, easy-to-use, and effective, safety glasses are the first level of protection for your eyes in a welding or fabricating situation.
No Safety Glasses? Danger Ahead
Failing to wear safety glasses poses numerous risks for welders and fabricators. Flying particles -- such as metal, slag from chipping, dirt, sparks and debris from grinding -- cause nearly 70 percent of job-related eye injuries. These small particles can fly into an unprotected eye, causing scratches or other damage. These particles are a hazard that might not always be seen but can easily be prevented through a good pair of safety glasses.
Other potential dangers in a welding or fabricating environment include flying sparks, as well as chemical splashes. Safety glasses can help to protect eyes from both of these dangers, though a face shield is recommended in addition to safety glasses if you’re working with chemicals. There is no such thing as being too cautious when it comes to eye safety.
||While you should always wear safety glasses in the shop, whether you are welding or doing other fabricating work, remember one important thing: never weld with safety glasses alone. You will also need to wear a welding helmet, preferably an auto-darkening one which automatically adjusts its shade level depending on the brightness of the welding arc. Helmets are required to protect your eyes from “welder’s flash” or “arc eye,” which is when the cornea of the eyeball is inflamed by arc or heat rays.
Though these dangers can be prevented through wearing safety glasses, it also is important to remember that PPE, while necessary, should always be considered the last line of defense while on the jobsite. As a first line of defense, you should try to eliminate or control the hazard as much as you reasonably can, through safe welding and fabricating procedures, as well as use of the correct, up-to-date equipment. PPE never should be considered an alternative to correct procedure and equipment on the jobsite. Instead view it as an extension of those elements – something that provides added assurance and safety.
Regulations and Testing
OSHA regulations, specifically standards 1910.133 covering General Industry and 1926.102 covering Construction, require employers to protect their employees from known eye and face hazards through the provision of proper PPE. Such equipment must comply with the standards set out in ANSI Z87.1, a standard for eye and face protective equipment issued by the American National Standards Institute. The ANSI Standard is used to certify safety glasses for workplace applications. The most recent version of the standard was released in 2010.
Choosing a Pair of Safety Glasses
ANSI Z87.1 describes a variety of required tests certify safety glasses must pass before it is certified for use in the workplace. This includes tests for impact and coverage, as well as protection against splash, dust and optical radiation. One such test is the high velocity test, which determines the impact that a pair of safety glasses can withstand by shooting a metal ball at the glasses. If the glasses shatter, they do not meet the requirements outlined in the standard.
Safety glasses will always be marked to indicate their compliance with ANSI Z87.1, as well as their impact rating. For instance, glasses that can withstand a higher level of impact will be marked Z87.1+. Such ratings can help you select the proper pair of glasses for your welding and fabricating applications.
ANSI Z49.1 is also an important standard for welders and fabricators to understand, as it outlines the operations and usage standards for safety in welding, cutting and allied processes, including the importance of proper PPE and use of ANSI Z87.1 rated PPE.
There are a variety of factors to consider when selecting a pair of safety glasses. The first element is sizing and fit. Safety glasses should always have side protection (side shields or wrap-around frames), fully covering the front and sides of the eye area. To find the best fit, try on different styles of glasses to determine the best size and shape for your needs. If you wear prescription eyeglasses, safety glasses are available that are made to fit over prescription lenses, such as Lincoln Electric’s Cover2® Safety Glasses.
Comfort and weight are also important. Most wearers prefer lighter safety glasses for a long day on the job. Such features as padding located at pressure points can also make a big difference in the comfort of a pair of safety glasses. Some safety glasses have padding made of soft rubber or elastomers on the touch points (nose area and the temple tips) to provide a more comfortable and secure fit than uncovered hard plastic.
If you’re working in areas where condensation occurs, consider purchasing a pair of glasses with an anti-fog coating. And, if you need extra help reading or viewing close work, bi-focal safety glasses are available.
Shade is another important aspect of choosing safety glasses. Clear safety glasses should be worn underneath a welding helmet when welding -- the safety glasses will protect the eyes from sparks or other debris, while the shaded helmet prevents eye damage that could be caused by the ultra-bright arc.
In grinding and cutting situations, shaded safety glasses may be required. Typically, these safety glasses, such as Lincoln Electric’s Starlite® IR 5 Safety Glasses, provide shade 5 infra-red protection.
Caring for Your Safety Glasses
||For outdoor work, such as on the construction site, safety glasses are important as well and are available in a variety of tints. Glasses such as Lincoln Electric’s Finish Line™ Outdoor Safety Glasses, keep eyes safe from debris and other jobsite hazards while incorporating a mirrored lens that protects eyes against the brightness of the sun.
Goggles or safety glasses with a 360 degree foam liner often are recommended in cutting and grinding environments, as well as on construction sites, to completely cover the eye because these operations tend to create a great deal of dust. Choice of goggles or safety glasses with a liner depends on industry regulations, as well as the individual company’s jobsite safety standards.
Finally, don’t forget about style when selecting a pair of safety glasses. Many manufacturers now offer safety glasses that are as fashionable as a pair of sunglasses, making it easy to be stylish and safe.
For the best eye protection – and protection of your investment -- keep your safety glasses in good condition. Examine them regularly and purchase a new pair of safety glasses when needed.
Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions and make sure to clean and disinfect your glasses regularly, especially if another worker has used them. Never wear excessively scratched, dirty or otherwise damaged safety glasses, as they may cause impaired vision and also provide a reduced level of protection. Store glasses in a clean, dust-fee container to protect them from damage in-between uses.
Essentially, care for your safety glasses in the same manner that you would care for your own prescription lenses or sunglasses. In fact, OSHA requires that eye protection be worn in most worksites. Since safety glasses are an inexpensive piece of PPE, it is always better to replace safety glasses than to weld or fabricate with a damaged pair.
Safety glasses are a simple way to protect the eyes, and they should be worn under a welding helmet in every welding and fabricating situation. While some workers may initially dislike the feeling of wearing safety glasses, donning a pair will eventually become second nature, just another integral part of proper PPE practices.