What is protective eyewear?
Protective eyewear acts as a guard for the eyes, blocking and/or absorbing foreign objects, ultraviolet rays and impact. They come in different forms, such as:
- Eye shields
- Wide-vision spectacles (larger dimension with side shields permanently attached)
- Non-prescription personal protective equipment over prescription lenses
- Non-prescription eye protectors with a carrier for prescription lenses
- Prescription eye protection
- Accessories for regular spectacles (e.g. headbands to keep your glasses from falling)
Protective eyewear differs depending on occupational or recreational activity. For example, an eye protector for construction work should not be worn while playing sports, as each activity exposes the user to different hazards and impact levels. Examples of jobs or activities that require protective eyewear include:
- Work involving chemicals (e.g. chemical engineer)
- Work involving ultraviolet radiation exposure (e.g. welding)
- Household repairs
Why is it important to wear protective eyewear?
Most eye injuries can be prevented with proper protective eyewear. Contacts and regular glasses should not be used as a replacement for eye protection. They fail to guard the eyes and may become a secondary hazard.
Are there any rules and regulations for protective eyewear?
Reputable protective eyewear is tested and regulated by different standard-setting bodies depending on where the product is made. Some regulation boards include:
- European Committee for Standardization (CEN)
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
- Standards Australia New Zealand (SANZ)
- Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
- American Society for Testing and Materials – commonly used for sportswear (ASTM)
In Canada, manufacturers normally follow the ANSI, CSA and ASTM. However, eyewear following CEN and SANZ are safe to use.
Before any reputable protective eyewear is sold it must complete a series of tests, assessing its impact resistance and durability. Higher standards and expectations of performance are placed on eyewear used for more hazardous activities.
Some tests include:
- Drop ball test
- Ballistic impact test
- Static load test
- Weighted needle test
- Sit and fit
- Transmission of optical radiation
- Minimum areas of coverage
Protective eyewear FAQ
When purchasing protective eyewear, do I need to go to the optometrist or can I buy them over-the counter?
Protective eyewear can be purchased at a retailer. However, if a person requires a prescription for protective eyewear an optometrist will provide both the frame and lenses. They will also ensure the eyewear fit is correct and comfortable. For example, the nose pad for goggles should be on the ridge of the nose. If the fit is incorrect, an optometrist can make the proper adjustments or provide suggestions for a different frame. This is something a retailer is not trained to do.
Additionally, any activity or job that is hazardous to the eyes carries its own set of regulations. Therefore, it is important to check the labeling to ensure you are buying standard-compliant eyewear for the specific activity you will be doing. An optometrist will be able to determine the right standards to follow, making sure you choose correctly.
How long should protective eyewear be kept?
Impact and “wear-and-tear” weakens protective eyewear over time. As well, extended ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun or industrial processes (e.g. welding) is known to:
- Yellow lenses
- Degrade the lenses and protective coatings
- Break down plastic
- Reduce impact resistance
As a result, prescription and non-prescription eye protector lenses should be replaced after 2 years. However, in some cases, more frequent replacement is necessary.
Make sure to check your protective eyewear for damage before every use. If a part is damaged and cannot be entirely replaced, the eye protector is ineffective and should be thrown out. Continued wear after damage becomes a secondary hazard to your eyes and surrounding tissue.
What should I look for when buying protective eyewear?
When purchasing over-the-counter protective eyewear, make sure the manufacturer clearly states what standard it complies with and what hazards it is certified to provide an acceptable level of protection. Some standards you may come across are:
- CSA Z94.3 (for occupational eye and face protectors)
- ANSI Z87.1 (for protective eyewear commonly used for occupational activities)
- ANSI Z80.3 (for non-prescription sunglasses)
- ISO 12312-1 (for non-prescription sunglasses)
- ASTM F803 (for sports eye protectors)
Also, a wide variety of materials are used for protective eyewear, with different levels of impact resistance.
For low impact, materials generally used are:
- Hard resin (3mm thickness only)
For medium impact, materials generally used are:
For high impact, materials generally used is:
- Polycarbonate (2 or 3mm minimum thickness)
For extra high impact, material generally used is:
- Polycarbonate (3mm minimum thickness)
Depending on how the coatings are applied, add-ons like anti-reflection coating, combined with cushion and anti-scratch coatings may enhance impact resistance.
Eye protectors are important in many activities. Speak with your optometrist to find the correct protective eyewear.