If you have been working in industry in North America since the 1980s and early 1990s you will probably remember the old-fashioned safety glasses. They were most unattractive and had side shields that looked to have been riveted onto the arms. In those days if you wore prescription glasses it was assumed the ordinary lens would provide adequate front-impact protection and all you had to do was add slide-on temporary side shields made from a thin layer of polyethylene or polystyrene plastic and you were all set. The main lens of safety eye wear was designed to prevent flying foreign bodies (including liquid, wood, metal shavings, and other objects) from getting in the eyes from front impacts. The side shields were installed to prevent flying foreign bodies from getting in the eyes from side impacts. The fit was terrible and the protection from flying objects from the side was inadequate at best.
Today we know that all safety eye wear needs to meet CSA Standards and this includes the requirements for side shields. Big improvements have been made in safety eyewear since the 1990s and integrated safety eyewear with permanently attached side shields provides for a fashionable, efficient, and effective eye protection. You can also get safety eyewear that makes use of clip-on side shields. A question that often comes up is why side shields are deemed so important and whether there is a marked difference in fit or performance between safety glasses with integrated side shields that are permanently attached and safety glasses with clip-on or slide-on side shields that were so popular in the past. So, which is better, permanently attached or clip-on side shields and which meet the regulatory requirements? Let’s look this a little bit more closely.
Permanently attached side shields are attached to the temple of the frame so they can’t be removed. The main advantage of having permanent side shields is that workers cannot remove the side shields from the safety glasses, thus ensuring safety and compliance. Clip-on side shields are clip-on to the safety glasses frame. The advantage for the employee who is wearing the safety glasses is the side shields can be removed and the glasses can be worn while off-duty when the risk of flying debris is gone. The frames of safety eyewear today are so attractive that you really can’t tell the difference between glasses worn as safety eyewear and glasses worn as streetwear.
Of course, the requirements for selecting safety eyewear must go beyond style and simple availability. The selection of safety eyewear is made based on the requirements determined by completing a hazard assessment and by considering the legislative requirements for safety eyewear. In most jurisdictions in Canada the occupational health and safety regulation or code will specify something like this:
If a worker’s eyes may be injured or irritated at a worksite, an employer must ensure that the worker wears properly fitting eye protection equipment that meets the prevailing CSA standard on protective eyewear.
The prevailing CSA Standard for safety eyewear is the CSA Standard Z94.3.1-09 Selection, Use and Care of Protective Eyewear. This Standard dictates that Class 1A – Spectacles with side protection, what we would call basic safety glasses, are required to be worn any time there is a risk flying foreign bodies getting into the eyes. With respect to side shields, the CSA Standard requires that Plano (non-prescription) eye protectors be fitted with side protection (side shields) that are permanently attached, either integral or part of a continuously formed front that extends to provide the coverage required by the CSA Standard. For prescription safety eyewear, side shields that are permanently attached or are an integral part of the eyewear design are required.
It should be noted that some regulators in Canada, for example in British Columbia, WorkSafeBC, in addition to CSA Standards also call up U.S. ANSI Standards in their legislation. Specifically, ANSI Z87.1-2003 – American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection, is called up in the BC WorkSafeBC. Section 8.15 of the Occupational Health and Safety Code does allow prescription safety eyewear to have frames that meet the requirements of ANSI Z87.1-2003, which does allow the use of removable side protection if the lenses meet the requirements of the CSA Standard (Z94.3). Non-prescription safety eyewear must have lenses and frames that meet the requirements of the CSA Standard (Z94.3) so removable side protection is not allowed for Plano eyewear. The rationale for CSA requiring permanently attached side shields is that they cannot fall off or move to be out of position. From the point of view of effectiveness, CSA has concluded that permanently attached side shields are preferred.
Another option specified for people that wear prescription lens that is not CSA rated is to wear on the over-the-glasses protector. This type of safety eyewear is an oversized set of glasses designed to be worn over non-safety spectacles and has built inside shield protection. They are typically only used for visitors or employees who require only occasional protection.
The requirements for safety eyewear are straight forward. The CSA Standard is clear. If you are an employee that works in the area where there is a determined risk of flying foreign bodies that could get in the eyes be sure to be wearing CSA approved safety eyewear and make sure that safety eyewear has permanently attached side shields.
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is consulting occupational health and safety professional with 30 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada and he provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificate and diploma programs.