Selecting Occupational Safety Gear

Words: Ashley Johnson

A comprehensive look at eye and head protection, what to look for, and what to take into consideration

Words: Ashley Johnson
Photos: Radians

Construction work environments pose significant occupational hazards that can limit construction time or delay a project. Having the right safety equipment is critical to maximizing efficiency, eliminating liabilities, and ensuring a successful outcome for everyone involved.

Each project or job is unique and requires specific safety equipment designed for different situations and scenarios. It’s important to know which protection products to choose, how to choose them, and whether the quality is considerable enough to safeguard against hazardous circumstances.

Safety Glasses  

Protective eyewear is necessary to avoid damage or harm that might arise from instances where caustic liquids are present, sparks or metal pieces are emitted, or dust and debris are airborne. 

Each day about 2,000 workers in construction environments suffer from some form of eye injury (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/eye/default.html). Eye injuries represent more than $300 million annually on lost work, hospital or doctor visits, or other associated expenditures.  

Standards and Testing

The right safety glasses should offer coverage over the entirety of the eyes, are comfortable to wear for long periods, and comply with the latest safety standards. To be recognized as safety glasses, both lenses and frames must comply with specifications set forth by the American National Standards Institute ANSI Z87.1-2015.

ANSI is just one organization that defines and oversees the safety standards associated with protective eyewear. The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) creates regulatory standards that are then published by ANSI and finally enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

ANSI Z87.1-2015 was last updated in 2015 from 2010 standards that included clarifying markings on safety glasses lenses and frames, clarifying pass/fail criteria regarding impact testing, changes in testing for fine particle dust, and unifying high-velocity impact testing and criteria with international standards.     

Safety glasses must undergo two types of impact testing: high mass impact testing and high-velocity impact testing. Impact testing for safety glasses is critically important and mandatory since this hazard is so ubiquitous and unavoidable in industrial work environments. 

High mass impact testing for glasses must resist an impact from a projectile weighing 500 grams (a little more than a pound) dropped from a height of 50 inches. To successfully pass, the safety glasses must remain intact with no fracturing and no part of the inner surface having detached.

High-velocity impact testing for safety glasses requires safety eyewear to resist an impact from a 1/4 inch diameter steel ball traveling at 150 f/t. The safety glasses must resist any contact with the eyes from the impact. Moreover, the safety glasses must remain intact with no fracturing and no part of the lens being detached.

ANSI also requires safety glasses to resist penetration by a low-mass pointed projectile dropped from 50 inches.  

Functions and Fit

The type of eye protection and how it should perform depends on the nature of work, the industry, and the occupational hazards someone might encounter. 

An environment prone to dust, concrete, metal particles, or radiation, will require different protection than that necessary for exposure to chemicals, thermal hazards, fires, or bloodborne pathogens. 

Safety glasses and safety goggles both protect eyes from dust, shrapnel, metal sparks, glaring light including laser light, intense heat, and other potential irritants. The primary difference though is how each fits. Goggles fit snug and offer a closer fit. They also go a step further in protection against chemical splashes, vapors, fumes, smokes, and other debris that might pass through.  

Eye protection with direct vents fit securely and comfortably around a person’s face and prevent impact and debris from coming directly into contact with their eyes. The vents allow air to move freely throughout, which prevents fogging. 

Safety glasses with indirect vents are capped, allowing air in and out while keeping liquid and dust out. Because there is not as much room for air to move in and out, they are prone to fogging, which might require an anti-fogging lens coating.

Non-vented goggles feature no holes for air to move in and out but do offer more protection against vapors and fumes. Because there is no way for air to escape, an anti-fog lens coating is necessary.

The lens color also is important depending on the environment and nature of work. For example, vermillion lenses lend a pink hue that sharpens visual acuity ideal for inspection and detailed work. Gray lenses worked best in sunlight or outdoors. Mirror coatings are used frequently with tinted lenses and are best for protection against sunlight and glare typically experienced outside. 

Blue lenses are designed to be used when in close contact with sodium vapor lighting and excessive glare. Amber lenses work best in low-light situations and block out blue light, which can improve contrast and enhance objects within the environment. Copper blue block lenses are similar to gray and or mirrored lenses but feature a brighter field of vision. 

Equally important to the functionality of safety glasses is how they fit. With the variance in face shape, size, depth of the nose bridge, placement of cheekbones, ear height, a standard-size safety glass sometimes is not feasible. 

When wearing safety glasses, there should be no pressure behind the ears or on the side of the head at the temples. Adjusting glasses at the temples close facial gaps. Safety glasses with ratcheting temples adjust the angle to ensure optimal coverage and air circulation. Eye protection with padded temples provide tension and flex for more comfort.  

At the nose, eye protection should rest on the bridge without pinching or sliding down. Safety glasses with padded nose bridges eliminate soreness and prevent glasses from sliding down. When worn, safety glasses should sit close to the eyes but not touch eyelashes. 

Around the eyes, safety glasses should fit with no gaps along the top, bottom, or sides of lenses. Choose eye protection with padding around the eyes or that allow workers to add or remove as needed. Finally, eye protection should provide full, unobstructed peripheral vision. 

Head Protection

Work-related head injuries can be debilitating, yet are entirely avoidable. The simplest and most effective defense is to wear an industrial helmet or another piece of head protection on the job site. Not only do hard hats protect against potentially fatal and devastating impact hazards, but they also can provide protection against electrical shock and burn hazards. The risk of a seemingly harmless bump into an overhead pipe or beam can be drastically reduced by wearing proper head protection.

Industrial helmets feature a hard outer shell manufactured from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and a shock-absorbing liner with headband and straps that suspend from one inch to 11/4 inches away from the head (https://www.natlenvtrainers.com/blog/article/osha-head-protection-guidelines). This provides proper shock absorption during an impact as well as suitable ventilation for air and heat. Hard hats must meet and adhere to the ANSI Z98.1-2014 to ensure performance and testing minimum requirements. 

Head protection helmets are classified as either Type I for top protection or Type II for lateral impact protection. Head protection that falls under Type I must protect against objects that drop or penetrate from above. Type II hard hats protect not only from above but from the sides and front and back. 

Another classification of safety under which hard hats fall specifies the level of electrical shock the helmet can withstand. Class E hard hats offer the highest level of electrical protection and burn protection and withstand up to 20,000 volts. Class G or general hard hats withstand up to 2,200 volts of electricity. Class C or conductive hard hats exhibit no defense against electrical currents. 

Bump hats are lightweight industrial helmets that provide limited impact resistance while still protecting against head bumps or lacerations. 

For a hard hat to be deemed acceptable for job site use, it must fit securely and be sized appropriately. Adjustable headbands with 1/8 settings allow workers to properly fit the helmet to their head. The hard hat must allow clearance between the shell and suspension system for ventilation and distribution in case of an impact. 

The suspension systems integrated into hard hats are designed for either fabric, nylon ribbon, or plastic and act as a supporting framework to the helmet. Not only does suspension absorb impacts and shocks, but distributes it across the entire helmet. 

Hard hats frequently come in four, six, or eight-point suspensions. This indicates the number of connections between the suspension and helmet. The more points present, the greater the ability for the helmet to distribute weight and impact. Another benefit of higher suspension points is comfort and stability. A hard hat with more points is lighter and has a smaller tendency to sway back and forth.  

Today the options for safety gear and equipment are endless. Not only does industrial protection establish a safe work environment for employees but also the organization overall. It’s important to implement and mandate a structured policy and process for all employees to adopt, use, and wear equipment. 

While it’s easy to require employees to use and employ proper protection gear, they have to want to wear safety equipment. Not only are safety companies and manufacturers offering superior quality equipment in customizable sizes and fits, but they are offering these products in modern designs, styles, and colors that are attractive to workers who want to integrate them into their daily work life. 

Sidebar

When it comes to selecting the best protective wear, the age-old adage “substance over style” doesn’t necessarily apply. Comfort and protection are key and with so many options on the market today, we wanted to provide you with a few that you may want to consider. 

Vented vs. cap-style hard hats are two common styles we’ve seen, and the vented hard hat is ideal for working outside under the sun in warm weather. Preventing overheating is key in the summer, however, the cap-style or non-vented hard hats can be worn all year round and cooling elements can be used to protect yourself from overheating. Protective Industrial Products or PIP offers both styles of hard hats in two models to choose from, and both models offer the vented and non-vented style hard hats. 

The Logan model has four styles and two of the styles are ANSI type I,  and the other is ANSI type II. The Logan models offer a short brim, cap, HDPE shell, and short peak hard hat with HDPE shell styles for you to choose from. Additionally, you’ll find PIP offers another model called the Whistler, which has two styles available — cap-style and vented. For more information on these hard hats, visit www.us.pipglobal.com.  Malta Dynamics also offers an adjustable vented safety helmet that optionally comes equipped with an attached visor. For more information on their new product visit www.maltadynamics.com

Similarly, there are tons of options when it comes to protective eyewear, an array of styles, and now colors. These styles can range from a safety goggle style to safety glasses;  it all depends on what the job and the user call for. Radians offer fog-resistant safety glasses with paddle-shaped nose pads that are said to be self-adjusting for comfort. They also offer safety goggles and other safety glasses in a range of sizes, styles, and colors. For more information on Radians’ collection of safety glasses be sure to check out www.radians.com. PIP also offers an array of protective eyewear that ranges from traditional spectacles to rimless safety glasses. 


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