Workplace Solutions Eye protection Personal protective equipment

Eye protection options for prescription lenses

What do I need to know about eye protection programs if I’m required to provide my workers with safety eyewear?

Fastenal WS pic.jpg
Photo: Fastenal

Responding is Evan R. Hardin, QSSP, director of environmental, health and safety solutions, Fastenal, Winona, MN.

Three hundred million. According to OSHA, $300 million is the annual cost of eye injuries to U.S. workers. Now, consider that multiple sources believe 80%-90% of all eye-related injuries could be prevented with appropriate eye protection.

Those are a convincing pair of facts that show just how powerful the right PPE can be.

And regardless of your team’s size, it’s safe to assume 60%-75% of your workforce has some sort of prescription eyewear need.

In 2021, ANSI released the Z87.1-2020 standard for safety glasses and the Z80.1-2020 standard, which applies to all prescription lenses. These updates supersede the 2015 standard and are heavily focused on enhanced criteria for testing and performance. As a result, we’ve seen the safety eyewear category – for both the “plano” (standard safety eyewear) and Rx (prescription) categories – continue to be enhanced regarding the materials and processes offered to meet end-user and industry needs.

Thanks to advancements in technology and quality in the frame and lens manufacturing process (along with modern service models), the days of having cumbersome, labor-intensive safety prescription programs should be over.

No matter how you’re handling it today, I hope that there’s one thing all of us can agree on: Defaulting employees with prescription needs (within an operation that requires safety eye protection) to over-the-glass or universal side shields is, quite frankly, unacceptable! Neither OTGs, which are typically reserved for a new employee and/or visitors, nor universal (removable) side shields are a long-term, safe or compliant solution.

Assuming OTGs and/or side shields aren’t the solution and that you have a safety prescription program up and running, I’d encourage you to perform an audit on what all is involved in your current program.

How many people in the organization are included, from human resources/benefits to accounting, supervisors and yourself? What does it take to onboard new employees and get a new pair of safety prescription eyewear approved, fitted and manufactured? How do you manage the allowance (on average $150 a year) and/or out-of-pocket reimbursement? The list goes on. 

My guess, especially for those who haven’t “unpacked” their safety prescription program in a few years, is a lot goes into the management of the program. And the larger the organization, the more resources are being used to manage it.

Modern programs make best-in-class solutions available to employers to easily and effectively combine all the elements of a comprehensive program into a simplified price structure. These often come with convenient service options and networks in which opticians are available in-person or even virtually.

When you combine an easy-to-manage program with the ability to have oversight to the benefit allowance, that’s a big win. Add in the ability to restrict frame selection/lens materials based on known hazards in your workplace and then manage it all through an online portal, and I’m confident that no matter where you’re at in your safety prescription journey, you’ll be able to bring a better program to your employees and organization. Plus, you can free up bandwidth for yourself to focus on larger safety-related areas.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

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