Would it surprise you to learn that thousands of people are blinded due to work-related eye injuries each year? Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the total annual cost of eye injuries tally up to more than $300 million.

Most of these injuries are preventable. In fact, eye injuries generally occur because workers are either wearing no eye protection or the wrong safety eyewear for the kind of job they're doing.

This, despite the fact that OSHA requires eye and face protection when there is a chance of exposure to eye or face hazards. Basically, everything from flying objects to chemicals and countless scenarios in between.

The good news is that there are many options given the advancements in personal protective equipment (PPE) over recent years. But, how do you know which is the right safety eyewear for your team?

Base Protection: Safety Glasses

Although they're similar to standard spectacles, safety glasses are generally larger with stronger lenses designed to provide far more protection. They tend to cover more of the eyes and face than prescription or fashion eyewear and are designed to be tougher. Models with side shields or a wrap-around design can further limit the risk of exposure.

To determine whether glasses are the right choice for your team, consider the tasks they'll be doing. Safety glasses allow for plenty of airflow and tend to be more comfortable than safety goggles. They are generally effective at protecting against projectiles and, depending on the lenses, would work well against lights and lasers.

However, there is a gap between the lenses and the face, meaning fine particles or chemicals could still reach the eyes. Depending on the type of work your team performs, you may need to upgrade to safety goggles.

Stepping It Up: Safety Goggles

Unlike safety glasses, goggles provide a seal between the PPE and the face. That seal keeps contaminants from reaching the eyes, which provides greater protection from fine particles and splash risks.

If goggles are the right choice for your team, you'll have at least one more decision to make. There are three basic classes to choose from depending on the nature of the work.

  • Indirect-ventilation goggles are best for working with acid and chemicals, degreasing, and high temperature tasks. Their angled, vented parts provide air flow without giving foreign objects or contaminants direct access to the eyes.
  • Direct-ventilation goggles, as the name suggests, include front-facing vents. Since ANSI standards require these goggles to deflect spherical items with a diameter of 1.5 mm or larger, direct-ventilation goggles offer the best protection against foreign particles and debris However, the front-facing vents still leave an opportunity for chemicals and other toxic liquids to splash up into the face and eyes.
  • Closed-vent goggles have no vents but provide the greatest level of overall protection from everything from debris to chemical splashes.

Additional Considerations

When your goal is safety, you want your team to be compliant and actually wear the proper gear. That means taking into consideration not only the safety features but also the additional challenges your team may face when wearing PPE.

Fogging

Airflow can be problematic in hot or humid conditions. Consider the ramifications of fogged up lenses: missteps leading to falls, lost peripheral vision leading to bumps or even being struck by a projectile. There are special coatings and dual lens options that act as fog deterrents.

Lenses

Safety eyewear behaves a lot like regular eyeglasses, and you can get a lot of the same features for your PPE that you would for your prescription lenses. Consider scratch-proofing the lenses, coating them to limit the effects of eyestrain, and possibly even tinting them for tasks that expose workers to glare (like outdoor worksites and welding). Lenses for safety glasses can also be made to conform to an employee’s prescription to avoid having to wear a pair of glasses underneath their eyewear.

Comfort

Who wants to wear PPE that is painful or irritating, especially to something as sensitive as the face? Make sure your'e getting the proper fit to avoid undue pressure or irritation (to ensure everyone's comfort, see Selecting the Right PPE for Women: Head, Eye, and Ear Protection).

Sealed Eyewear

These options fall somewhere between safety glasses and safety goggles. Combining the look and feel of glasses with the seal of goggles to protect against dust and fine particles, this is an option for some jobs. However, because the seal is foam-based, chemicals can soak through it and reach the face and eyes.

The Eyes Have It

Sight is crucial for most jobs. Making sure the eyes are safe is critical to protecting your employees' quality of life and continued ability to work. So make sure you equip them with safety eyewear that protects them from all of the eye hazards they face.