In comparison to other “standard lab PPE” like gloves and lab coats, lab safety glasses tend to represent the biggest compliance challenge for safety professionals and lab managers.
In my experience, it’s relatively easy for organizations to convince hazardous materials handlers to follow appropriate glove use policies. Companies also demonstrate success promoting lab coat compliance by simply providing personalized lab coats and reinforcing culture.
However, lab safety glasses continue to represent a significant point of resistance in industry and academia.
Why Are Lab Safety Glasses Important?
I place an especially strong emphasis on eye protection because of the sensitivity and importance of eyesight. Eye injuries happen quickly and numerous hazards in the lab can cause irreversible damage.
The most common “eye hazards” in the lab include:
- Chemical exposure from splashes
- Biological exposure from splashes, aerosols, or hand contact with the face
- Physical damage from “exploding” tubes stored in liquid nitrogen or other debris
- Irritation from vapors, fumes, or airborne particles
- UV light from gel boxes or biosafety cabinets
- Laser light from high-powered pointers or equipment with laser components
According to estimates, up to 1,000 eye injuries occur every day in U.S. workplaces. The majority of cases involve flying or falling objects, but up to 20% involve chemical exposure.
Alarmingly, 60% of injured workers had no eye protection at all. The remaining injuries involve cases of improper use or inadequate protection (e.g., wearing glasses for processes requiring splash goggle protection).
While the likelihood of an eye injury may be lower than in other workplaces, the potential consequence is severe. Eye injuries, particularly those involving chemicals or impact, can cause permanent damage in a short amount of time.
Regulations and Standards Governing Lab Safety Glasses
While the motivation for promoting good safety practices should always be employee safety and health, it’s important to be aware of safety regulations and standards and how they apply to the workplace. In the case of lab safety glasses, the three most applicable regulations and standards are:
- ANSI/ISEA – Z87.1. This standard represents the basis for eye protection requirements and is cited by many regulatory bodies, including OSHA. Importantly, the Z87.1 standard applies to a wide range of eye and face protection products, including safety glasses, splash goggles, faceshields, and other related products. When considering safety eyewear options, always start by verifying the Z87.1 rating. This ensures that the product will hold up to potential impact hazards in the workplace.
- OSHA Eye and Face Protection Standard. This standard requires employers to provide appropriate protection for any potential exposure to eye or face hazards, including flying particles, liquid chemicals, corrosive liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially hazards light radiation. This standard specifically references ANSI Z87.1 and highlights requirements for eye protection to include side shields.
- Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL). The BMBL is a publication produced by the CDC and NIH to guide safety work practices in biological laboratories. Due to the hazards associated with biological material, the BMBL requires protective eyewear in all biological labs, regardless of the biosafety level. Furthermore, eyewear is required even for operations utilizing engineering controls like biosafety cabinets, ventilated balance enclosures, or fume hoods.
Common Misconceptions Surrounding Lab Safety Glasses
Standard prescription eyeglasses can be worn as safety glasses.
There are three issues with this misconception:
- The first is that most eyeglasses are not rated for impact protection. Since safety glasses require an ANSI Z87.1 rating, most eyeglasses fail to fulfill this requirement.
- For eyeglasses that do meet ANSI standards for impact, the second factor is the absence of side shields. Safety glasses must meet specific side shield requirements to fulfill requirements in the OSHA Eye and Face Protection Standard. Note, there are side shield products that fasten to ANSI-rated eyeglasses to bring them into compliance.
- The final consideration is the potential contamination of personal eyeglasses in the lab. Unlike disposable gloves and lab coats, personal eyeglasses leave the lab and go home with the employee. Given the number of times employees may touch or adjust their glasses in the lab, this represents a potential source of contamination.
Contact lenses can’t be worn with safety glasses.
A few years ago there was a general consensus that contact lenses shouldn’t be worn due to potential for chemical interaction with vapors in the lab. However, recent guidance has revised this guidance and contact lenses can now be worn with appropriate safety glasses in most lab contexts. That said, any unique chemical hazards should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Safety glasses are sufficient for all liquid chemical use contexts.
While safety glasses with approved side shields provide impact and some splash protection, they are certainly not completely impervious to splashes. As a result, operations involving the use of particularly hazardous or large volumes of chemicals should consider the use of ANSI-rated splash goggles as an alternative to standard safety glasses. Another alternative method utilizes a rated faceshield in conjunction with safety glasses.
Safety glasses aren’t required in BSL-1 labs with limited chemical use.
As stated above, the BMBL requires safety glasses in all biological laboratories regardless of the biosafety level. While the presence of hazardous chemicals may warrant additional protective measures, such as splash goggles or faceshields, the minimal requirement for safety glasses remains for all biological labs.
Ways to Improve Compliance
Institute a Prescription Safety Glasses Program
I’ve yet to meet someone who enjoys wearing over-the-glasses safety glasses. They’re bulky, uncomfortable, and can cause distracting reflections and distortions.
As a result, the best solution for eyeglass wearers is a set of custom, prescription safety glasses. This solution provides a single eyewear solution that meets laboratory requirements and ANSI standards.
However, the cost of prescription safety glasses presents a unique challenge because employers must provide adequate PPE to employees free-of-charge. While the “easiest” and cheapest way to meet this requirement is through the over-the-glasses safety glasses option, this strategy rarely promotes full compliance.
In my experience, the most successful solutions involve developing a reimbursement or voucher program to promote the use of prescription safety glasses. Commonly, these programs provide a few “over-the-glasses” options to meet minimal requirements, while also offering a $50-100 reimbursement for those interested in getting prescription safety glasses.
Allow Employees to Demo Safety Glasses Prior to Selection
I’m a big proponent of PPE demo days as a way to promote buy-in and PPE compliance. Safety glasses are one of the best candidates for these events due to the differences in face size and shape.
Safety glasses that are comfortable for one person may not work well for another. One of the biggest mistakes a safety program can make is purchasing PPE that hasn’t been well-vetted by the individuals who will wear it on a daily basis. PPE comfort is one of the primary factors driving non-compliance, so it’s always best to seek the opinions of end-users prior to making bulk purchasing decisions.
Elements of Comfortable Safety Glasses:
I have had the opportunity to sample a number of safety glasses products, and I view the following elements as the most important for safety glasses comfort.
- Lightweight – While safety glasses need to meet ANSI standards, many modern models provide adequate protection without being overly bulky or heavy. Many modern models are so light that you can’t really tell you’re wearing them. This is a great feature when combating the “uncomfortable” excuse.
- Rubber Nosepiece – Safety glasses that slide around are uncomfortable and often ineffective. Rubber nose pads greatly reduce this issue and make a big difference when wearing safety glasses for a long period of time. This is especially true when wearing safety glasses in hot, humid environments or when operations require the wearer to look down repeatedly.
- Flexible Earpieces – The final aspect of fit and comfort is the earpiece design. Flexible earpieces ensure comfort for the widest range of individuals, while inflexible earpieces tend to promote comfort issues. Earpieces that are too loose may cause glasses to slide, while earpieces that are too tight can promote discomfort.
PPE compliance represents an important component of laboratory safety, but simply writing a policy and providing equipment isn’t enough. Involving end-users in policy development and product selection is a great first-step towards program compliance.
If you have questions about PPE policy development or would like guidance on safety glasses selection, feel free to reach out at email@example.com or by using the contact us form at spotlightsafetyinc.com/contact-us.
Photo credit: nickfrom at Pixabay.com.