Eye safety: For your eyes only

Eyes and eyesight can be at risk in a wide variety of places, and while each environment has its own specific needs, there are common areas to consider when it comes to providing safety eyewear.

Audit and risk assessment

Any solution to potential hazards starts with a thorough health and safety audit and risk assessment. This will highlight the major sources of potential risk to workers’ vision. The health audit will identify the staff members who normally wear glasses, and it is likely that they will require prescription safety eyewear.

The risk assessment will also point to the nature of the potential hazard, and can dictate which kind of lens is required in safety eyewear. Circumstances may warrant plastic, glass or polycarbonate lenses, tinted lenses might be appropriate, or other lens treatments could be required. At this stage, decisions should not be left to the optician dispensing the prescription safety glasses, as they can offer only general advice.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992, eye protection is defined under the European Normals (EN) standard. Safety glasses do not protect against all hazards, and it is important to consider the full range of options for anything more than a low-energy impact risk.

All safety eyewear issued in the UK must conform to EN166:2002, which comprises different levels of impact resistance. Low energy impact grade (EN166 F) is the highest level of resistance offered by safety glasses. It will resist a 6mm, 0.86g ball travelling at 45 metres per second.

Over-goggles (or eye shields) are suitable for many environments, but these should not be provided for long-term use by glasses wearers as they do not give comfortable vision, due to the effect of light refraction through two sets of lenses.

There is no requirement for employers to provide an eye test before the selection of safety glasses, but the prescription should be up to date, otherwise the safety glasses could be of limited use if a routine re-test (usually every two years) leads to a new prescription. Prescription glasses wearers should be provided with safety glasses of the same type that they usually wear, whether single vision, bifocals or varifocals.

Safety eyewear styling is limited by functionality, but it is available in a small range of male, female or unisex styles in a variety of colours and finishes.

Frames are made from metal or plastic. Nickel alloy is the most commonly used metal, and polyamide, polycarbonate and cellulose acetate the most common plastic materials. Industry-specific considerations, such as the unsuitability of metal frames for food preparation environments, may limit the choices available.

Safety glasses usually include sideshields for lateral protection – these should not restrict the field of view unnecessarily. Polycarbonate lenses are generally the lightest and offer the greatest impact resistance.


There are four stages to the provision of prescription safety eyewear:

  • An eye test, to determine the correct prescription

  • The manufacture and supply of certified safety frames

  • The insertion of appropriate lenses into the frames in a certified laboratory

  • The fitting and dispensing of the prescription safety eyewear to the wearer.

The lenses should not be used for more than three years and the frames for a maximum of five. The usual eye test cycle of two years is a suitable interval for most users to buy a new pair of glasses.

Broken or damaged safety glasses must be returned, usually via the prescribing optician, to the EN166 licensed manufacturer to be repaired or replaced.


There are several different ways to buy safety eyewear: the costs to the company will, as in all other areas of business, depend on the length of the supply chain.

Larger companies can set up accounts directly with safety-frame manufacturers, or purchases can be made direct from catalogues. The cost should include glazing, but there will be additional variable dispensing fees. The success of these options depends on health and safety managers’ knowledge and ability to order the appropriate products.

A third-party network co-ordinator will offer glasses from a single manufacturer at a fixed price, usually inclusive of dispensing fees, through a range of opticians, or a direct arrangement can be made with an optician. The costs will depend on the optician’s level of involvement in the process. They might source the frames individually from the manufacturer and send them to a certified safety eyewear laboratory for glazing, or the optician might have their own range of frames and their own certified glazing facility, which will be a more competitively priced option.

Eyecare benefits

It is important that health and safety managers have a system in place to provide eyecare for staff, and there are sound business reasons as to why. Health and safety regulations oblige you to provide eye tests and glasses to certain sections of your workforce. But these regulations are constantly changing, so it makes sense to go further than these basic obligations. Cost-effective schemes, such as offering vouchers, build on the employer’s legal requirements by offering a benefit that rewards staff and safeguards their health. It is worth noting also that eye examinations have the additional benefit of giving early warnings for serious conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. So you will not only be protecting your employees’ eyesight, but also providing a valuable health benefit.

Whichever route you choose, the wise manager will also ensure that the administration processes are as simple and straightforward as possible the pricing structures are transparent and consistent and the provider takes full responsibility for the quality of the safety glasses, offering full customer service.

Golden rules

Apart from putting in place a company-wide safety eyecare programme, health and safety managers should also remember – and keep reminding staff about – some golden rules which will help keep their sight from harm:

  • Ensure staff are trained and capable of carrying out the task that their manager has handed them. If there is any doubt, call in a specialist.

  • If a job involves dust or flying debris of any kind, safety eyewear must always be used on every occasion without exception. Eye injuries are frequently caused by flying chips of wood or metal. It is important that safety eyewear is used when doing any kind of chiselling, hammering, drilling, sanding, plaster removal, sandblasting, chemical spraying, splitting tiles, blocks, stones and slabs, stripping paint, sawing, welding, laying insulation, painting, grinding or polishing. Tiny particles travelling at high speeds pose serious risks to unprotected eyes.

  • When you buy eye protection for employees, check it is in line with European and British standards.

  • Welders must wear masks which protect the whole face in line with British Standard number BS1542.

  • Accidents often occur when goggles are removed to look more closely at a job. Goggles must stay in place throughout a task. If they need to be adjusted, take a break.

  • Wearing normal glasses does not offer enough protection. Prescription safety spectacles are available for people who need sight correction. Goggles can be worn over spectacles, but this often hampers the wearer’s comfort, and can lead to the lenses steaming up, with attendant safety risks.

  • Goggles with polycarbonate lenses or side shields are favoured, because they are strong and long-lasting.

  • Beware of distractions. If employees are carrying out any of the tasks listed above, concentration is paramount. If someone talks to them, they must stop the job and only resume when able to give it their full attention.

  • Beware of fatigue. Take regular breaks.

  • Keep an eye on your eyewear. Check them before and after every use. Keep lenses and frames clean, and have scratched or damaged components changed immediately.

  • Store eyewear in a safe place when it isn’t being used.

  • Make sure your eyewear is a perfect fit. Never use someone else’s.

  • Ensure there is a first-aid box on site in case of accidents, including a liberal supply of eyewash.

  • If a foreign body enters the eye, employers must not rub it. This will make the condition worse. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Mark Raines is director of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare.

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