Safety Glasses: Types, Regulations & Accessories

What are Safety Glasses?

Safety glasses are a ruggedized set of glasses that protect your eyes against flying debris or other contaminants (such as chemicals). Safety glasses typically use a hard plastic lens, although toughened glass is also sometimes used. Safety glasses are often worn by construction workers, lab technicians, electricians, lineman, and many other trades where eye protection is required.

As safety glasses get more and more prominent in the workplace (in part due to stricter standards around safety glasses), more safety glass accessories and types of safety glasses are emerging. You can now get prescription safety glasses (for vision correction), polarized safety glasses (for UV protection), as well as side shields and even lights. Other features such as anti-fog lenses, UV light protection, and padded lenses are becoming standard in the best safety glasses on the market.

Types of Safety Glasses

There are a variety of safety glasses available. The ideal type will depend on on what kind of work you’re doing.

The main types of safety glasses all have specific uses to minimize your risk to particular hazards. Below is a list of the main types of safety glasses:

  • Safety Glasses
  • Safety Goggles
  • Face Shields
  • Welding Helmet
  • Clip-on Safety Glasses
Types of Safety Glasses

Safety Glasses

There are three options to choose from:

  • Standard Safety Glasses
  • Safety Glasses with Prescription Inserts
  • Over Glasses Safety Glasses

Standard Safety Glasses

Standard safety glasses are arguable the most fashionable, with a wide range of designs to choose from. These safety glasses provide good all-round eye protection (particularly those with side protection). Two things to consider:

  • Requires allowance for shorter vertex distances (people that have long eyelashes may have issues to the shorter vertex distance)
  • Practical for short term use (ie visiting a workplace) or eye protectors are frequently damaged (reduce costs of replacements)
Standard Safety Glasses
Standard set of Safety Glasses

Safety Glasses with Prescription Inserts

These are safety glasses with a prescriptions lens carrier behind the protective lens. They require allowance for shorter vertex distances (people that have long eyelashes may have issues to the shorter vertex distance).

These are larger safety glasses that are worn over prescription spectacles. They are practical for short term use (i.e. visiting a workplace) or for prcting eye protectors are frequently damaged (reduce costs of replacements)

Safety Glasses With Prescription Inserts
Safety Glasses With Prescription Inserts

Over Glasses Safety Glasses

These are larger safety glasses that are worn over prescription spectacles. They are practical for short term use (i.e. visiting a workplace) or for protecting eye protectors are frequently damaged (reduce costs of replacements).

Over Glasses Safety Glasses
Over Glasses Safety Glasses

Safety Goggles

Safety goggles (or welding goggles) are similar to safety glasses, except that they provide a seal between your face and the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). This seal keeps contaminants (dust and debris) from reaching your eyes, hence providing greater protection from fine particles and chemical splashes.

Safety goggles come in two main forms:

  • Flexible frame safety goggles
  • Rigid frame safety goggles

A headband is required to maintain goggles in the correct position, and maintain the integrity of the seal. The downside to safety goggles is that they are slightly less convenient to take on and off, and can often fog up in humid conditions (goggles with direct/indirect air vents or anti-fog coatings are available).

Safety Goggles
Safety Goggles

Face Shield

Face shields offer an even higher level of protection than safety goggles, with one-piece of plastic that covers the eyes and part of the face (depending on size, this sheet can cover the whole face). Face shields provide ‘high impact’ face protection. Face shields may not provide suitable protection in all situations, such as blasts and high force impacts. They also do not provide as much dust protection as safety goggles.

Face shields can be worn with other eye protectors, such as safety glasses or safety goggles. This is advised for extra protection in areas where your eyes are exposed to a higher level of risk, as your eyes will still be protected when taking your visor off.

Face Shield
Face Shield

Welding Helmet

Welding helmets are a protective metal headgear that completely covers the face, with a window to look through. Welding helmets offer the highest level of eye (and face) protection. As the name implies, they are primarily worn when performing welding. Welding helmets protect your eyes, face, and neck from welding-related injuries including flash burn, sparks, heat, and concentrated UV and infrared light.

Welding helmets include a window to see through covered with a filter called a lens shade. The window is often made with tinted glass, tinted plastic, or a variable-density filter made from a pair of polarized lenses. Since welding often involves dangerous levels of UV and infrared light, regular glass see-through windows are not recommended.

Welding helmets may not provide suitable protection in all situations. It is advised to wear other eye protection such as safety glasses underneath the welding helmet. This provides protection when you take the welding helmet off to check your work thoroughly. In addition when overhead welding, a leather skull cap and shoulder cover are used to prevent head and shoulder burns.

Welding Helmet
Welding Helmet

Clip-on Safety Glasses

Clip-on safety glasses are designed to easily attach onto prescription spectacles or plano-lens frames (plano are non-prescription lens). They add a hardened layer of protection onto your regular glasses, and often also provide UV protection and minimize glare.

Clip-on safety glasses are most useful for small jobs, where full face-protection is not needed and the convenience of their clip-on nature is most noticeable. They are also useful for people with prescription spectacles who don’t use their safety glasses very often – and hence it’s not worth investing in a dedicated set of prescription safety glasses.

That said, clip-on safety glasses do not offer a high level of protection, and should not be relied upon in more hazardous work environments. They are not as robust as regular safety glasses, offer little to no eye protection from the sides, and are most certainly not suited for protection against the sparks and heat that can occur whilst welding.

Clip on Safety Glasses
Clip on Safety Glasses

Safety Glasses Features

There are also various coatings and special purpose safety glasses to provide you with extra protection and functionality. These include:

  • Photochromic (AKA Transitional: changes darkness depending on lighting, outdoors-darker tint, indoors-lighter tint) -more than 2 years check effectiveness and speed of transition between varying lights (optician to check and verify), available in a variety of tint colors
  • Anti-Fog Coating: Prevents fogging in humid conditions
  • Anti Reflective Coating: Reduces reflection in the lenses
  • Mono Goggles (single lens in frame)
  • Laser Filters: Protects eyes when using a laser in medical or other occupations, red tints
  • UV Filter: outdoor work sunglasses for comfortable vision in bright light. These lenses absorb UVA and UVB radiation provides the best protection, tinted eye protectors for protection against sun glare meet higher requirements than sunglasses, absorbing more than 95 percent of UV radiation.
  • Prescription: BI-focal, Varifocal, Magnifying etc A.llows those with sight problems to see clearly while still having their eyes protected.
  • Polarized: filters glare and excess bright lights, with 99% UV protection. Great for snow and outdoor conditions.
  • Mirrored: special coating to make the outer side of your safety glasses reflect like a mirror.
  • Dental: used for and bright lights i.e. LED and UV when whitening or curing teeth
  • Scratch Resistant: helps prevent scratching on safety lenses
  • Solar Eclipse: allows you to look at eclipse without burning your retinas and causing eclipse blindness (never look directly at the sun during an eclipse!)
  • Tinted: there are a variety of different tints for your safety glasses:
    • Clear: General indoor use, most light transmission in low light conditions.
    • Grey: General outdoor use, reduce brightness and glare.
    • Amber (Yellow): Indoor use, high light transmission in low lighting, enhanced contrast in low light, blocks blue light (outdoor use in overcast conditions).
    • Blue: Computing, medium visible light transmissions, reduced eye strain from high levels of yellow from sodium vapor lighting.
    • Brown: Outdoor use, low to medium visible lighting transmissions, increased contrast and reduce glare and eyestrain from sunlight.
    • Green: Various levels for welding, torch blazing or cutting.

Safety Glasses Standards & Regulations

Each country and workplace has different needs when it comes to PPE – and safety glasses is no exception.

Even though safety glasses are regulated differently depending on the country, there are some general rules and best practices to follow – regardless of your location.

Here are some general rules to follow when wearing safety glasses:

  • They must be kept in a sanitary condition at all times
  • Must meet regulation standards for the activity and environment
  • Each pair must have visible markings of the type of safety glasses (frame and lens)  for identifying use and limits of intended wear
  • Safe design and construction for the situation e.g. no dangling cords that could get caught in machinery
  • Damaged or defective glasses cannot be used and must be replaced immediately (such as heavily scratched lenses)
  • Side protection of eyewear when the risk of any flying objects, particles or materials. This is attached or built on to your safety glasses on the temples to protect your temple area from particles, liquids, flying objects, etc.
  • Employers are responsible to ensure that the eyewear provides adequate protection (regardless of whether the safety glasses are provided by the employer or employee)
  • Employer to train the employee in regards to requirements, wear and maintenance of safety glasses
  • The safety glasses should be correctly fitted (properly covering your eyes)
    No glass lenses (even if hardened/tempered)
    Those who require glasses must wear either prescription safety glasses or their everyday glasses with over-prescription safety glasses

Safety Glasses United States Standards

Impact Resistant Safety Glasses

The ANSI Z87.1 standard (American National Standard For Occupational And Educational Personal Eye And Face Protection Devices) stipulates that impacting testing will be carried out for all compliant safety glasses. High impact resistant testing will involve a quarter inch diameter steel ball being fired at 150 feet per second at the lenses – it can not crack, chip, break or dislodge to pass. Basic impact tests are when a 1-inch diameter steel ball is dropped onto lens from a 50-inch height, to pass the lenses must not crack, chip, break or dislodge.

Safety glasses have to go through a variety of tests to have the correct intended use requirements. These tests include flammability and corrosion resistance and impacts tests. To understand what safety glasses are for, the markings you will find are explained below.

  • ‘+’ approved for high impact
  • ‘V’ photochromatic
  • ‘S’ special tint (number to identify light transmission reduction)
  • ‘W’ for welding and shade number
  • ‘U’ and scale number for UV filter
  • ‘L’ and number for visible light
  • ‘R’ for infrared and scale number
  • ‘D3’ protection against splashes and droplets
  • ‘D4’ protects from dust
  • ‘D5’ protects from fine dust
  • ‘Z87-2’ indicates prescription lenses
  • ‘H’ designed for smaller heads

Some of the letters above are accompanied by a number to signify the level of protection. Depending on your occupation/activity it is vital to make sure you are following the shade number required for you. ANSI’s (American National Standard Institute) Standard explains these numbers in detail which you can purchase from here or you can always ask your employer what you need to have.

Safety Glasses Australian Standard

The Australian Standards have been updated through time to minimize risk in the workplace and educational environment. AS/NZS 1337:1992 “Eye protectors for industrial applications” is the primary Australian Standard governing safety glasses. There are 4 critical elements when following Australian Standards – appropriate frame; appropriate lens material and thickness; appropriate fitting; and labeling.

  1. Appropriate frame: impact requirements when fitted with plano lenses (non-prescription lenses), frame meets minimum lens dimension (low impact 42mm wide x 35mm high or medium impact 42mm wide x 35mm high), Side protection is mandatory for medium and above impact requirements (side shields permanently attached ie riveted or molded with the side rather than screwed on)
  2. Appropriate lens material and thickness: any material that meets the performance requirements can be used for low to medium impact with the exception of glass (untempered/high-index/chemically tempered etc.), data sheets for the lens materials must be obtained from the manufacturer (contain data on minimum thickness/maximum eye size/useable prescription range/effects of treatment ie anti-reflective or anti-scratch/refractive index/abbe number and solvent resistance), manufacturers must be licensed to produce prescription safety glasses
  3. Appropriate fitting: lens held securely in the frame but cannot be dislodged by impact or it can not be held so tightly that the surfaces are distorted, correct fitting to the wearer (no gaps on seals, no slippage/movement, comfortable etc)
  4. Labeling: manufacturer’s name/logo on frame and lenses allowing identification of manufacturers (for product failure or product has been altered/tampered with ie reglazed frames) and appropriately marked to identify the intended use

Safety glasses in Australia are required to have data sheets and markings to specify the intended use of the glasses. For impact testing the glasses must withstand:

  • Low impact: 12 meters per second
  • Medium impact: 45 meters per second
  • High impact: 120 meters per second
  • Very high impact: 120m per second

Without breaking, chipping, cracking or dislodging to pass.

The markings and data sheet will also need to have numbers and letters to tell you what the impact limits of the safety glasses are.

Below is a basic list of the markings:

  • ‘S’ Low Impact
  • ‘I’ or ‘F’ Medium Impact
  • ‘V’ or ‘B’ High Impact
  • ‘A’ Extra High Impact
  • ‘M’ or ‘9’ non-adherence of molten metal and resistance to penetration of hot solids
  • ‘C’ or ‘3’ splash proof
  • ‘D’ or ‘4’ dust Proof
  • ‘G’ or ‘5’ gastight
  • ‘O’ outdoor use untinted
  • ‘H’ resistance to high temperatures
  • ‘N’ Non-fogging properties

The Australian/New Zealand Standards further explains these markings in detail. These can be purchase from SAI Global. Make sure to follow the needs your employer has set for you to follow.

How to Keep Safety Glasses From Fogging Up

The fogging that occurs when wearing safety glasses is caused by heat, lack of airflow, and moisture in the air. Not to mention the heat and sweat you can produce while working.

You can purchase safety glasses with a special anti-fog coating that helps to prevent fogging. Otherwise, here are a couple solutions to help prevent fogging:

  • Bar of soap: Wipe the lenses of your safety glasses with the bar of soap. Let it sit for roughly 5 minutes and buff it out.
  • Shaving cream: Cover the lenses of your safety glasses in shaving cream. Let it sit for approximately 10 minutes and buff it out.
  • Anti-fog wipes: You can purchase special anti-fog wipes specifically designed to prevent your safety glasses from fogging up. Simply rub your safety glasses with the anti-fog wipes for temporary anti-fog protection.

What Are Safety Glasses Made Of

Protective eyewear like safety glasses are made of sturdier material than regular eyeglasses and sunglasses. Safety glasses are usually made with polycarbonate. Which is the same material they use for jet windshields! It is extremely unlikely to break or bend, so it is perfect for protecting your eyes.

Frames can be made from metal (nickel alloy) or plastic (polyamide, polycarbonate, cellulose acetate). Plastic frames are prefered – especially polycarbonate as it is strong and lightweight.

Lenses are typically made from polycarbonate or trivex. Both materials are lightweight and impact resistant – but trivex is thinner than polycarbonate. Both of these materials provide safe and comfortable eye wear.

Why Are Safety Glasses Important

Have you ever got something in your eye? Or even rubbing your eyes furiously trying to get rid of that itch? I know I certainly have! Safety Glasses protect your eyes from damage caused by particles, objects, liquids, and vapors. This is a vital piece of equipment if you are working with any irritants, hazards or chemicals.

Every year 800,000 eye-related injuries occur at work. You only have two eyes, so it’s important that you protect them. Don’t wait until it is too late – put the effort in now to make sure you are wearing the right type of safety glasses for your work environment.

You can get a variety of eye injuries if you are not wearing the proper protection, especially in high risk jobs. High risk jobs include anything that has chemicals, lots of dust, excessively bright lights, UV lights, compressed air or even machinery that can chip, cut, weld, sand and all the inbetween.

Scratches, cuts, punctures, foreign things embedded into your eyes, even chemical burns and welding flashes can all cause minor to severe damages temporarily, possibly even permanently. This can all happen to you when you aren’t wearing your safety glasses.

The chances of injuring your eyes is increased by many factors. These can include:

  • Employees not wearing their eye protection
  • Eye protection isn’t supplied
  • Employer doesn’t enforce compliance to wearing safety glasses
  • There is minimal or no training in how to use the equipment
  • Disregard for potential eye injuries and don’t take appropriate precautions
  • Incorrect type of safety glasses (ie. Safety goggles, when a face shield is needed)
  • Improper fit (ie they keep slipping as the security band is too big)
  • Those who are in the vicinity of machinery aren’t wearing safety glasses
  • Workers don’t have the knowledge to correctly use the machinery or tools
  • Eye protection hasn’t been well maintained or repaired
  • Metal on metal works (ie chisel and hammer injuries)

Safety Glasses Accessories

Some of the most popular safety glasses accessories include:

  • Side Shields: Protects the side of your face. Can be permanent or clip on.
  • Lights: Increase visibility when in dark rooms or in rooms with limited/poor lighting.
  • Straps: Attaches to your safety glasses and is adjustable to secure glasses and prevent falling.
  • Lanyard/Neck cord: Allows glasses to hang around your neck for easy access and prevents losing them.
  • Glasses holder/bag/pouch: Protects your glasses from getting scratched or damaged when not in use.
Side Shields Safety Glasses
Safety Glasses with Side Shields
Safety Glasses With Lights
Safety Glasses with Lights

How Long Do Safety Glasses Last

If taken care of and maintained correctly, safety glasses can last up to 3 years.

It is crucial to ensure your eyes are protected. When your safety glasses are damaged or defective in any way, you should repair or replace them immediately!

Cleaning and Storing Your Safety Glasses

Proper cleaning and storage of your safety glasses will assist in extending their lifespan. It is a good idea to secure your safety glasses in a case when you aren’t using them. Often your glasses will get dirty between jobs. Always clean your safety glasses between uses or when lending to a friend. It is important that your lenses remain clear while working. Don’t panic if your safety glasses fog during a job. Step aside into a non-hazardous area and give your glasses a good clean. If you are unable to step aside safety, stop the job until you are able to clean your lenses. It is incredibly dangerous to work without proper vision.

To effectively clean your safety glasses you need to disassemble them and thoroughly clean all pieces with soap and warm water. Rinse all traces of soap and replace defective parts with new ones. Then allow to air dry (room temperature or heated is adequate) in a clean area.

Who Invented Safety Glasses

Johnson Powell invented safety glasses in 1880. The eye protection he invented was originally for use by furnace men, puddlers, firemen and others exposed to glares and strong light.

Today we have a variety of safety glasses to protect not only from strong lights, but from objects, liquids, particles and vapours. They are now thicker, wider and more durable. Before they were only for industries with extreme light hazards (like fire). They are now used in all industries that expose workers to any form of eye irritants, protecting your eyes from hazardous chemicals, vapours, strong lights and particles (such as dust).

Conclusion

There are a huge variety of safety glasses and safety glasses accessories. Make sure you’re getting a pair that are right for the environment you’re in – that align with your country’s regulatory requirements.
You only have two eyes. Make sure to protect them with an inexpensive pair of safety glasses – rather than spending thousands of dollars trying to fix them after the damage has been done!