When it comes to safety eyewear, size does matter

By Paul Stathis, Editor
Tuesday, 20 November, 2007

Safety eyewear is an essential part of PPE for many industries, protecting workers' eyes from eye trauma. But just issuing workers with safety glasses and instructing them to wear them isn't enough in itself to ensure adequate protection is provided. How do you make sure workers are happy to wear them?

Australia and New Zealand are multicultural societies and it's not politically incorrect to say that different races in Australia and New Zealand have different-sized and -shaped heads and facial characteristics. It's also not uncommon for many different races and age groups to work in the same facility but be issued with exactly the same safety glasses.

While most Europeans have average-sized noses that easily support safety glasses, Asians typically have small noses that don't really support the average-sized safety glasses. So you can visualise how an Asian worker might struggle to keep safety glasses that are clearly too big to sit on the bridge of their nose while doing their job. Similarly, a man from the Pacific Islands might have a wider face than say an Anglo-Saxon man, so average-sized glasses would be very uncomfortable for the Pacific Islander to wear.

Under these and other similar circumstances of poor fitting safety eyewear, it wouldn't be out of the question for some people to occasionally not wear their safety glasses while on the job, even though they have been provided with them and instructed to wear them.

But, according to Andrew O'Hanlon, director of safety eyewear and vision testing company, Occhio Vision Care, many OHS managers and supervisors don't take these variables into consideration when supplying safety eyewear to their staff: "When it comes to safety eyewear, many really do think that one size fits all. But we all acknowledge that people have different-sized feet and safety officers are diligent to make sure the right size shoes are worn for workers' comfort. Eyewear should be treated in the same way and for the same reason - comfort. Get that right, that is, make safety glasses comfortable to wear, and people will wear them as required."

It's common for workers to be issued with PPE for their jobs and be given some latitude in choosing different colours and styles of footwear, gloves and safety glasses based on personal preferences, so long as it fits within the company's parameters. So if employers go to that much trouble to keep their workers happy, it's only a minor extra step to cater for variations in workers' facial structures to close the loop on worker safety and comfort. Comfort is often a catalyst in worker happiness.

O'Hanlon advises that some of the key facial characteristics that vary from person to person are width of head at temples, distance from eyes to ears, size and positioning of nose bridge and distance between eyes. Prescription lenses also need to be accommodated by the frames, which can introduce another set of dimensional parameters, especially for 'high short-sightedness'. These are some of the variables to consider in selecting safety eyewear to ensure they are comfortable.

"Do you know the current vision status of your employees?" asks O'Hanlon. "It's important to know this to ensure workers are not knowingly or unknowingly contributing to an unsafe workplace because of either poor eyesight or uncomfortable safety eyewear that they endeavour to avoid wearing."

"Leading safety eyewear manufacturers not only offer a range of styles and colours to suit people's preferences, but also many sizes to suit people's different facial structures. Seek the advice of a safety eyewear professional to assist you in providing the right ones for your workers."

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