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Getting Ahead on Safety [Aug 2012]

Published: 16th Aug 2012

No matter now careful you may be to engineer hazards out of your workplace, Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, plays a vital part in maintaining worker safety. Certain tasks are clearly more hazardous than others, but protecting a worker’s eyesight - as powerful a work tool as it is vulnerable - is obviously essential.

There are numerous considerations to take into account when looking at above the neck protection, and ASSE member David Peters explains how eye and face protection products have evolved over the years, offering guidelines for selecting properly tested and certified products that best meet workers’ needs.

The evolution of protective eyewear

Over the last ten years, eyewear has evolved in the following ways:

• New concentration on specialised elements and niche markets, e.g. ballistic resistance, wild land fire, photochromatics, polarised lenses

• Continuation of fashion emphasis

• Development of special lens coatings for indoor/outdoor use, better anti-fog and better scratch resistance

• Designs for women in the workforce

• Temple comfort and fit advancements

• Elevated protection performance from hazardous impact elements

Over the past 20 years, spectacle lenses have changed from glass to polycarbonate, and there are very few special environments where glass lenses are preferred over polycarbonate lenses.

This is because the advances in coating technology, along with proper routine inspection of the spectacle, have made polycarbonate the overwhelming choice. A polycarbonate substitute is even available for cobalt blue lenses.

Atmospheres that are heavy with solvents or acids will, over time, attack polycarbonate. With a routine examination of the device, however, one can tell relatively easily if there is some degradation. If so, discard the spectacle. It should be noted that polycarbonate is far less expensive than a comparable glass lens, and still offers more impact protection in a non-degraded state. Some extreme heat applications may still require glass for the application, but that window is slowly closing with advancements in material compounds and advancements in reflective coatings.

Preferred lenses for non-plano (prescription) safety eyewear

CR-39 lenses or glass lenses must be used for some extreme Rx (prescription) situations, but polycarbonate has made great strides in the single-vision and most common bifocal and trifocal situations. Remember, the objective is optics, clarity and protection. When polycarbonate can be used to achieve optics and clarity, its protection factor and weight make it the obvious choice.

Welding helmets

These now come in different shades, denoting different levels of protection. With so many choices available, it’s very important that a Health and Safety manager ensures that he or she selects the proper shading protection. For example, in arc welding, as opposed to gas welding, shades run from shade nine through to 14. Glass and polycarbonate plates are available for most of the shades.

The overwhelming standard for arc welding is shade ten. A lesser demand exists for shades nine, 11 and 12, with there being a minimal demand for shades 13 and 14. With the advent of auto-darkening filters, many models offer variable shades with one electronic filter. Here, the welder can adjust the shade to meet the requirement of the job without the hassle of changing plates. In the United States, the ANSI Z49.1 standard has published a selection chart, which recommends the proper shade filter for the specific type of welding procedure to be performed. With respect to nanoparticles and eye and face protection, do you believe current products are satisfactory or do you think changes will be made to address nanoparticle exposure to the eyes and face? There is always room for improvement in regards to PPE products, and with the growing knowledge in technological fields, we will continue to discover new methods of protecting users from fine particulates and other hazardous health risks.

Best option for splash hazards

When members of your workforce face the potential of splash hazards, you’ll need to consider the use of both spectacles and a full-face shield. Face shields, because of their design, cannot offer the degree of protection - from an impact point of view - as a spectacle or goggle. Because of this, if there is any chance for an explosion, disintegration of a grinding wheel, or the possibility of any other fragment or high speed projectile occurring in the process of using a face shield, a spectacle or goggle must be used in conjunction with the face shield. In working environments where splash hazards may exist, goggles with indirect venting may be a better product selection.

Product selection and impact resistance

When you are reviewing your product options, there are a number of elements Health and Safety professionals should be looking out for.

Firstly, they must have a thorough understanding of the task at hand and be able to identify any potential hazards in the workplace. Without that knowledge, the employee may not be protected properly. The ANSI Z87.1 standard is a guide for product selections for the more common hazards that may be encountered.

In addition, the safety professional must have a strong understanding of the product markings on the lens of the spectacle or goggle. Each lens must identify the manufacturer and lens type.

Again, I recommend the use of the ANSI Z87.1 selection chart as a guide. The Z87.1-2010 standard incorporates many changes in the lens markings to help in selecting the proper lens for the application.

Some eye and face protection products made overseas may carry ANSI markings, but it can be difficult to determine if these products have passed the testing requirements in standards, such as Z87.1.

Meeting safety criteria

If Health and Safety professionals choose to use these products, there are steps they should take to ensure that the products they select meet applicable testing requirements.

The safety professional must identify the manufacturer and determine if:

• The manufacturer is a ‘known’ company

• The manufacturer is a domestic company

• The manufacturer conforms to current ISO 9001:2008 standards (in the United States)

• The manufacturer maintains a full quality control department capable of answering technical questions about testing and usage All major companies based in the United States understand these requirements. When companies buy foreign products without proper prior testing, they take a huge risk. Anyone can mark anything on a product; if an injury or death occurs, however, will that company be able to provide the documented records that show proper testing has been conducted? Plus, do they carry the necessary liability protection for your company? Remember, cheap products always carry inherent risks.

Variations in standards

The federal government still continues to recognise older versions of the Z87.1 instead of the most current version, which can cause issues for safety eyewear manufacturers. Most progressive companies are aware of the newest versions of the Z87.1 standards, however, and they understand that even though an older standard may be acceptable, the faster they can transition to the newest standard, the better off they will be. A court of law may not care that OSHA ‘allows’ products to an older standard if the newer version prescribes a protector for the same hazard that may provide a higher level of protection. The court may conclude that the employer has a duty to provide the employee with the best protection available - regardless of whether OSHA recognises the new standard or not.

Meeting workers’ needs

Ensuring products meet workers’ needs prompts many independent research studies or surveys to determine what type of eye and face protection will most benefit workers. The best scenario is that such research is a moving target, meaning that while product research is conducted, new products are introduced, and to a large degree the market informs manufacturers through resulting sales whether or not they have designed products correctly. It’s also valuable for manufacturers to review the feedback received from distributors and their customers, opening the way for some new products to be ‘born’ from problems that occur with some of the newer manufacturing or process techniques. Working independently with customers to develop new specialised products through research studies and material advancements can lead to new innovations, too. These could be as simple as a change request in anti-fog properties or as advanced as new field requirements due to technological advancements, e.g. firefighting, autoclaving or gamma radiation.

Fit and protection levels

There are tests products undergo to ensure they fit properly and deliver the appropriate protection levels. A good manufacturer will endeavour to follow a wide range of global standards’ requirements for eyewear, and may even have an on-site lab on premises with all of the equipment ‘certified for accuracy’ at prescribed intervals. It’s also possible to apply to become an ISO 9001:2008-certified company - a validation which would obviously strengthen a company’s credibility.

Maintaining standards

Once gained, it’s important that a manufacturer continually strives to meet and maintain the requirements of ISO 9001:2008 certification. This can be achieved by a twice-yearly audit by an ISO-certifying body. The requirements to maintain this certificate are defined and must be demonstrated to an auditor at any time. Internal audits are also recommended, followed up with suggestions to each department to ensure that they perform to a prescribed level. The new standard demands continuous improvement as well as measuring a degree of customer satisfaction. Continuous training of personnel, and empowering them to build products conforming to applicable standards of performance are critical to the success of any quality programme.

Published: 16th Aug 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East

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