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Better looking options

04 February 2019

Safety eyewear has made huge improvements over the last few years, and costs are often less than employers think. Jim Lythgow looks at the options.

THINK OF safety eyewear and most people probably think of cumbersome, unattractive glasses or old-fashioned over-goggles. In fact, the options for safety eyewear have improved massively over the past few years. Designs have become much more fashionable and far more choices are available. 

Safety glasses are suitable where the possible impacts are deemed to be low-energy. This option has become more prevalent, with employees tending to be supplied with safety glasses, where suitable, rather than goggles, as a first option. The situation is rather different, however, for those who have a prescription requirement. Specsavers Corporate Eyecare recently asked industry heads in over 500 UK companies what provision they make available*. For those employees who have a prescription requirement and are obliged to wear safety eyewear for their working role, 55% are still being provided with old-fashioned safety over-goggles. 

Quite apart from being a rather unattractive option, wearing goggles on top of glasses can cause an increase in light reflection between the two sets of lenses. This can impact upon the quality of vision. In addition, there is an issue of physically wearing two sets of visual equipment, which may feel awkward, heavy and uncomfortable. The provision of prescription safety eyewear is, therefore, generally a more suitable solution. The exception to this rule is perhaps for those only requiring safety eyewear for very short periods of time or on infrequent occasions, such as visitors to the site.

The survey was undertaken spanning a wide variety of industries, and almost half (49%) stated they have staff who require safety eyewear for their working role. Given the numbers of people who also wear glasses in their everyday lives, the need for prescription safety eyewear is likely to be significant. So why are so many employers still providing over-goggles for their employees?

Perception of cost

A forward-thinking 46% of employers surveyed were shown to offer prescription safety eyewear. While 28% of companies sourced this themselves, a significant 18% of employers stated they let their staff source their own prescription safety eyewear. These businesses are leaving themselves open to issues, including inconsistency of service and increased costs. 

The prices charged for the supply of prescription safety eyewear can differ hugely between providers. It is not unusual for an employee, left to source their own eye care, to present an unexpected bill to the accounts department, which may be tens, or even hundreds, of pounds more than is necessary. 

The survey looked into the issue of over-payment, asking employers how much they thought it should cost to provide a pair of prescription safety glasses. The average cost suggested by employers was over £90, when in fact single-vision prescription safety glasses start from less than £37. 

With wrongly perceived costs for prescription safety glasses, many employers are expecting to pay more than double the amount. It is perhaps not surprising then that the majority are still providing over-goggles. 

Wide ranging

Prescription safety glasses are available in a variety of metal and plastic material options, including nickel alloy, polyamide, polycarbonate and cellulose acetate; with an even greater range of lens options. Lenses can have a wide range of treatments and enhancements, from tints and anti-reflection treatments, to UV filters and reactions – photochromatic lenses that darken when exposed to UV light and return to clear when the light source is removed. The nature of lenses for safety glasses can also be selected: if an employee has varifocal or bifocal lenses in their everyday glasses, then it makes sense for their safety glasses to have the same option. 

While the safety and robustness of safety glasses must always be the main concern, the aesthetics have changed hugely over the last few years. Prescription safety glasses are now available in male, female and unisex designs, for example. A variety of colours are available, and the glasses have evolved to include wrap-around styles, closer in appearance to sports and sunglasses. 

Points for procurement

For those who have decided that prescription safety glasses are the right option, there are a few points to consider in the procurement process:

Eye examination

It makes sense to provide an eye examination prior to supplying prescription safety eyewear. Using an old prescription may limit the lifespan of the glasses and an eye examination checks not only visual ability but also the health of the eye. Moreover, by viewing the blood vessels at the back of the eye, the trained optometrist can detect symptoms of conditions as diabetes, heart disease and risk of stroke. Spotting indicators in the back of the eye is non-invasive and may provide vital early warning of serious illnesses. 

Try before you buy

It is essential that safety eye wear is comfortable and well-fitting. Uncomfortable eye wear is likely to be removed. The best option is for the individual to actually try on a range of safety glasses, to see which is most comfortable and consider the different designs. A professional fitting service is offered as standard by some opticians and is the best way to ensure the glasses are fit well. 

Consider the admin

The admin load for providing safety eyewear should not be daunting. There are various options for administering safety eyewear, with perhaps the simplest and most cost-effective to do so online. The advantages of this includes being able to manage the whole eye care process online, from procurement and distribution to redemption. This can help with cost management, budgeting and monitoring which staff have had an eye examination, etc.


Communication is an important aspect in terms of benefits being appreciated and of eye care policies being understood. The research asked respondents about their communication of eye care policies in general and found that the most popular conduit is still the staff welcome pack – the method used by 47% of businesses. 

The research also showed that just 57% of employers believe all staff are aware of their eye care policy and 40% believe most staff are aware of it. Analysis of the two results helps to understand the most effective forms of communication and indicates the staff welcome pack is the most successful method.

Choice decisions

In some ways there is no choice regarding safety eyewear. The decision as to whether it is required will come from a thorough health and safety audit and risk assessment. Once it has been ascertained that safety glasses are necessary, however, there is now a wide range of decisions to be made regarding supplier, administration method, styles offered, payment processes, communication, etc. 

Having a choice is a great thing but it is important to be able to make educated decisions. There are experts available to guide the safety manager through these decisions and to help ensure that employees are provided with the most appropriate solutions. This can ensure it is cost-effective, that advantages to health and wellbeing are maximised, and increase the chances of the safety eye wear actually being worn.

* Research conducted on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare by Opinium from 17 to 26 July 2018 among a sample of 507 decision makers across the UK.

Jim Lythgow is director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare. For more information, visit www.specsavers.co.uk/corporate