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Vision of safety

20 May 2019

Providing the correct safety eyewear for employees is essential and eye examinations can have a positive impact for employers and employees alike, says Jim Lythgow.

PROVIDING SAFETY eyewear should be a relatively simple process. If the potential impact risk is classed as low energy, then safety glasses should be suitable. Safety glasses meeting the European Normal (EN) 166F will resist the impact of a 6mm, 0.86g steel ball, travelling at 45 metres per second. In this situation, where visors or face shields are not required, then safety managers may often select a simple pair of safety glasses, as opposed to more bulky goggles. But what about those who need glasses in their everyday lives?

Safety managers would be forgiven for thinking that this does not affect many people and that providing over-goggles is the best option. There are, however, several issues with providing over-goggles, which are exacerbated when one realises quite how many people are affected. We recently undertook a survey of 500 UK companies1, from single-person enterprises, to SMEs, to large companies employing over 250 people. We asked: approximately what percentage of employees who require safety eyewear have a prescription requirement and/or wear glasses in everyday life? The answer we received was perhaps unexpectedly high, at more than a third (34%). 

This means that more than one in three employees needing safety eyewear will either have to wear safety over-goggles or be provided with prescription safety glasses. Indeed, looking at different sizes of companies, this figure is even higher for large companies (over 250 employees). They estimate that 46% of employees needing safety eyewear, also have a prescription. The effect may be particularly significant, however, for micro companies (those with 1-9 employees), where the employers still estimate that more than 20% of employees need both safety eyewear and prescription glasses, a weighty undertaking for companies of this size.

The problem with over-goggles

The problem with over-goggles is that wearing them on top of everyday glasses can cause light reflection between the two sets of lenses. Wearing both glasses and goggles is also likely to be uncomfortable, as well as rather unattractive. Comfort is a big concern when it comes to PPE as anything that proves uncomfortable for the job is more likely to be removed when it is not safe to do so. While aesthetics should not, in theory, be an important aspect of PPE, in reality, employees are again less likely to wear something with which they are not happy.

This is not to say that there are no circumstances in which over-goggles might be appropriate. If, for example, a warehouse facility has a safety eyewear requirement and is visited by people who are only there for relatively brief periods of time then over-goggles may prove a viable solution.

Wider merits of eye care

There are wider considerations to also take into account when providing safety eyewear. Any prescription eyewear will require an eye examination to determine the correct prescription. While technically, the employer is not required to provide an eye test as part of the provision of safety eyewear, it would be unwise for a safety manager to provide prescription safety glasses meeting an existing prescription, as eyesight can change without the individual being aware and this may result in an employee being provided with glasses with an out-of-date prescription from the outset. 

Providing an eye examination may seem to be a pure overhead but it can actually have some very significant positive impacts for both the employee and their employer.

An eye examination will of course check someone’s ability to see and enable the optician to provide the right prescription to correct eyesight. It will also check the health of the eyes. The optician can look for eye conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, or cataract. If left undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated, some eye conditions can lead to deterioration and even loss of sight. 

The health benefits of eye care are wider still. The capillaries in the back of the eye can be viewed and monitored by an optician during an eye test Changes in these capillaries, like thickening, narrowing or bursting, can mirror changes in other blood vessels around the body. Particular changes can indicate conditions from diabetes and high blood pressure, to cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis. Many of the changes that can be seen in the eye using an eye test could not be seen elsewhere in the body without more invasive diagnosis procedures and many of the serious conditions that can be detected often remain symptomless until the condition worsens. 

Indeed, the British Heart Foundation announced in May that four million people under the age of 65, and 1.3 million people under the age of 45, in the UK are living with untreated high blood pressure2. Left untreated, high blood pressure can significantly raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. It is also associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia. 

Known as ‘the silent killer’ high blood pressure does not usually have any symptoms. A simple eye examination, as would be undertaken in the process of determining the prescription needs for safety eyewear, could help to detect high blood pressure., The condition can often easily be treated with lifestyle changes and medication. 

Clearly, discovering conditions such as high blood pressure could have an enormous impact on the health of the individual employee. For the employer, improving the health and wellbeing of employees will have a positive impact on the company too. Even just the minor ailments that can be helped with eye care can make a big difference to productivity – like banishing issues of headaches, tired eyes or migraines. 

Outside of the health benefits, there are other employee-benefits style advantages to eye care. It is highly valued by employees and the provision can therefore have positive impacts on morale and staff loyalty. 

Prescription procurement

The procurement of prescription safety eyewear does not need to be any more complicated than providing employees with over-goggles. Eye care eVouchers can be purchased online and simply emailed to the relevant employees. The employee arranges an appointment (online) at a store that is convenient to their home or work and the eye care provider can then take over the whole process. The employee just presents the eVoucher, either by printing the email, or just showing it to the optician on their smart phone. The optician can then ensure that the right safety glasses are selected, with the correct fit, and provide them to suit the individual’s own prescription needs. 

Safety eyewear has come a long way in the last few years and some providers have a wide range of options from which the employee may choose. Recently, brand-name prescription safety glasses have become popular, offering modern, sporty styles that many are pleased to wear. 

100% policies

Policies of 100% safety eyewear are becoming more common, with employers deciding to make whole warehouses, factory floors or building sites safety-eyewear areas, rather than limiting the requirement to more specific areas. This means that eye protection is worn by everyone, at all times, whether their role technically incudes a specific risk or not. Under these circumstances, providing bulky and uncomfortable over-goggles would really be an undesirable option. The safety manager who could not only provide prescription safety glasses, but ones that were trendy, brand-recognised options, is likely to be very popular. 

Providing safety eyewear really should be a relatively simple process. And it can be. It is just a matter of finding the right provider, with the right products, and an eye care management system that works for the safety manager. Once this has been put in place, eye care, whether for those with prescription needs for safety, DSE or driver care, will pretty much look after itself. 

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


  1. Research carried out by Opinium on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare. Field dates: 15 to 20 February 2019. Sample:500 UK HR decision makers, including 135 in large businesses (250+ employees)

  2. British Heart Foundation ‘ticking time bomb’ release 3 May 2019