04 March 2020
Comfort, fit and aesthetics are all important factors for ensuring employees wear their vital safety eyewear. Jim Lythgow explores the options.
HEALTH AND safety accessories may sound rather innocuous and implies these are just added extras. With such items as safety eyewear and hearing protection included in this category, however, they are often vital for employees’ safety at work.
Providing safety glasses used to be a case of the safety manager just picking a pair from a catalogue in a one-size-and-style-fits-all approach. However, safety eyewear has advanced in recent years meaning there are more options for employers.
It has become clear that one size and style does not fit all. When we surveyed over 500 UK companies to establish the priorities when choosing safety eyewear for employees, the overriding requirement, outside of protection, was comfort. This was selected by the majority, 57%, of employees, and followed by the opportunity for employees to try on glasses for comfort and fit, opted for by 40% of employers.
Showing that it is far from purely the technical aspects of safety eyewear that matter, the next most popular priority was to have designs for both men and women, required by 30% of employers. Followed closely by style for 27% and brand for a quarter, 25%. The desire for aesthetically pleasing designs features quite heavily in our research and it is clear that employers realise how important this is to ensuring employees actually wear their safety glasses.
Of course, protection should and always will be the major consideration for safety eyewear. The importance placed on brand may well be as much about robustness as it is design, but style is clearly important. For employees to wear their glasses consistently, it is essential that they like the look of them and feel good about wearing them. The designs and styles of safety glasses have come a long way in recent years, with new ranges including wraparound-style glasses and brand-name designs offering far more trendy and sporty-looking options, increasing the incentive to wear them.
With comfort, and the ability to try on glasses, being key priorities, it is apparent that well-fitting eyewear is imperative. This may also be another reason why being able to choose specific designs for both men and women are preferred – not just for aesthetic style but also for appropriate sizing.
Being able to try on safety eyewear is an important consideration. Procurement of safety eyewear may be from a variety of sources including online ranges and paper catalogues. There is, however, no substitute for actually trying on different frames in person and being able to evaluate them for comfort and fit. Ultimately, the style of safety glasses will quite rightly be dictated by the setting and task for which they are required but there is often a range of options that match the criteria. Safety eyewear should ideally be assessed for comfort and fit on an individual basis and professionally fitted with one-to-one advice.
It should be noted that cost also came into the equation with 29% of employers stating that low price was the feature they looked for when choosing prescription safety eyewear for employees. This factor cannot be ignored. It has been found in previous research that employers can pay way over the odds for eye care, depending upon the procurement route they take. Generally, the more expensive option is when the employee is left to source their own eye care, and then reimbursed through expenses. This process means that there can be wildly varying standards of care and the associated costs which make it difficult to budget. For small and large companies, this approach could result in significant overspends.
When it comes to employees who wear prescription glasses for everyday tasks, there are essentially two options. One is to provide over-goggles to be worn on top of the employee’s everyday glasses, the other is to provide prescription safety eyewear. Research shows that the majority of employers (54%) still provide safety over-goggles to those who wear everyday glasses.
There are, however, issues associated with this. An increase in light reflection between the two sets of lenses can impact on the quality of vision. There is also the problem of physically having to wear two sets of appliances, which can feel awkward and uncomfortable. While prescription safety eyewear may seem the obvious solution, the research shows that 29% of employers only offer non-prescription safety eyewear.
In addition to the figures showing that comfort and fit are an important factor for employers in selecting safety eyewear, there is also much research to show that discomfort often results in employees being more likely to remove safety eyewear when it is not safe to do so. All of this points to the fact that over-goggles should really only be considered appropriate for short or occasional visits to areas where eye protection is required, such as for external, occasional visitors. Any employee who needs to wear everyday glasses to comfortably carry out their working role and who regularly requires safety eyewear, should be provided with prescription safety eyewear and would most likely benefit from its provision in terms of productivity as well as safety and wellbeing.
While employers may assume that this is an issue that does not impact many of their employees, research has shown that in fact, on average, a third (33.6%) of employees who require safety eyewear have a prescription requirement. This makes it far more significant than many may have suspected and has major implications for the provision and use of over-goggles.
Some employers may be put off providing safety eyewear as they think it is a complicated option. It is, however, perhaps easier to provide than many may realise. Employees can obtain safety glasses tailor-made to their prescription at their local opticians, just as they would for glasses for DSE use or for prescription sunglasses. They can be obtained using eVouchers in the same way DSE requirements can be met for screen users, with additional vouchers being used to purchase specialist lens requirements and treatments.
When it comes to the health and wellbeing of employees, safety eyewear may play a bigger role than many employers or their employees realise. Each eye test can check more than just the employee’s quality of vision. A full eye examination also includes checking the health of the eye. This can have much wider health implications as the optometrist is able to view the small blood vessels at the back of the eye. Changes here are often indicative of changes in the bigger blood vessels elsewhere in the body, which are only visible through much more invasive means. The result is that the optometrist may be able to detect indications of wider systemic conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure and risk of stroke. So providing eye care means also providing a much more extensive benefit for general health and wellbeing.
Considering safety accessories includes more than just safety eyewear. Hearing protection also safeguards one of the vital senses. Hearing is also easily damaged and again, once damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed. Research shows that one-third (34%) of employees who require hearing protection for work purposes are not provided with it by their employer. This is acknowledged by the employers themselves and, by failing to do so, they may be putting the hearing of their employees at risk.
Permanent and disabling hearing damage can occur from any noise above 85 decibels. That is about the top end noise of a busy street, or the average lawn mower. At 85 decibels, exposure would have to be for eight hours or more, without hearing protection, but for every noise increase of three decibels, the exposure time halves. This means that it is only safe to be exposed to 88 decibels of noise for up to four hours. Noise of 91 decibels would be damaging after two hours. At 112 decibels, damage can occur in less than a minute. This is about the volume of a leaf-blower or chainsaw.
Research shows that of those employers offering hearing protection, the most likely provision is overhead earmuffs, provided by 42% of employers. Foam earplugs are the next most common option, offered by 37% of employers.
Custom-moulded ear plugs are generally accepted to be the most effective solution for hearing protection, yet these are provided by just a quarter (26%) of employers. Custom-fit hearing devices provide an individual and unique fit with guaranteed levels of protection. Produced from impressions taken of the ears, custom-fit hearing devices can be made from soft, medical-grade silicone so users can wear them for longer than standard earplugs, with greater levels of protection. They are specially designed to fit each unique ear shape for a better, more comfortable fit.
The clear message regarding both safety eyewear and hearing protection is that ideally it must be personalised. Standard single-fit options are acceptable as a basic provision under the health and safety regulations, but an employer must surely question whether such solutions really meet the level of responsibility they would want to offer. Health and safety today goes so much further, with more emphasis being placed on health and wellbeing. Providing personalised PPE accessories is much simpler than employers may realise and is actually surprisingly cost-effective when consideration is given to the improved productivity and wellbeing it may provide.
* All research conducted independently by Opinium across over 500 heads of UK companies.
Jim Lythgow is director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare. For more information, visit www.specsavers.co.uk/corporate