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The real cost of safety eyewear

23 January 2013

Graham Abbott makes the case for investing in quality safety eyewear and explains why there's often more to buying safety spectatcles than meets the eye 'You get what you pay for' is a maxim often heard and very rele

Graham Abbott makes the case for investing in quality safety eyewear and explains why there's often more to buying safety spectatcles than meets the eye

'You get what you pay for' is a maxim often heard and very relevant to the purchase of safety spectacles. Buying low cost basic imported safety spectacles will in fact calculate to be the more expensive way of protecting your employees, it's possible to pay as little as £2 for a pair of basic spectacles which will meet the European standard, however, their performance more often than not falls short when subjected to the demands of the real world environment.

When buying safety eyewear, too often a company will base their decision as to which brand and type to purchase almost entirely on its price tag, but there is one important factor that is worth remembering, apart from quality, durability, comfort, style and effectiveness of the product, and that is its real cost, by which we mean the cost when actually in use.

More often than not better quality product can actually be less expensive than a cheap one in the long run, because it will need replacing less often and will have an extended product life. Although safety managers may be well aware of this, they often have a hard time putting across the case for a more expensive product to those holding the purse strings, especially in these challenging times when many procurement budgets have been frozen or reduced. But more often than not the more money spent on safety eyewear, the more value for money ultimately gained.

Damage to the eyes is one of the most common personal industrial injuries.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are around 2,500 reportable eye injuries each year in the UK, although, because of underreporting, particularly in the construction and manufacturing industries where eye injuries predominantly occur, the real number is believed to be considerably higher.

Coatings Protective eyewear is often used in harsh working environments, so the lenses are usually coated to increase their efficacy and longevity. This coating is more important than one might at first think and is a key factor in ensuring the eyewear is worn and thus the wearers protected.

For maximum effectiveness, lens coating should offer resistance against fogging and scratching. But lens coatings need to be cost effective in use as well as reliable in performance and for this they need a long or extended life.

Lens coatings can either be hydrophobic (moisture repelling) detergent-based coatings (which can be washed off) or hydrophilic (moisture absorbing). A hydrophobic coating repels moisture which ultimately leads to a build up of perspiration on the lens which in turn requires cleaning to remove it - eventually, depending on the quality of the coating the detergent properties will be washed from the lens, rendering it ineffective.

It's possible however to produce hydrophilic coatings which are permanent and do not wash off. The coating becomes sponge-like, absorbing moisture so that the wearer does not have to take off their spectacles or goggles to clear any fog, enhancing both safety and wearer compliance.

Testing Safety eyewear is subject to a series of optional tests, under European Standard EN 168:2001, which covers non-optical test methods on personal eye protection.

Under this standard, lenses may be tested for resistance to surface damage by fine particles, carrying the symbol 'K' accompanying the CE mark supplied by the manufacturer of they meet this requirement. They may also be tested for resistance to fogging. The test requires that the lenses remain fog free for a minimum of eight seconds when exposed to an atmosphere above 50 degrees C.

Lenses that meet this standard are marked with the symbol 'N'. It is important to ensure that safety eyewear meets and preferably exceeds this voluntary standard.

As part of its ongoing research and development into lens coatings, uvex recently conducted in-house tests on the durability of the lens coatings of its and other manufacturers' safety spectacles by repeatedly washing them to see how quickly the anti-fog coating deteriorated, assuming two washes per week through 44 weeks per year.

The tests' results demonstrate to the buyer that they must consider the product in more ways than just its price per unit, however important this is. They need to take the wider perspective view and think about the real cost of the product over a period of time.

Taking into account the cost of safety eyewear, a simple calculation can be done to ascertain the 'cost in use' or value of the products over the annual usage of an average person. The average spend per person shows that the user of the spectacles costing £2 each would go through 22 pairs a year, costing an average £44 per person, while those using spectacles costing £6 per pair would only need 3.6 pairs in a year because the antifog coating lasts indefinitely - total cost £21.60 per person per year. This test clearly demonstrates that it is a false economy to skimp and buy the cheaper spectacles.

Graham Abbott is the sales and marketing director of uvex UK.