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Safety Glasses And Eye Safety: Q&A


Q: What's the difference between regular prescription lenses and frames and those that are "safety" rated? — P.C., Louisiana

A: In the United States, we have a government agency called OSHA that makes and enforces workplace safety rules and regulations. OSHA requires safety glasses in environments where eyes are at risk.

Safety glasses consist of a safety frame and safety lenses. A safety frame is sturdier than most "dress frames" and not easily bent or broken. Some have side shields, and some don't, depending on your specific job.

Safety lenses are usually polycarbonate, which is basically jet windshield plastic that is very unlikely to break, even when shot with a bullet!

Although OSHA regulations can seem like a real pain, they are really helpful in decreasing workplace eye injuries. In fact, those who do shop work at home should also use safety eyewear. After all, you only have two eyes! — Dr. Dubow

[Read more about eye safety.]

Q: Which agency came first: OSHA or ANSI? — D.C., Texas

Man using a sander on wood.
You may think that a simple job like sanding doesn't require eye protection, but sawdust can be very harmful to your eyes. And a dust respirator will keep it out of your lungs.

A: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Labor that oversees safety practices in the workplace and in educational settings. OSHA was created in 1970.

The American National Standards Institute is a private, non-profit organization that creates quality and safety standards for a wide variety of products, including safety eyewear.

OSHA has adopted the safety eyewear standards established by ANSI for its regulations.

ANSI was originally established in 1918 as the American Engineering Standards Committee (AESC). It adopted its present name in 1969. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I work in a warehouse environment and occasionally drive a forklift. I have always had Transitions lenses, and I'm now being told they are not safe in this environment. Should I be wearing a tint, or are my Transitions lenses okay? — N.S., South Carolina

A: Modern photochromic lenses respond to changing light conditions faster than ever before, and they are the perfect choice if your job requires you to go in and out of sunlight frequently throughout the day.

If your Transitions photochromic lenses are more than two years old, see your optician to check the speed and effectiveness of the light-changing performance of your current lenses. Upgrading to the latest photochromic technology may make a significant improvement in performance, and photochromic lenses are now available in several tint colors.

Also, ask your optician to verify that your current photochromic lenses (and any new lenses you choose) are safety-rated for your requirements at work. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I have two pairs of safety glasses — one is marked "Z87-2," which I am aware is good, but the other is marked "Z87-0." These are prescription lenses. Are the ones marked Z87-0 acceptable for any safety issues? — A.K., New Jersey

If your glasses do not have a Z87 marking on the lenses, it's unlikely they are ANSI-compliant safety glasses.

A: The current standard for safety eyewear published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is called the Z87.1-2010 standard. The previous standard it replaced was called Z87.1-2003. So some safety glasses in use today bear markings mandated by the 2010 standard, and others have markings from the older 2003 standard.

According to the current Z87.1-2010 standard, safety glasses must carry the manufacturer's marking, followed by a "+" sign if the lenses are Impact Rated. For example, if the safety glasses are made by 3M and are Impact Rated, the lenses must be marked "3M+". If the safety lenses are not rated for impact (in other words, they are designed only for protection from chemical splashes, etc.), the marking would simply be "3M".

On prescription safety lenses, this marking appears in the upper/outer corner of the lens. On non-prescription safety glasses, it appears at the upper/middle edge of the lens. All markings must be permanent.

Tinted safety glasses also are marked with a "V" if they are photochromic lenses, and an "S" if they are considered special purpose tinted lenses.

Other markings on special-purpose tinted safety glasses include:

Close-up of safety markings on a lens provided by 3M.
Lens marking of Impact Rated safety lens manufactured by 3M.
  • Welding: "W" and shade number
  • UV Filters: "U" and scale number
  • Visible Light Filter: "L" number
  • IR Filter: "R" scale number

For example, Impact Rated safety lenses made by 3M for welding and containing a welding filter rated 3.0 would be marked "3M+W3".

Also, regardless of the rating of the lens, prescription safety lenses must be in a frame marked "Z87-2+" to qualify as safety glasses that are compliant with the ANSI Z87.1-2010 standard.

Also, detachable side shields on safety frames are marked "Z87+" if they are impact-rated.

The older Z87.1-2003 ANSI standard classifies safety lenses as offering either High Impact or Basic Impact protection. High Impact safety lenses must carry the manufacturer's marking, followed by "+"; Basic Impact safety lenses must have only the manufacturer's mark.

To qualify as ANSI-compliant safety glasses under the 2003 standard, the lenses must be in frames marked with the manufacturer's mark or symbol and "Z87-2".

I'm not familiar with the "Z87-0" designation you found on your second pair of safety glasses. To make sure these glasses meet current safety standards, I recommend you see an eye care professional to validate compliance or purchase new safety glasses to replace this pair. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I recently purchased some safety glasses. The frames include a Z87-2 marking, and the lenses say PSV. What is PSV, and do my lenses meet ANSI standards? — J., Kuwait

A: Because the frame bears a "Z87-2" marking, it appears these safety glasses were made to be compliant with the older ANSI Z87.1-2003 standard; if so, they are impact-resistant. (If they were made to specifications of the new Z87.1-2010 standard, the frame would be marked "Z87-2+" if they are Impact Rated.)

The "PSV" markings on the lenses probably mean the the lenses were manufactured by Pyramex (P), that they are special purpose lenses (S) and that they have a photochromic (variable) tint (V). Because there is no "+" mark on the lenses, these lenses have only a Basic Impact rating, not a High Impact rating. So these safety glasses might not offer sufficient impact resistance to protect your eyes from flying objects or other significant impact. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I am a professional glassblower. We work at temperatures of up to 1,200°C. What protective glasses should I be wearing? — D.K., Scotland

A: I would recommend glasses with polycarbonate lenses to protect your eyes from debris and UV light. Contrary to the urban myth I have heard, high heat will not melt your eyeballs! If your eyes are dry, use a non-preserved lubricating eye drop for relief. I personally truly appreciate hand-blown glass — thanks for your artistry! — Dr. Dubow

Q: I have employees who wear prescription glasses, and they need to have safety glasses on in our shop. Do all prescription safety glasses have the ANSI rating on the lens and frame? — A., Mississippi

If you work with blood-borne pathogens, wear closely fitting goggles to avoid eye exposure.

A: Yes. All OSHA-approved prescription safety glasses must have markings specified by the ANSI Z87.1-2010 standard on both the lenses and the frame of the eyewear.

The lenses should bear the manufacturers mark, followed by a "+" if the lenses are Impact Rated. For example, Impact Rated safety lenses manufactured by 3M Corporation should carry a "3M+" marking. This permanent marking should appear in the upper/outer corner of prescription safety lenses.

If approved safety lenses are not Impact Rated (that is, they are designed to protect your eyes only from chemical splashes, etc.), the lenses have the manufacturer's marking without the "+" sign.

Whether the safety lenses are Impact Rated or not, all prescription safety lenses must be in a frame marked "Z87-2+" to be considered ANSI-compliant safety glasses. (In the previous Z87.1-2003 ANSI standard, this marking was "Z87-2".) — Dr. Heiting

Q: Can consistent use of safety glasses damage your eyesight? — R.W.

A: No, there is no scientific evidence that suggests wearing safety glasses damages your eyesight. — Dr. Heiting

Q: Is there any rule of government agencies relating to the recommendation of lenses for children? — A.D.

A: There is no U.S. state or federal statute I'm aware of that mandates specific requirements for lenses for children's eyewear. But most eye care professionals (ECPs) recommend polycarbonate or Trivex lenses for children's eyeglasses because these lightweight lenses are significantly more impact-resistant than regular glass or plastic lenses.

Also, there is a legal concept called "duty to warn" that applies here. Basically, the concept states that a person can be held legally liable if he or she has knowledge of a hazard and had an opportunity to warn another person about that hazard but did not.

In the case of eyeglass lenses for children, this means an eye care professional could face a legal liability if the glass or plastic eyeglass lenses they prescribed or sold to a child break and cause an eye injury if the ECP failed to advise the patient or their parent beforehand that polycarbonate or Trivex lenses are a safer lens choice for active children. — Dr. Heiting

Q: Can you tell me of any federal or New York state laws requiring that all eyeglasses for children or people with only one eye must use polycarbonate safety lenses? — D.M., New York

A: I'm not aware of any federal or state laws that require eyeglasses for children or individuals with only one functioning eye to always include polycarbonate safety lenses. However, the same "duty to warn" implications mentioned in the Q&A above also apply here. — Dr. Heiting

Q: As a demolition specialist, I often get small particles of sheetrock, plaster, wood, insulation, paint chips, cement or who knows what else in my eyes. Are any of these particularly damaging? Avoiding the problem by wearing safety glasses or goggles is not always practical due to fogging. Sometimes my eyes feel irritated when I get home. What should I do to treat my eyes? — I.H., Connecticut

A: First of all, as impractical as they are, you should try to wear some sort of safety glasses at all times. Would you rather deal with dirty glasses or an eye injury that could possibly cause a loss of vision or even blindness?

Second, some of the materials you are exposed to can be very harsh and irritating to your eyes, causing you a lot of discomfort and maybe worse. It would be best if you could rinse your eyes out with saline when they get full of debris. Saline is a solution that approximates your tears — it's used by contact lens wearers and readily available at any pharmacy.

Wherever power tools are used, impact-rated safety glasses should be worn to protect workers' eyes from flying objects.

To rinse, simply pull down your lower lids and fill the little pockets you create at the bottom with saline, and then blink it out. You can do this several times a day if necessary, with no harm to your eyes.

Last, I don't recommend routinely using eye whitening drops, such as Visine. Your eyes can develop a tolerance to the redness reliever in these drops if you use them too often, and they can cause other adverse effects as well if overused. — Dr. Dubow

Q: If a person has increased ocular pressure, is there the possibility of eye rupture while flying? — G.M., Washington

A: There is no risk of eye damage or rupturing of the eyeball when flying if you have high eye pressure. — Dr. Heiting

Q: What rating should I be looking for on goggles specifically for paintball? — I., Colorado

A: Goggles worn for paintball games should definitely be Impact Rated and carry the manufacturer's marking followed by a "+" sign, or be marked "Z87+".

This rating means the safety lenses and frame have passed impact resistance testing where a quarter-inch diameter steel ball is fired at 150 feet per second at the lens in the test frame. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I have had three laser treatments on both eyes in the past 18 months to fix a few retinal tears. Two weeks after each procedure, I resumed playing tennis. Will tennis increase the risk of recurrence of retinal tears? Only one of the four doctors recommends that I stop playing. I am turning 60 next month and have been nearsighted all my life. — P.C., California

A: Anyone who has undergone laser treatments or other eye surgery to repair retinal tears or a detached retina should wear protective eyewear for sports such as tennis. The best option would be sport goggles with Impact Rated safety lenses (lens marking includes "+") to protect your eye from damage should you be hit by the ball. Visit your local eye care professional for more information about protective sports glasses. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I wear glasses full-time, but my job requires safety glasses. It's both difficult and annoying to wear safety glasses on top of my prescription glasses. The attachable side shields are not only hard to find for my style of glasses, they are not my style. Where can I order "wraparound" prescription safety glasses with polycarbonate lenses? — S., Virginia

Goggles worn for paintball games should carry the High Impact ANSI safety rating and be marked Z87+.

A: I agree that if you need prescription eyeglasses, you should purchase prescription safety glasses for use at work, rather than attempting to wear nonprescription safety glasses over your regular glasses.

New eyeglass lens manufacturing technology has expanded the possibilities with wraparound-style frames and lenses, including for prescription safety glasses. Also, prescription safety glasses with integrated side shields are available. Ask your local eye care professional to show you the latest prescription safety glasses that best suit your needs. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I have an employee insisting that her glasses are safety glasses. They do not have any of the markings on them that are described above. She tells me that it is because her glasses are old. What year did they start requiring the markings on safety lenses and frames? — M.C., Wisconsin

A: The ANSI Z87.1 standard for eye and face protection was first established in 1968. Since then, it has been revised four times — 1979, 1989, 2003 and 2010. If your employee's glasses do not have a Z87 marking on the lenses, it's unlikely they are ANSI-compliant safety glasses. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I remember years ago there was a device you could hold up to eyeglass lenses to determine if they were safety glasses. Are these still in use today, and are they reliable? If so, where can I find such a device? — J.F., California

A: You may be referring to a device containing two polarizing filters called a polariscope. A polariscope is used to detect internal stresses in eyeglass lenses and can identify polycarbonate lenses from lenses made of other materials.

However, a polariscope cannot determine if a polycarbonate lens meets the impact resistance requirements to be considered safety lenses. The only way to identify approved safety lenses is to look for the appropriate ANSI Z87.1-2010 safety marking on the lenses.

You can purchase an inexpensive hand-held polariscope from multiple sources online. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I am interested in finding out more about protective eyewear or safety eyewear with prescription for the company where I work. — V.M., Pennsylvania

A: The best place to start is the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website . Safety glasses are classified as personal protective equipment (PPE) by OSHA, and typing "PPE" in the search box on the OSHA homepage will bring up a list of pages on the site that provide information about safety eyewear, eye protection and workplace safety requirements.

For safety eyewear requirements, OSHA has adopted the Z87.1 standard created by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). You can order a copy of the latest version of this standard (Z87.1-2010 American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices) at the ANSI website . — Dr. Heiting

One of the most useful sections on the OSHA website is the eTool  that helps you choose the type of eye and face protection you need based on the hazards at your workplace. Just select the appropriate hazard in the chart below to learn more. — L.S.

OSHA Hazard Assessment eTool
Click on Your Hazard Type for More Info:Examples of HazardCommon Related Tasks
Impact Flying objects such as large chips, fragments, particles, sand, dirtChipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, wood working, sawing, drilling, chiseling, powered fastening, riveting, sanding
Heat Anything emitting extreme heatFurnace operations, pouring, casting, hot dipping, welding
Chemicals Splash, fumes, vapors, irritating mistsAcid and chemical handling, degreasing, plating, working with blood
Dust Harmful dustWoodworking, buffing, general dusty conditions
Optical Radiation Radiant energy, glare, intense lightWelding, torch-cutting, brazing, soldering, laser work
From the OSHA website, November 2011

Q: What does OSHA say about tinted lenses indoors? — D.

A: OSHA has adopted the specifications for safety glasses created by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The applicable ANSI standard is the Z87.1-2010 standard (American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices).

Specifications for tinted lenses depend on the tasks performed while wearing the safety eyewear. For specifics, you can order a copy of the standard by visiting the ANSI website and typing "Z87.1-2010" in the site's search box. — Dr. Heiting

Q: How can I be sure the safety lenses I ordered comply with the ANSI Z87.1 standard? Is there a website I can browse for brand names of accepted safety lenses? — E.B.T., Qatar

Please click here for a video about how to prevent eye injuries at work, at home, and during sports.
This video explains how to prevent eye injuries at home, at work and during sports.

A: Safety glasses that meet the latest ANSI Z87.1-2010 standard must have markings on both the lenses and the frame to be compliant with current U.S. requirements for safety glasses.

These marking identify the manufacturer of the lenses and frame and indicate (with a "+" sign) if the lenses and frame are Impact Rated.

If in doubt, take your lenses to an eye care professional who prescribes and sells safety glasses to confirm the lenses you purchased comply with the current ANSI standard. — Dr. Heiting

Q: If a person is in an area where someone is arc welding and is wearing untinted safety glasses, would those glasses protect them from the UV rays that cause flash burn? — L.J., Illinois

A: It depends on how much protection from ultraviolet radiation the untinted safety glasses provide. Some untinted safety lenses provide 100 percent UV protection, and others do not.

UV-protective safety lenses (tinted or untinted) that are in compliance with the latest ANSI Z87.1-2010 standard are marked with a "U" and a number ranging from 2 to 6, with lenses marked "U6" providing the highest level of UV protection.

Also, some eye care professionals can determine how much UV protection your safety glasses provide by using a special device called a UV lensmeter. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I'm a civil engineer, working as quantity surveyor at a construction company here in UAE.

Most of the day I'm working with my laptop, and dust is present inside our office (due to sandstorms).

Which eyeglasses should I use to protect me from the computer screen and dust? — N., United Arab Emirates

A: Computer screens don't pose a UV radiation risk, but they do emit high-energy visible blue light. Long-term, high-level exposure to these rays over a person's lifetime may be damaging to the retina later in life. Blue light exposure from digital devices also can disrupt your sleep if you use them for extended periods in the evening and before bedtime.

To protect your eyes from blue light when using your laptop and other digital devices, ask your optician for lenses that specifically block these rays. One option is certain brands of photochromic lenses, which are clear indoors and automatically darken in sunlight. (Though computer screens and digital devices emit blue light, the sun is a far more significant source of these rays, so wearing sunglasses or photochromic lenses outdoors is essential — especially in the climate you are working in.)

Whatever lenses you choose for your computer work, make sure they include anti-reflective (AR) coating. AR coating eliminates reflections in your lenses from overhead and desk lighting that can be bothersome and contribute to eyestrain when using computers and digital devices.

For protection from dust, ask your eye care professional to show you close-fitting, wrap-style eyeglass frames that can reduce your eyes' exposure to sand and dust. In many cases, prescription lenses can now be fitted in these wrap-style frames.

Also, when cleaning your eyeglasses, do not wipe your lenses when they are dry — first rinse them thoroughly with clean water to wash away sand or dust particles that could scratch your lenses. When purchasing new glasses, be sure the lenses include a scratch-resistant coating and ask your optician about a warranty against lens damage from scratches. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I work in a GLP (good laboratory practice) compliance lab, where we work with blood-borne pathogens (type I). I use my prescription glasses daily. Should I wear safety glasses over my prescription glasses? Or am I protected with my regular glasses? I'd ask about safety glasses with my prescription, but at this time we don't have that option. — M.R., Florida

A: If you work with blood-borne pathogens or other potentially harmful substances that could splash in your eyes, you should wear protective safety goggles over your prescription glasses. The goggles should fit closely to your face at all points to avoid eye exposure. Your regular glasses do not provide adequate eye protection for this type of work. — Dr. Heiting

Q: At my work there is a requirement for eye protection that is rated Z87.1 or better. We have goggles that are rated Z94.3. Do higher numbers mean more protection, or how do we decipher the meanings of the codes? — N.B.

A: The Z94.3 standard is the safety eyewear standard developed by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) for eye protection in Canada.

To fully understand all lens markings for safety glasses that conform to the applicable Z87.1 standard for safety eyewear in the United States, visit the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) website  and type "Z87.1-2010" in the site's search box to order the latest version of the ANSI Z87.1 standard. — Dr. Heiting

Q: We are an assembly house and use electric and pneumatic screwdrivers. We're always debating whether safety glasses are required. What are the criteria for required eyewear protection? — R.N., Illinois

How smoking harms your vision.

A: Safety eyewear should be worn by all workers in your environment. For details, visit the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website  and type "PPE" (for "personal protective equipment") in the site's search box.

The Eye and Face Protection eTool on the OSHA website states that, according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations [29 CFR 1910.132(d)], "the employer must assess the workplace and determine if hazards that necessitate the use of eye and face protection are present or are likely to be present before assigning PPE to workers."

Generally, environments where power tools are used are considered areas where impact-rated safety glasses should be worn to protect workers' eyes from flying objects. — Dr. Heiting

Q: If I purchase a ANSI Z87 approved frame and have standard prescription polycarbonate lenses installed by any eyewear dispensary, would they meet the ANSI Z87.1 standard for safety glasses? — E.C., Washington

A: No. Although polycarbonate lenses used for regular ("dress") eyeglasses are significantly more impact-resistant than lenses made of other materials, they typically do not qualify as safety lenses, which must pass more stringent testing to be given an impact rating.

Safety lenses that meet the current ANSI Z87.1-2010 standard generally are slightly thicker than dress polycarbonate lenses and they must carry a permanent marking that identifies the lens manufacturer and other safety-related information about the lenses. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I had cornea transplants three years ago. I'm wondering if it's okay for me to use a tanning bed, if I cover my eyes with cloth and goggles. — N.S., Oregon

A: It should be fine for you to use a tanning bed if you wear close-fitting protective goggles that provide 100 percent UV protection. But to be sure, consult with the ophthalmologist who performed your cornea transplant.

Also, be aware that exposure to ultraviolet radiation emitted by tanning beds can significantly increase your lifetime risk of skin cancer. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I work in a lab that has no risk, but my employer still requires safety glasses to be worn. The "back and forth" from my safety glasses to my regular glasses gives me headaches. I also have problems seeing with my prescription in the polycarbonate lenses — headaches and blurred vision. I wear bifocals/progressive lenses.

Eye Safety Tip Vodka eyeballing is dangerous to your vision.

Vodka Eye Shots Can Cause Vision Loss

Recent reports of young people applying vodka to the eye in a misguided attempt to get drunk have eye doctors worried. The practice is very damaging to the eye and can even result in blindness.

Fortunately, the number of people who are trying it seems very small. — L.S.

Can you tell me what the minimum thickness is that I can get in a plastic lens that is still rated as a safety lens? What terminology do I use to request this material and thickness? — J.G., Washington

A: If you are having trouble wearing your current safety glasses with polycarbonate lenses, visit your eye care professional (ECP) and have him or her thoroughly evaluate the eyewear to determine what the problem is.

The thickness of safety glasses depends on the lens material, your prescription and what degree of impact resistance is required at your workplace. If you want to try an alternative lens material for your safety glasses, ask your ECP if new lenses can be made of a material called Trivex, which is thinner, lighter and more impact-resistant than regular plastic lenses. — Dr. Heiting

Q: I build water fountains as well as water features and have started cutting and engraving glass. I am very concerned about the high amount of glass particulate in the immediate area of my work space and this material coming into contact with my eyes.

What type of goggle should I look for that is sealed, but has filtered ventilation? Where can I find such goggles? — R.C., Oregon

A: There are several brands of close-fitting safety goggles with indirect ventilation that will meet your needs. For cutting and engraving glass, the lenses should be Impact Rated (lens marking should include "+"). Also, look for goggles that feature anti-fog lenses. Popular brands include Crews, DeWalt, Pyramex and Uvex; and such goggles are available from a variety of online sources.

Also, anytime you are working in an environment with airborne fine particles and dust, you should consider wearing a protective respirator. — Dr. Heiting

Please note: If you have an urgent question about your eye health, contact your eye care practitioner immediately. This page is designed to provide general information about vision, vision care and vision correction. It is not intended to provide medical advice. If you suspect that you have a vision problem or a condition that requires attention, consult with an eye care professional for advice on the treatment of your own specific condition and for your own particular needs. For more information, read our Terms of Use.

Page updated August 2017