Home Eye Care Eye Safety | Safety glasses for workplace eye injuries

Avoid workplace eye injuries by wearing protective eyewear

woman wearing safety glasses at work

Importance of workplace eye protection

Workplace eye injuries impact workers in a variety of industries all over the world. According to the International Labour Organization, around 3.5 million eye injuries occur in the workplace globally each year. In the U.S., around 2,000 American employees suffer work-related eye injuries each day. 

Wearing the proper protective eyewear on the job is the best way to prevent work-related eye injuries. Eye doctors and safety professionals stress that wearing proper eye protection can reduce workplace eye injuries by up to 90%

In fact, nearly three-fifths of workers who sustained injuries weren’t wearing eye protection for the task during which they were injured because they didn’t think they needed it. They were wrong.

Jobs that need protective eyewear

Eye protection is especially important in occupations and industries with higher risk of eye injury, including:

  • Manufacturing

  • Construction

  • Carpentry

  • Welding

  • Mining

  • Plumbing 

  • Electrical work

  • Auto repair

  • Health care, laboratory and janitorial work 

The best type of protective eyewear to use will vary based on the specific situation. 

SEE RELATED: Eye safety basics

Common workplace eye hazards

Different work environments and occupations present their own potential eye injury risks. A few different types of eye injuries include:

  • Impact injuries – When flying objects such as wood dust particles, metal shavings or certain pieces of equipment get into or strike the eyes

  • Heat-related injuries – When high-temperature items like sparks, extremely hot air or molten metal splash up into the eyes

  • Chemical eye damage – When dangerous chemicals or their fumes get into the eyes, resulting in chemical eye burns

  • Hot steam burns – When certain machinery unexpectedly releases blasts of steam and burns the face and eyes

  • Optical radiation injuries – When unprotected eyes are damaged by high levels of optical radiation from visible light, ultraviolet radiation from the sun or infrared radiation from lasers 

  • Mucous membrane exposure – When pathogens and infectious diseases spread through bodily fluids, they can be transmitted through the mucous membranes in the eyes

Protective eyewear can help shield the eyes from various workplace threats and keep them safe while on the job.

How does safety eyewear protect your eyes?

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that all protective eye safety devices must meet higher impact resistance standards than your regular everyday glasses. 

OSHA uses standards established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in three key areas to evaluate the lenses and frames of safety glasses:

  • High-velocity impact – This measures how well the lens and frame resist the impact of a small object hitting the lens at high speed.

  • High-mass impact – This determines whether the lens will stay in the frame when struck by a fairly heavy object.

  • Durability – This tests the frame for corrosion and fire resistance, as well as other important safety factors.

Safety glasses that adhere to ANSI standards are marked as:

  • Z87 – Frames for basic impact 

  • Z87+ – Frames that meet requirements for high impact 

  • Z87-2 – Prescription safety glasses

Types of protective eyewear

Safety eyewear should be worn to protect workers’ eyes from various hazards in working environments. Designs can combine multiple features to address different workplace risks.

The three main types of protective eyewear are:

  • Safety glasses

  • Safety goggles

  • Face shields 

Other types of eye protection may also be recommended or required, depending on the nature of your work. For example, a welding helmet is a very specialized form of protective eyewear. 

Safety glasses

When it comes to protective eyewear, safety glasses are the first level of protection from eye injury. When shopping for safety glasses, keep in mind the different options you may have available to best meet your needs:

  • Prescription safety glassesPrescription safety glasses accommodate users who need vision correction. Corrective lens options include single-vision, bifocal or progressive lenses. 

  • Non-prescription safety glasses – Also called “plano” safety glasses, this option is available for those who don’t need corrective (prescription) lenses.

  • Safety glasses with side shields – Safety glasses with side shields are especially important if there’s any risk of debris flying near your eyes. Examples include dust, metal shavings, wood particles or flying objects.

Safety goggles

People who work in laboratories and other environments with chemical vapor and splash hazards may not get all the eye protection they need from standard safety glasses. Instead, they should wear a pair of well-fitted safety goggles. 

When properly adjusted, the goggles essentially create a seal around your eyes. This allows them to offer a higher degree of protection against both liquid and airborne risks, like chemical splashes and fumes, as well as some types of optical radiation. They should also be impact-resistant. 

Safety goggles have three different types of ventilation to choose from:

  • Direct ventilated – Air is allowed to flow directly into the goggles.

  • Indirect ventilated – A covered vent allows ventilation while providing splash protection.

  • Non-ventilated – The user receives protection from mist, dust, vapors and liquid.

Before purchasing goggles for eye protection, try them on to make sure the face seal remains intact during wear. 

SEE RELATED: COVID goggles: Do you need coronavirus eye protection?

Face shields

A quality face shield offers full-face protection against bloodborne, chemical or spraying hazards. Made from different transparent materials, face shields are available in varied thicknesses to match common workplace tasks and corresponding hazards.

Keep in mind that a face shield isn’t designed to be worn by itself. For maximum benefit, you should wear safety glasses or safety goggles in addition to a face shield. If particles somehow make their way under the shield, the glasses or goggles will still protect your eyes. And, if you lift the shield, your eyes will still be protected from most airborne hazards. 

Specialized eye protection

If you’re a welder or you work with lasers, you may need a helmet or special filters on the lenses of your safety eyewear. Doing so protects your eyes from optical radiation and other dangers. In some cases, different types of protection may be worn together to further enhance eye safety.

Best lens materials for protective eyewear

Top-notch materials and quality construction should result in effective safety eyewear. No matter what type of eye protection your job requires, it’s not a good idea to forfeit quality to save a few bucks. 

Below are the materials most commonly used in safety glasses lenses and other protective eyewear for the most reliable eye protection.

Polycarbonate lenses

Creating quality safety eyewear begins with top-tier lens materials. Polycarbonate lenses are an extremely popular choice because they are:

  • Lightweight – The material weighs considerably less than glass and regular plastic, so they are typically more comfortable and less likely to slip. 

  • UV-blocking – Polycarbonate lenses provide 100% UVA-UVB protection to block the sun’s harmful rays. 

  • Impact-resistant – Reinforced impact resistance against flying particles and other objects makes polycarbonate an effective material for impact safety glasses.

Because polycarbonate lenses are softer than glass lenses, they may scratch more easily — even if a scratch-resistant coating has been applied. As a result, polycarbonate safety glasses may require more careful handling.

Other lens materials 

The following materials are also commonly used in safety eyewear: 

  • Plastic (CR-39) – Plastic lenses offer good resistance to pitting and solvent contact, and weigh half as much as glass lenses.

  • TrivexTrivex lenses offer roughly the same impact resistance as polycarbonate. They have better optical clarity than polycarbonate, but at a significantly higher price.

  • Hi-Vex – This material offers better impact resistance than CR-39 lenses and comes with many lens coating options.

Choose the right eye protection for you

According to OSHA, employers are responsible for their employees’ eye safety training and practice. Your designated safety officer should refer you to your workplace’s OSHA protective eyewear policy to ensure you and other employees have and use the appropriate gear.

The best way to protect your eyes at work will depend on your situation, whether you should opt for glasses with side shields, specialized eye protection for your specific needs, or safety goggles that fit over your regular glasses. 

Most importantly: 

  • Wear eye protection. 

  • Ensure you’re wearing the right eye protection for the task at hand. 

Once you have this covered, you’ll greatly reduce your chances of experiencing a workplace eye injury.

Eye health and the world of work. International Labour Organization. 2023.

Protecting your eyes at work. American Optometric Association. Accessed February 2024.

Workplace eye injuries cost time, money, and vision. EyeSmart. American Academy of Ophthalmology. January 2024.

Workers suffered 18,510 eye-related injuries and illnesses in 2020. The Economics Daily. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. March 2023.

ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2020: Current standard for safety glasses. American National Standards Institute. April 2020.

1910.133 Eye and face protection. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Accessed February 2024.

Find Eye Doctor

Schedule an exam

Find Eye Doctor