Protective eyewear applies to both firefighters and medical providers. OSHA estimates that 90 percent of occupational eye injuries could have been prevented. The OSHA standard 1910.133(a) places responsibility for the use of eyewear on the employer.
Depending on the usage — EMS, firefighting or technical rescue — there are various standards that need to be followed as well as consideration when purchasing fire goggles.
1. Standards National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1971 — compliant for structural firefighting NFPA 1951 — Compliant for urban search and rescue (USAR) NFPA 1999 — Protective clothing for EMS operations American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1
For multiple use designs, the NFPA 1999 Standards (EMS) and NFPA 610 reference that eye protection should meet the ANSI Z87.1 Standard. Also, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 1971, the helmet face shield is not intended as primary eye protection.
2. Construction Lens should be constructed of impact-resistant polycarbonate plastic. This protects the wearer from any type of projectile, particles or splash. For EMS, wrap-around lenses help prevent any blood splatter from entering the eyes from the side.
Be sure that goggles or glasses meet the ANSI Z87 or Z87+ to ensure lenses are impact-resistant. Do not assume that eyewear marketed as safety glasses meet ANSI standards just because they have a particular design or endorsement. In one catalog, 40 percent of the eyewear advertised as "safety glasses" did not meet ANSI standards.
If a person already wears prescription glasses, there are safety glasses available that will fit over a person's prescription glasses. These are often called "Over the Glasses" or OTG style. These need to be provided to those who request OTG protection.
3. Lens color There are many different colors of lenses, including clear, tinted and even mirrored. If crews wear tinted lenses for EMS incidents, it can be very intimidating to the patient. Would you prefer your physician and medical staff wear clear or dark lenses when they are treating you?
If crews will be wearing safety glasses outside when conducting water rescue operations, or even yard work, then dark lenses are very appropriate. In addition, many companies provide glasses with UVA/UVB protection and also polarized lenses. Encourage crew to wear glasses on a regular basis, including during activities like station yard work or building inspections. This may decrease the number of eye related injuries.
4. Fit There is a wide variety of faces that safety goggles need to fit. It may require differing sizes of frames to accommodate your employees. Most goggles are made to fit a wide variety of faces, and usually range from 4 to 6 inches between the template hinges. Some models have adjustable templates to accommodate individual sizing needs.
There are some features that can increase both fit and comfort for the wearer. Thinner and flexible template frames lessen the stress on the ears, making glasses more comfortable. Also, lighter weight goggles will increase comfort, however most catalogs do not display the weight of individual models.
5. Style There are a wide variety of styles for safety goggles. The style of goggles changes on a regular basis. It is important to check with personnel to determine what they would prefer in the way of style. On a personal note, we had difficulty getting crews to wear safety goggles, until one person said, "I feel so stupid wearing those goggles, buy something that looks better." After changing styles, compliance increased significantly. Seek input on styles at appeal to the wearer. Employees that feel good about their equipment are more likely to wear safety equipment. Remember, OSHA places responsibility for the use of eyewear on the employer.
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James Sideras is a Division Chief for Sioux Falls Fire Rescue and has received both the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) designations. He is a 25-year veteran of SFFR and a registered nurse with a Master of Science degree in nursing as a Clinical Nurse Specialist.
He received the Harvard University Fire Executive Fellowship, completed a Human Resources program through Cornell University, and the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer program. He has spoken on various topics concerning fire and EMS at national and international conferences, including the World Conference on Disaster Management. He has written more than 20 articles on the fire service and EMS.
Jim is a member of the National Association of EMS Physicians, International Association of Fire Chiefs, the South Dakota Nurses Association, and the South Dakota EMT Association.
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