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How to buy protective fire eyewear

There are a lot of choices when it comes protective fire eyewear, and that’s a good thing; here’s a guide to selecting the right protection for the right situation


The risk of eye injury is present during the entire work cycle for fire and EMS personnel.

Photo/Joe Thomas of Greenbox Photography

Updated Oct. 11, 2018

We are only issued one pair of eyes, so why risk losing precious eyesight when wearing safety glasses or protective goggles can keep your eyes safe for a lifetime of good vision?

The risk of eye injury is present during the entire work cycle for fire and EMS personnel in both the emergency and non-emergency settings. The best course of action is to become proactive in wearing protective eyewear.

According to Prevent Blindness America, each year more than 700,000 Americans injure their eyes at work. Because experts say proper protective eyewear could prevent up to 90 percent of all eye injuries, you might want to learn more about the safety glasses and goggles that suit your lifestyle best.


Protective eyewear has come a long way since the days of the oversized, ill-fitting lab glasses that many of us started wearing in place of clumsy goggles. Today, both safety glasses and goggles come in a variety of lens tints, frame designs, and can include bifocal capabilities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has adopted safety eyewear standards established by the American National Standards Institute, a private, non-profit organization that creates quality and safety standards for many products.

ANSI Z87.1-2010, American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Face and Eye Protection is the applicable standard for safety eyewear. When purchasing protective eyewear, ensure that the product is approved for ANSIZ87.1-2010.

Here are three other things to look for when buying protective eyewear.

1. Impact protection

In the Z87.1-2010 standard, the products are either non-impact or impact protectors. Products marked as impact protectors must pass all high-impact testing requirements and will be marked as Z87+.

Non-impact protectors are those that do not pass all high-impact testing requirements and are therefore marked only with Z87 (no plus sign).

2. Protection from UV light

The ultraviolet filter rating is represented using a label with a “U” and a scale number. The scale ranges from 2 to 6, with lenses marked as U6 providing the highest protection from both far and near UV light rays.

3. Getting the most useable light through the lens

The visible light filter rating is indicative of how much useable light is transmitted through the lens to the wearer.

This eyewear rating uses an “L” and a scale number. The scale ranges from 1.3 to 10, with lower numbers providing greater light transmittance.

Best lens material, color

Polycarbonate is the most popular lens material for safety eyewear. That’s primarily because they typically weigh less than half that of glass lens so the eyewear is more comfortable. Polycarbonate lenses are also more impact-resistant than glass lenses.

They are much softer than glass, so even with a scratch-resistant coating polycarbonate lenses can scratch more easily than glass lenses.

Safety eyewear lenses come in different colors or tints and each has its own strength. Select your lens color to best meet your particular job environment; there is no one color that does it all.

Clear lenses are designed for indoor protection where impact protection is required. Gray lenses are ideal for outdoor protection where light and glare can cause eye strain and fatigue. Gray lenses do not impact color recognition.

Indoor/outdoor lenses are clear with a slight mirror coating. They serves the same purpose as a gray lens, yet allows more visible light to pass through the lens making this lens ideal for indoor and outdoor use. This lens also reduces glare from artificial light.

Gold, blue and silver mirror lenses use a mirror coating to reflect and reduce the amount of light that passes through. These lenses are ideal for outdoors where sunlight and glare cause eye strain and fatigue.

Dark green lenses are designed for general-purpose protection from glare and UV radiation. Brown/espresso lenses are ideal for the outdoors where sunlight and glare cause eyestrain and fatigue. They also meet traffic-signal recognition requirements.

Vermillion lenses are made for indoor inspection as they enhance contrast and reduce all colors equally for optimum color recognition. Yellow and amber lenses, on the other hand, are ideal for creating maximum contrast, even in low light. They block the blue portion of the visible light spectrum.

Anti-reflective coating

Anti-reflective coating reduces distracting lens reflections and therefore may be desirable for certain activities like providing patient care or investigating a fire.

The application of AR coating may affect the impact resistance of certain lenses, so ensure that impact resistance tests have occurred after the coating is applied.

I’m a confirmed online shopper these days and found a vast number of reputable vendors of safety eyewear. Even better news was that I viewed a huge selection of ANSI Z87.1-2010 approved eyewear for under $100 per pair; a large number were in the $45 to $65 price range.

Your eyesight is precious. Regardless of whether you need non-prescription safety eyewear or prescription safety glasses, the investment you make to protect your vision will pay dividends.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.