Prescription safety eyewear companies on the cutting edge have found that style sells. They realize the need for workers to wear the proper frame and lens for the job at hand. (SafeVision, LLC photo)

Prescription Safety Eyewear: Style, Design, Ergonomics, Delivery

Glasses are more protective, resilient, and fashionable than ever before.

Safety glasses were once thought of to be bulky goggles and large, thick plastic frames and lenses. This type of eyewear was once the standard for anyone working in factories with heavy machinery or hazardous materials. Seeing an old poster or watching a dated film with industrial workers in the 1960s and '70s conjures up images of the large heavy frames and lenses that musician and singer/songwriter Buddy Holly made famous.

The older style safety frames were termed "birth control glasses." This term was not only used in industry but was symbolic for standard issue eyewear in the military. Workers did not like them and immediately tossed them into their toolbox or locker once their shift had ended. Most workers would probably not have worn them at all had it not been for a corporate mandate with a threat of discipline for anyone who did not comply.

The Change of Safety Standards
The American National Standard Institute's (ANSI) Z87.1 safety eyewear standards were amended in 1989. This change emphasized performance requirements to encourage and accommodate advancements in design, materials, technologies, and product performance. With this new change in standards, manufacturers of safety eyewear began to discover that if they could make eyewear more fashionable, workers would tend to wear them.

Forward-thinking companies seized this trend as the opening of a new world for manufacturers of safety frames and lenses. Prescription safety eyewear started to appear based on the popular metal and plastic frames worn by both men and women. Soon, more contemporary models were produced. These early forays into fashion, however, were more concerned with fashion for office workers and managers and not with rank-and-file workers, so the early designs copied the dress glasses of the day and were a decade or more behind the innovations of today. Lens processing technology also began to change. High-definition digital lens processing made it possible to offer more contemporary shaped frames with better vision than ever before.

21st Century Innovation
Changes to prescription safety glasses reached a new, heightened pace within the last 10 years due to the result of a few eyewear innovators. First to lead this development were manufacturers of plano safety glasses, with manufacturers of prescription safety eyewear following in the last several years. Changes in the last five years occurred exponentially, with new eyewear companies and designers entering the market without the baggage of old thoughts and designs.

These new upstart industry leaders recognized that workers who liked their safety eyewear for style, design, and comfort (ergonomics) would actually be happy to wear them. Also, these new safety eyewear manufacturers began developing prescription safety eyewear to meet the new demands for “industry-specific eye protection solutions.” Now, companies that had dust issues and needed foam gaskets in their safety eyewear had a specific option. Similarly, employers who had complaints about their workers’ safety eyewear fogging had an option to fix this problem with anti-fog coatings. Non-conductive safety eyewear was developed for electrical workers.

Prescription safety eyewear manufacturers such as SafeVision® and WileyX® and later SPY were among the first to jump on this trend. They recognized the need for wraparound frame styling coupled with innovative designs and colors. Further benefitting workers, the wraparound frame style eliminated additional side shields that were cumbersome and excessive in size and in practicality and made prescription safety eyewear look old fashioned.

Wraparound style frames were first made popular in the military. Soldiers began wearing them during the Gulf War and Afghanistan conflicts. The high-ballistic style eyewear provided the protection necessary to engage in all maneuvers and also provided a high degree of comfort and style.

Not only did progressive manufacturers move to wraparound frames, but they also experimented with color and pattern. The industry has moved from gloss black, brown, and silver to reds, purples, blues, and almost all colors of the color spectrum. We also now see patterns on frames, including snake skin, denim, camouflage, decorative sparkles, and even artistic images conjuring figures of the 1980s artist Keith Haring.

Eye Doctors, Welcome to the 21st Century: MY NAME IS INTERNET
Historically eyewear and safety glasses were purchased through an individual's eye care professional, either his optometrist or optician. Today, there are now big-box stores as well as national eyewear chains that carry prescription safety eyewear. Of course, many of us feel more comfortable going to the optometrist who examines our eyes to purchase safety eyewear. However, there is another solution and avenue for prescription safety eyewear and there is a small list of national companies that devote the majority of their business to solely serving wearers of prescription safety eyewear and their employers.

Because of this specialty, these companies may offer 100 or even more than 200 styles of prescription safety eyewear, as opposed to the six to eight older style frames that the consumer might find at the big-box stores, national eyewear chains, or local optometrists.

With the advent of the Internet you no longer have to go to a store to purchase prescription safety eyewear. A little more than six years ago, the retail eyewear market was turned on its heels. In 2010, four friends from the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania introduced Warby Parker to the online purchasing public. Their innovation of buying prescription eyewear online has now propelled this startup company to a valuation of more than $1.3 billion. This trend toward online eyewear ordering has in recent years been adopted by a handful of companies that specialize in prescription safety eyewear.

Meeting Eyewear Safety Needs Today and Tomorrow
Today the emphasis is on style, design, and ergonomics. Many prescription safety frames and lenses are industry specific. Safety eyewear is designed to meet different needs. For example, electrical contractors need non-conductive eyewear and chemical companies require full seal and prescription splash googles. Many first responders, hazardous waste companies, chemical companies, and others require full-face respirator kits with prescription spectacle kit inserts. Laboratory and medical research companies also require a specific type of eyewear, and forklift and mobile equipment operators require full view prescription safety glasses.

Though few in number, some highly skilled safety frame manufacturers will design safety eyewear for companies with specific needs or requests. It is possible to put a company's logo on a frame, as well as promote a company’s brand with prescription safety glasses made in the company's colors.

Preparing for the future, our forward-thinking eye safety experts are already anticipating the next wave of industry trends and specific needs. These include more styles for women workers by featuring smaller safety frames and petite sizes. Also, eyewear specifically manufactured to have adjustable nose pads to accommodate broader or narrower noses functions to accommodate workers of different ethnicities. Larger frames are also being developed by some manufacturers to protect workers with larger heads.

Prescription safety eyewear companies on the cutting edge have found that style sells. They study ergonomics and delivery options to best meet the needs of their clientele. They realize the need for workers to wear the proper frame and lens for the job at hand. They also realize that Internet ordering is effective and convenient and prescription safety glasses can be ordered online, just like other products.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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