Conventional sunglasses may protect the eyes from glare, they do not provide safety protection.

In fact, conventional glasses can present their own hazards in the workplace.

As the weather turns warm, many employees will begin to wear sunglasses, especially if they have duties that are performed out-of-doors.  While their sunglasses many protect them from the sun they certainly do not protect the eyes from industrial hazards such as splashes, flying objects, and dust.  Many also think if they wear prescription glasses that they don't need to worry about using safety eye wear.

Safety glasses are designed with a much stronger frame and better lenses than what you will find on conventional sunglasses.  Typically, when an object strikes the lens of the safety glasses it is very unlikely that the lens would dislodge but this is not true in conventional eye wear, particularly the types with wire frames.  If an object strikes the lens of conventional glasses, the lens can shatter,  and shower the wearer's eye with shards of glass.  If they are made of a cheap plastic they can break and the object could strike the eye.  In approved safety glasses, the lens will not shatter.  It is possible for them to break with enough force but there is no chance of getting shards of glass in the eye.

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Safety glasses are also designed with shields to reduce the risk of foreign objects reaching the eye from the sides, top or bottom.  Sunglasses or regular prescription glasses do not have these shields.   Employees should never wear the sunglasses that have leather or plastic shields on the sides (the types used for skiing) as these shields almost completely eliminate peripheral vision.  As a matter of fact, this type of sunglasses are illegal to wear while driving in some parts of the country due to this.

Because sunglasses have a darkened lens, some people think that these glasses are okay and will provide enough protection and will wear them when welding, brazing, or cutting.   This is absolutely incorrect and will cause great damage to the eyes.  Just having a darkened (it's just tinting) lens which are not made for industrial applications, can actually be more dangerous than not wearing glasses at all.  This is because the eye will attempt to compensate for less light by opening the pupil wider and this will allow more of the damaging radiation in. 

For the best protection from the visible light produced by welding, the lens must be of a specified shade and meet the OSHA and ANSI standards.  It's important to train employees on the dangers of not wearing the proper eye protection when welding or cutting.

There are some areas and times of the year that you might want to have safety sunglasses in the workplace.  What should you look for when choosing safety sunglasses?  First and foremost, make sure the glasses are indeed safety wear.  If they are, it will state on the packaging and on the frame of the glasses that they comply with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.  This is the organization that sets the criteria for safety equipment and eyewear.  Look for "Z37.1" to be in compliance, as this is the ANSI designation for identifying approved safety eyewear.

Choose safety glasses that are lightweight and adjustable as you want to have all employees using them.  Safety eyewear must fit properly because if they aren't comfortable, they won't be worn.  If the employee wears prescription glasses then purchase the type that can be worn over the glasses safely and easily. 

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Consider purchasing safety glasses that provide IR and UV protection in the workplace.  They generally cost no more than $10 a pair and that is a good deal considering you are protecting a valuable asset, the eyes of every worker!