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View the longer term picture

25 January 2013

Some of the low-cost imported safety spectacles available may turn out to be an expensive means of protecting employees, according to Graham Abbott of uvex UK The maxim 'you get what you pay for' is often heard and

Some of the low-cost imported safety spectacles available may turn out to be an expensive means of protecting employees, according to Graham Abbott of uvex UK

The maxim 'you get what you pay for' is often heard and is very relevant to the purchase of some safety spectacles. It's possible to pay as little as £2 for a pair of basic spectacles which will meet the European standard; however, their performance may fall short when subjected to the demands of the real world environment.

When buying safety eyewear, too often a company will base its decision as to which brand and type to purchase almost entirely on its price tag, but there is one important factor that is worth remembering, apart from the quality, durability, comfort, style and effectiveness of the product, and that is its real cost, by which we mean the cost when actually in use.

More often than not a better quality product can actually be less expensive than a cheap one in the long run, because it will need replacing less often and will have an extended product life. Although safety managers may be well aware of this, they often have a hard task arguing the case to those holding the purse strings.Damage to the eyes is one of the most common personal industrial injuries. According to the HSE, there are around 2500 reportable eye injuries each year in the UK, although, because of under-reporting, particularly in construction and the manufacturing industries where eye injuries predominantly occur, the real number is believed to be considerably higher.

Coatings Protective eyewear is often used in harsh working environments, so the lenses are usually coated to increase their efficacy and longevity. This coating is more important than one might at first think and is a key factor in ensuring the eyewear is worn and thus the wearers protected. For maximum effectiveness, the lens coating should offer resistance against fogging and scratching.

However, lens coatings need to be cost effective as well as reliable.

Lens coatings can either be hydrophobic detergent-based coatings (which can be washed off) or hydrophilic (moisture absorbing). A hydrophobic coating repels moisture which ultimately leads to a build up of perspiration on the lens which in turn requires cleaning to remove it - eventually, depending on the quality of the coating, the detergent properties will be washed from the lens, rendering it ineffective.

It's possible, however, to produce hydrophilic coatings which are permanent and do not wash off. The coating becomes sponge-like, absorbing moisture so that the wearer does not have to take off their spectacles or goggles to clear any fog, enhancing safety and wearer compliance.

Testing Safety eyewear is subject to a series of optional tests, under European Standard EN 168:2001, which covers non-optical test methods on personal eye protection. Under this standard, lenses may be tested for resistance to surface damage by fine particles.

The symbol 'K' accompanies the CE mark supplied by the manufacturer if they meet this requirement. They may also be tested for resistance to fogging. The test requires that the lenses remain fog-free for a minimum of 8sec when exposed to an atmosphere above 50°C. Lenses that meet this standard are marked with the symbol 'N'. It is important to ensure that safety eyewear meets and preferably exceeds this voluntary standard.

As part of its ongoing research and development into lens coatings, uvex recently conducted in-house tests on the durability of the lens coatings of its own and some other manufacturers' safety spectacles by repeatedly washing them to see how quickly the anti-fog coating deteriorated, assuming two washes per week for 44 weeks per year.

uvex believes the tests' results demonstrate to the buyer that they must consider the product in more ways than just its price per unit, important though this is. They need to take the wider perspective and think about the real cost of the product over time.

A user of spectacles costing £2 each who needs 22 pairs a year results in a cost of £44 per person; uvex believes those using spectacles costing £6 per pair would need only 3.6 pairs in a year because the anti-fog coating lasts indefinitely - total cost £21.60 per person, per year.