From basic to bifocal
By Emily Refermat
"I had an incident about five years ago when not wearing safety glasses. I was up in the hell hole of a King Air replacing an oxygen bottle. I was on a ladder and had loosened up one of the steel clamps that holds the bottle on the pressure bulkhead. I was in the process of loosening the other clamp when the first one came disconnected at the "T" part of the clamp. The tension of the clamp caused it to hit me with such a force that it nearly knocked me out. I came out of the hell hole with a huge gash by my right eye, blood pouring all over the place. If the clamp would have hit me a little more to the left, I may have lost my eye. I still have a nice scar to remind me of the incident. I am definitely a supporter of wearing safety glasses!"
- Excerpt from posting on AMT Online Forum Dec. 18, 2003
We've all heard the stories, read the polices, and seen the signs, but what are the requirements for safety glasses in aircraft maintenance shops?
By OSHA regulation (29 CFR 1910.133 Eye and Face Protection) an employer is required to ensure an employee use appropriate eye or face protection when the employee is exposed to hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.
It goes further to require the use of side protectors if there is a danger of flying objects and that an employee with prescription glasses either wear a type of safety glasses that incorporates the prescription or can be worn over the prescription pair.
The results of a 2004 AMT survey to FBO, repair station, and airline mechanics indicate that most aircraft mechanics are required to wear eye protection while performing tasks that put them at a risk of eye injury. Tasks such as using the grinding wheel, pouring chemicals or exposure to chemical vapor, working with sheet metal, oil or fuel, pneumatic equipment, and drilling all usually require the use of safety glasses.
The safety precautions in place are not just there to meet OSHA regulations however. From our survey, more mechanics told us the in-house safety program was responsible for their use of eye protection, than both OSHA and insurance combined. Bob Perry, safety director at Duncan Aviation (nicknamed Safety Bob), says it really comes down to promoting worker health. He wants to provide mechanics with the proper safety and education to prevent accidents. Perry tells the story of how the mechanics at Duncan were required to wear safety glasses all the time before he was hired and there were more accidents. Now with a task-specific policy there are less accidents. Why? Mechanics just didn't wear them. When only required to wear safety glasses for certain tasks and trained on why those tasks are considered a risk, the mechanics are more likely to comply. "We have trainings and give examples," Perry says. "You just have to get the mechanics' attention."
A slightly surprising statistic was the 35 percent of mechanics who say personal preference is the reason behind eye protection. The majority of mechanics, 73 percent, feel safety glasses are important for specific tasks, but not necessary all the time. The rest feel safety glasses are an important piece of protective equipment and should be worn at all times when on the shop floor.
Are all safety glasses created equal? To be sold as safety glasses the manufacturer's design needs to conform to ANSI Z87.1 American National Standard Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection. Military specification is tougher and more rare, but most safety glasses meet the basic ANSI Z87.1. From here there are a lot more options.
For those mechanics that need prescription glasses, you can have your glasses made to meet OSHA/ANSI standards and then purchase clip-on side protectors to wear while on the job. There are also safety glasses large enough to be comfortably worn over prescription glasses. Another option for mechanics who wear reading glasses for manuals and nearsighted work are bifocal safety glasses. Wizard Industries offers bifocal safety glasses in five different strengths and, according to a spokesperson at Wizard, has had great success with people who don't want to remove their safety glasses to put on their reading glasses, then take them off, and put safety glasses on again. The incorporated bifocal lens makes the safety glasses hands-free when the mechanic has to read or do detail work up close.
For mechanics that want a little more fashion in their eye protection, there are a number of wraparound styles that look like a cool pair of sunglasses, especially when paired with colored lens. Another tip from an AMT Online Forum writer is "anti-fog," especially if you are required to wear the safety glasses at all times on the shop floor.
Other things to look for include adjustable temple/ear pieces, adjustable nose bridges, anti-glare coatings, indoor/outdoor lens, scratch-resistance, padded nose bridge, replaceable lenses, and curvature (which could lead to a distorted view).
Some vendors will even come and give free eye exams at your facility. Perry says the guy who comes to Duncan Aviation can't tell you what prescription you need, but can tell you it's time to see an optometrist.
Whether required or not, safety glasses make a difference. One member of the AMT Online Forum says that after his company mandated wearing safety glasses on the hangar floor, accidents decreased. Not necessarily from the glasses themselves, but the psychological effect of wearing safety glasses made the mechanics think about safety.
With all the options out there for protective eye wear, there should be something just for you. Whether it's something comfortable, something stylish, or something functional take a good look at eye protection.
A copy of ANSI Z87.1 can be purchased from the American National Standards Institute for $53.00.
Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHA)
29 CFR 1910
Fact Sheet No. OSHA 93-03 Eye Protection in the Workplace
Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA)
Bulletin -- Understanding Changes to 2003 ANSI standards Z87.1, Z89.1, and Z117.1 (Bulletin No. 5555-192-MC)