Know the Quality of Your Safety Gear Purchases: How to Read the Specs on Laser Safety Glasses
Getting your company new laser safety glasses isn’t as simple as buying a new order of your current equipment. The safety standards your company needs to meet may have changed over time. Constant developments in laser safety and eyewear also mean that better options are available on the market.
But laser safety glasses have a lot of technical specifications. Even if your job focuses primarily on equipment safety and internal audits, the information can be overwhelming. Use this quick guide to help break down the specs and buy what you’re really looking for.
Match or exceed minimum OSHA regulations.
Eye safety is an important aspect of working with laser equipment. Employees should always have access to protective eyewear even if it isn’t mandated by federal regulations or internal policies. OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, lays out several regulations for worksite safety, employee equipment, and general worker health. These regulations extend to eye safety, and that means employers have to ensure both access to and use of the right protective eyewear.
OSHA does this by adopting and enforcing ANSI’s rating system regarding protective eyewear.
What’s the difference between OSHA and ANSI?
OSHA sets regulations and enforces adherence to those standards. ANSI, or the American National Standards Institute, creates the standards by which eyewear and other equipment are rated. For example, OSHA may mandate that the eyewear used at your workplace has to meet the standard of ANSI Z87.1-2010. But ANSI decided what the technical specifications of meeting or failing to meet that standard entails.
What standards should you be looking for on your protective eyewear?
ANSI’s standards and guidelines are organized by topic. Lasers themselves, for example, are listed under ANSI Z136 standards. Laser safety glasses are under ANSI Z87.1, which specifies standards for personal Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices. While you can look up what each standard describes, your current protective eyewear should have the ANSI standard it meets written into the equipment.
Older equipment may have ANSI Z87.1-2003 engraved or emblazoned on the side. That means it matched that minimum standard. However, the ANSI standards were updated in 2010 and 2015. If your company is updating protective equipment, see which of the 2015 standards your business should adhere to for a long-term investment.
What should the lenses be made out of?
Everything from the lens material to the surface coating changes the performance of laser safety eyewear. Balance your budget against safety considerations and the additional features that can improve workplace visibility.
Polycarbonate materials are right for low- to mid-power lasers.
Laser strength is measured with optical density in mind, and polycarbonate lenses can handle the majority of applications that are relatively low in strength. The material is getting better and better at absorbing and filtering a widening spectrum of wavelengths. Polycarbonate also holds color filters for additional features.
Polycarbonate also offers physical advantages compared to glass. The material is more durable and scratch resistant. They will last longer, especially in high-use environments. Glasses with polycarbonate lenses are also lighter, which makes them more comfortable to wear. Polycarbonate is even lighter on your budget, so if they’re the right level of protection for your company’s lasers, the cost of new equipment is much easier to manage.
Glass lenses can handle stronger lasers and unique applications.
Glass lenses offer higher light absorption and visual light transmission. The material can handle a more diverse range of wavelengths and better handles visual light so users can see more detail. It also maintains a better color balance while transferring light through the lenses. If your company works with mid- or high-powered lasers, glass eyewear offers both the best protection and clarity. It can also be customized to unique operations and specifications in a way that polycarbonate hasn’t yet evolved.
Look for coatings that protect the lenses themselves.
Different laser environments need different degrees of physical protection for the glasses themselves. Just like regular eyewear, some users need only a bit of scratch resistance for daily wear and tear. But other environments could be more hectic, requiring a more powerful scratch or fog-proof coating. Make a list of features that your lenses need and search accordingly.
Lens color: What does tint matter?
Lasers use light, even if it’s not always visible to the naked eye. Both glass and polycarbonate lenses can be tinted to best match the laser’s wavelength. Polycarbonate lenses especially use dyes and tints to reflect laser light away. Some color tints also help restore color balance for better visibility.
What other technical terms should you know before continuing your search?
Reading through specifications is a matter of comparing different materials and features against others. But safety equipment also has highly technical specifications that you need to be familiar with. If you manage equipment or onsite safety instead of work with laser equipment directly, here are two numbers you need to know before buying protective eyewear:
How powerful are your lasers? Know the right optical density for your employees.
Check your laser for the appropriate specifications. Laser equipment is marked with standardized information regarding the wavelength and beam diameter, as well as the laser’s power. It should also specify the designated work environment and types of usage. This information varies from laser to laser, even in the same industry sector. Make sure you know your company’s equipment specifications and invest in laser eyewear that meets the minimum standard for the lasers that pose the most risk to your employees. Once you have those numbers, you can determine the right optical density level employees need to strike a balance between protection and visibility. Doublecheck your numbers on optical density with our quick wavelength and optical density guide here. You can also ask your onsite LSO, or Laser Safety Officer, for help.
Optical density, or OD, is usually displayed as ‘[X]+ @ [wavelength range] nm.’
What’s the visible light transmission?
Laser safety glasses block light. At their simplest, they stop most wavelengths of light from reaching your eye. But that impacts how effectively you can see the surrounding area and employees can perform their tasks. The way that glasses stop light also plays a part in overall clarity.
Some glasses absorb light to stop it from reaching your eyes. Glasses lenses tend to use absorption. Other lenses reflect light, or bounce certain colors or spectrums of light away. Polycarbonate lenses are more likely to stop light through reflection. But because of the dyes, or tints, required to bounce that light away, the lenses tend to be darker.
Visible light transmissions are displayed as percentages, so look for glasses that offer a high [X]% VLT.
Making sure your new safety equipment ticks all the checkboxes on your OSHA requirements is tricky. Go to Phillips Safety Products for a product catalog with clearly marked specifications and ANSI standards.