300,000 workplace eye injuries send people to the emergency room each year nationwide. In most cases, safety eyewear is not being worn, it doesn’t fit, or doesn’t provide the appropriate protection for the application.
Of these 300,000 eye injuries, it’s estimated that 90% of them were preventable if workers had been wearing (appropriate) eye protection. That equates to 270,000 workplace eye injuries that could be avoided each year.
But how do you know if you’re wearing the “appropriate” eye protection? It starts by looking inside the pair of safety glasses you have.
ANSI Z87 requirements
When you look inside of a pair of safety eyewear you’ll see several markings. Have you ever wondered what those markings mean and why they exist? These numbers indicate specific safety ratings for eyewear, part of the American National Standards Institute – ANSI Z87. ANSI exists to oversee and help with the development of voluntary safety standards for the US, based on a national consensus process. This creates a uniform testing standard and helps hold all manufacturers accountable for the level of safety they deliver in their products.
The ANSI Z87 rating was created to help develop a certification system for safety eyewear based on specific hazards encountered in the workplace like:
- Chemicals or Liquid Splash
Eye protection that’s Z87.1 compliant is marked with “Z87.” All safety eyewear manufacturers should provide product information around how their safety eyewear meets these current standards.
We’ll be focusing on the three hazards, their testing methods, and markings we most commonly get asked about:
- Liquid Splash
Common related tasks
Flying objects such as large chips, fragments, particles, sand, and dirt
Chipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, woodworking, sawing, drilling, chiseling, powered fastening, riveting, and sanding
Splash, fumes, vapors, irritating mists
Acid and chemical handling, degreasing, plating, and working with blood
Woodworking, buffing, and general dusty conditions
From the OSHA website, November 2011
Z87 impact testing
The first marking you’ll likely see on your eyewear is “Z87” or “Z87+”. This is the ANSI standard for impact which helps ensure safety eyewear provides workers with the needed protection from impact hazards.
For safety eyewear to pass the basic Z87 standard, it must pass the ball drop test. This test involves a steel ball (that is one inch in diameter and weighing roughly 2.4oz) being dropped from a test height of 50 inches. For eyewear to pass, the lens and frames must remain intact.
But what about if there's a “+” next to the Z87 marking? Z87+ means that the eyewear meets a higher impact standard and goes through a much tougher set of tests than Z87.
There are two main tests for Z87+:
1. The High Mass Test
This test consists of dropping a 500-gram pointed weight from a height of about 50 inches (or 4.2 feet) onto lenses that are mounted on a head form. To pass this lens-retention test, no pieces from the frames or lenses may break free or fracture. The high-mass test is a good indicator of a product’s strength and is meant to simulate an impact like a slipping tool that falls onto a worker’s face or a lens collision with a stationary object.
2. The High Velocity Test
This test involves a ¼ inch steel ball being shot at 20 different specified impact points. The speed and distance (or velocity) of the tiny steel ball varies, depending on the type of safety eyewear.
- Safety Glasses – the steel ball is shot at a speed of 102mph
- Safety Goggles – the steel ball is shot at a speed of 170mph
The pass/fail criteria for the high velocity test is the same as the high mass test with the added criterion that the “eye” on the head form can’t encounter the lens in any way when it’s struck. This test is meant to simulate particles that workers could be exposed to when performing job functions such as grinding, chipping, or machining.
Understanding the difference between these two standards is crucial (Z87 vs Z87+).
All HexArmor safety eyewear is tested against and passes, the Z87+ standard for high impact.
Splash and dust protection
Eyewear that meets the ANSI Z87.1 requirement for droplet (splash) and dust protection will be marked with a code that begins with the letter “D”.
- Eye protection that provides protection from droplets and splashes are marked with "D3"
- Eye protection that provides dust protection are labeled with "D4"
- Eye protection that provides fine dust protection is labeled with "D5"
Liquid splash test misconceptions
Sometimes there’s confusion about whether safety eyewear is rated for chemical splash. This may stem from an outdated version of the ANSI/ISEA 2010 standard. In this version, the ANSI/ISEA called the test a “chemical splash test.” However, in the updated Z87.1-2015 standard, the test was renamed the “liquid splash test.”
This is more accurate because the test for splash resistance is simply a liquid splash test. This means liquid in general and nothing specific. It could be water, Coca-Cola, apple juice…you get the idea.
The liquid splash test is a pass/fail test and uses a sheet of reactive paper. The paper is placed on a head form under the eye protection (in this case usually googles) with circles drawn for where the eyes would be, and then sprayed with a liquid. If the paper turns color inside those circles, it fails. If not, it passes for liquid splash.
Adequate protection from splash dust
Safety goggles are intended to protect eyes against dust, splash, and droplet hazards. Goggles form a protective seal around the eyes, preventing liquid, chemicals, or dust from entering under or around the goggles. Ventilated goggles allow air circulation while providing protection against airborne particles, dust, liquids, or light.
Difference between direct indirect ventilation goggles
In most cases, goggles with a direct vent system will fail this test as liquid is able to get directly through the vent and to the eyes.
Goggles with indirect vent systems, will likely pass the liquid splash test (depending on the manufacturer), meaning they provide a safe barrier between the liquids and the eyes beneath and are rated for use with liquid splash hazards.
Product markings explained
With safety glasses, you can find markings either on the sidearm of the frames or on the right side of the lens, as shown in the photo below.
If the eyewear passed the high impact standard, you will see a “+” next to the Z87 or W marking on the sidearm or you’ll see a W+ on the lens. “W” is simply the manufacturer’s mark.
With goggles, the markings will be found on the top of the seal.
Wondering what all the other numbers and letters mean? Here's a quick guide for reference:
These markings help make the selection process of ANSI Z87 safety eyewear easier, so workers are getting the safest eyewear for the job, inevitably helping to increase compliance.
To help companies be better prepared and informed, the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) has prepared a guide to help safety managers and workers properly select and use eye and face protection equipment.
HexArmor® can help
Even if you understand what all the markings mean, you still may need help selecting the right eyewear for your application. Check with your safety manufacturer to see how your eyewear is being made, how it scores in the ANSI Z87 testing, and what applications your safety eyewear is ideal for.
Plus, all of HexArmor's safety eyewear is Z87+ approved, so you know you're getting the best eye protection on the market - see our safety eyewear technology.Quick guide to lens markings