For those of us in the Northern States, the falling temperatures and recent snow flurries are a good indication the first day of winter is just around the corner. These colder temperatures mean significant changes for those who have to work outdoors. While coats, hats, gloves, boots and insulating layers of clothing help block the wind and keep the body warm, we also need to pay special attention to our eyes.
Exposure to cold temperatures, wind and snow glare pose unique challenges to eye safety during the winter months. Injuries from these hazards can cause eye pain, blurred or decreased vision, light sensitivity and even vision loss! You can see why protecting your eyes in the winter is important. However, it’s easily overlooked, because we tend to worry about protecting other parts of our body from the cold first.
More Protection is Better
When it comes to protecting your eyes in the winter, it’s hard to beat a goggle. They provide outstanding protection from the wind and flying particles, and provide extra face coverage as well. However, make sure you select a goggle that is designed to be used in cold conditions. The average “lab goggle” will become rigid and uncomfortable to wear for prolonged periods and prone to excessive lens fogging. Goggles designed for winter will have features similar to ski goggles, such as soft, dense foam around the face, dual-pane lenses and wide comfortable headbands. *Make sure you use a goggle that is ANSI Z87.1-2010 certified. Avoid the temptation to use ski or snowmobile goggles as they are NOT ANSI Z87 rated.
1. Fight Lens Fogging
Without a doubt the biggest problem faced by eye protection in cold weather is lens fogging. The temperature variance between a worker’s heated face and the cold outside air causes condensation to build up on the lens. Heavy exertion can exacerbate this, because the perspiration introduces additional moisture to the lens area. Fogged lenses cause worker frustration due to blurred vision and having to frequently remove their eyewear to clear the lenses. Even worse, some workers choose to not wear their protective eyewear to avoid fighting with lens fogging! This leaves them dangerously exposed to eye injuries.
Anti-fog coatings are your first line of defense, because they help reduce and delay the condensation that can build up on the interior of the lens. However, anti-fog coatings are not fool proof, and lenses will still need to be wiped down after time to remove excess moisture. When selecting safety eyewear with anti-fog coatings, look for advanced coatings that are permanently bonded to the lens. Bonded anti-fog coatings offer better performance and last longer between repeated cleanings and lens wiping. Anti-Fog Spray can also be used to improve anti-fog performance, especially on eyewear that doesn’t have a standard anti-fog coating.
Another important feature for winter safety goggles is the lens design. Dual-pane lenses are well suited for winter applications because they feature two lenses separated by an air chamber. The air between the two lens panes acts as an insulator, which helps reduce condensation. Just like other winter eyewear, dual-pane lenses should be treated with an anti-fog coating to maximize their anti-fog performance.
2. Go With The Flow
Airflow is another technique used to reduce lens fogging. Air vents integrated into the goggles body allow warm, moist air to escape, which helps reduce moisture build up on the lens. Direct venting offers the best performance, but it can’t be used in all situations. In certain safety environments where liquid/chemical splash is a concern, direct venting is not recommended. In such a case, you’ll want to select a goggle with indirect (hooded) vents or no vents at all.
Good airflow is a key feature for keeping lens fogging under control. In fact, it’s how the best anti-fog goggles in world keep their lenses fog free. If you’re working in extreme conditions that require the absolute maximum in anti-fog performance, then you should consider a goggle with a built-in vent fan. These types of goggles feature a variable speed electric fan that exhausts the hot, humid air from inside the goggle before it has a chance to condensate on the lens. Of course, these type of goggles don’t come cheap, costing north of $100, and are usually reserved for military and tactical applications where clear vision could mean the difference between life or death.
3. Don’t Look Into The Light!
Photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness, shouldn’t be taken for granted and happens more often than you think. If you’ve ever been outside on a sunny winter day with the sun reflecting off a fresh blanket of snow, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The intensity of the sun’s glare bouncing off the snow can be overwhelming and extremely uncomfortable. Plus your eyes are being exposed to high levels of UV light, which can lead to macular degeneration, cataracts and corneal sunburn!
Tinted polycarbonate (or similar material) lenses are the best way to combat this onslaught of sunlight and UV exposure. Common lens tints, such as gray, brown or mirrored, are suitable for most outdoor applications. For those who frequently transition from indoors to outdoors, you may want to consider an “indoor/outdoor” tint or even a photochromic lens. The selection of lens tints should be based on user preference, working conditions and company policy (some companies may not allow the use of mirrored lenses).
Another way to reduce glare is through the use of Polarized lenses, which use a special filtering film sandwiched into the lens. This film has fine, horizontal lines, which help block the glare shining off of reflective surfaces, such as snow, water and ice. Benefits include less eye strain and improved visual clarity.
Keep Calm and Wear Your Eye Protection
With all of winter’s discomforts, unique challenges and hazards, it’s easy to forget about or even ignore eye protection. Following the suggestions above will help keep your eyes safe during the cold winter months ahead.
List of recommended anti-fog goggles for winter: