How to buy eyewear

Every occupational task in law enforcement has a realistic eye injury hazard that is potentially career ending

All law enforcement officers should wear eye protection at all times, for any assignment. This may sound like a broad statement aimed at promoting the eyewear industry, but it is actually a realistic assessment of the law enforcement career. Every occupational task in law enforcement has a realistic eye injury hazard that is potentially career ending. We are not talking about the accidental pencil that flipped off the cubicle divider; eye injuries are statistically likely in law enforcement.

Consider how many hazardous fluids and powders that you could encounter on patrol. Most drug testing chemicals are caustic; most powder exposures (fingerprint, controlled substances) are fine-grained and easily made airborne; most personal exposures are innately hazardous (body fluids, fire smoke and debris); many vehicle and equipment leakages (radiator, battery acid) are caustic or high temperature.

Consider the potential for eye trauma in the field. Every environment is a potential hazard, not to mention some of the less common sources of injury. For example, gunfire through any glass item (like a windshield) will create airborne glass particles that remain in the air for a few minutes. Even if the officer is not hit, he/she may be out of the fight. Any building material releases secondary projectiles when stuck with sufficient force.

Facial trauma injuries can literally be cut in half with a simple piece of fashion. Adding to the traumatic injury source, the potential for UV exposure without a reasonable break is tremendous for an officer. An agency prudent in risk management would do well to require every officer to wear some sort of eye covering for any assignment at any time.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing eyewear for law enforcement officers:

1. What is the impact resistance of the product?

The safety standards listed for eyewear are confusing. The first thing that a smart shopper needs to know about eyewear is the fact that the standards are voluntary, but widely recognized. That is, ANSI (American National Standards Institute, the authority for safety standards) does not have enforcement authority whatsoever. For safety eyewear, the authority comes from OSHA, but only for specific labor tasks. When OSHA specifically cites an ANSI standard, it is enforceable. For the record, there aren’t any eyewear safety standards specifically for the law enforcement field, except universal precautions for disease transmission and eye protection that should be worn for specific tasks.

Here are a few standards, loosely from least to most protective:

ANSI Z80.3-2001: This is the common standard for non prescription sunglasses. It includes standards for the optical quality of the lens, UV resistance and color discrimination but does not include impact resistance. Logically, a sunglass wearer should be able to distinguish colors and have distortion free sunglasses.

ANSI Z87.1-1989 (outdated by 1-2003): This is a standard for environments that are potentially injurious to eyes. It is tested by dropping a projectile of a certain weight and measured velocity on a lens. There are color clarity and light transmission requirements also.

ANSI Z87.1-2003: This standard has everything 1-1989, but adds the requirement that the lens cannot be dislodged from the frame on impact. 1-1989 tests a dismounted lens. This one tests the package. For Law Enforcement use, this should be considered the minimum qualification. Most tactical manufacturers will advertise that their products meet this standard.

U.S. Military MIL-PRF-31013: The military standard is from a completely different scale and should not be directly compared to the ANSI language. Impact resistance is only one aspect of this standard. The impact resistance is measured by firing a .15 caliber projectile at the material at 640-660 fps. It should be clearly noted that no eyewear should be considered bullet resistant. However, this level of resistance increases the odds of secondary projectile survivability

MIL-V-43511D: This is also a military spec. Manufactures who meet this standard should be noted as this encompasses many aspects of quality that describe the rigors of tactical use, including impact, abrasion resistance, prismatic deviation (optical clarity), color transmission, durability and optical qualities incidental to military aircrew personnel use. The impact test includes resistance to a .22 caliber projectile fired at 550+ fps. Only a handful of manufacturers make everyday wear eyewear at this level of protection. For tactical use, look for it. Manufacturers will not be shy about this one.

2. Does it meet the needs of the officer and the agency?

Does the officer really need the high level of impact resistance? Fortunately, there is not a real difference in price among products, once they are identified as tactical eyewear. It's important to take durability and value into consideration. Sometimes a department needs to spend a little more on a product that is durbale, can take a bit of abuse and will last longer.

Also think about the uniform policy of the agency. Really reflective lenses are out, dark wraparounds are in.

3. What you should know

  • There have been advances in technology in the past couple of years that justify replacing an outdated product. Several manufacturers have polycarbonate impact resistant lenses that transition in a matter of seconds from clear or amber to very dark, and back again. The officer on dayshift who goes from setting the java down to a hot domestic call will appreciate this.
  • Shock-absorbing frames and strategically placed foam or rubber improve impact resistance and keep the glasses on the face during a wrestling match. Look for sturdy patches of rubber or flexible wire in the nose bridge.
  • Prescription inserts completely change the character of the eyewear. It is best to order prescription polycarbonate (or similar) lenses from the manufacturer that pop in the standard frame.
  • The cool looking wraparounds are expensive to get optically correct. Purchase reputable ones. Wraparound features are important, especially on mounted patrol.
  • Good products have replaceable lenses.

Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing eyewear? Please leave a comment below or email with your feedback.

Police1 Special Contributor Lindsey Bertomen, a retired police officer, contributed to this report.

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