Not All Vision Devices Are “20/20”
Vision Safety and Full-Face Respirator Masks
Imagine first responders, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, hazmat team members, or any industrial or chemical workers responding to an emergency or precarious job situation. They are wearing protective clothing; they are on the scene; and then they don their full-face respirator or gas mask. Now imagine that one of the first responders requires glasses. The respirator mask has the responder’s prescription spectacle kit installed inside. Unfortunately, once the device is in place, the responder sees images that are blurry and wavy. His eyesight is impaired. His performance is compromised; perhaps his life is even at risk.

AWARENESS AMONG INDUSTRIAL HYGIENISTS According to OSHA, 5 million workers in the U.S. are required to wear respirators in over one million workplaces. Respirators protect workers against all sorts of hazardous and harmful elements including gases, dusts, smoke, vapors, sprays and other toxins. Many of these respirators include the full-face respirator mask. For workers who require corrective eyewear, prescription spectacle kit inserts must be specially designed, with specially engineered optical frames, to fit and function inside the mask. The prescription insert may not just be an option but also a vital necessity.
However, not all prescription inserts are created equal. If certain optical considerations are not applied, then temporary poor, unstable vision results. Many of the IH professionals I have worked with over two decades have been unaware of this issue. They sent their worker to an eye care professional with a spectacle kit frame in-hand to have lenses placed in them. Until they understood the optical variances between regular prescription glasses and prescription inserts, the differences never crossed their mind. Most safety professionals, not just IH professionals, hold the same misconception. In many cases, the worker’s performance can be affected simply due to poor vision.
JOHN A. STEWART is vice president of SafeVision LLC in St. Louis, Mo. He can be reached at Send feedback on this article to