Like all PPE, goggles and face shields are your last line of defense against the many lab hazards that may hurt you. But not all goggles and face shields are equal! To help you keep safe and sound, we’ll review the most common types of eye and face protection in the lab, and give you some pointers on when (and when not) to use them.
Glasses and goggles are made specifically to protect you against a specific type of lab hazard: impact and explosions; chemical splashes; UV light; and laser light. Here’s a quick overview of the eye protection out there, and how to tell them apart.
These sturdy glasses protect your eyes from impacts, flying particles, and minor chemical splashes. Their frames often have perforations and don’t seal to your face, so they can’t protect you against burns from dangerous chemicals like chloroform, as one unfortunate scientist discovered. In the U.S., safety glasses should have “Z87” stamped on their frame, indicating that they are rated to protect you against impact.
Unlike safety glasses, chemical goggles can resist accidental splashes from larger amounts of chemicals, as well as corrosives. Goggles can help protect you from chemical explosions, such as when you’re working with glassware under pressure or extreme temperature. But make sure you match the goggles to the hazard – some goggles have vents on the side to reduce fogging, which also limits their protection against splashes. You can avoid this problem by using unvented goggles with fog-free lenses, or by using goggles with indirect ventilation.
These hybrid goggle-safety glasses offer some impact resistance and better splash protection than safety glasses. However, they don’t seal to your face, and therefore aren’t the best protection against splashes.
These goggles protect your eyes (but not your whole face!) from getting burned by ultraviolet light from transilluminators or germicidal lamps. UV goggles are usually stamped with a “UV” symbol or with “Z87.1”, indicating they are rated to protect against UV. Check with the manufacturer if you don’t see a symbol. UV is particularly dangerous because you don’t feel its effects during exposure–there’s a delay between exposure and when you develop a burn!
Laser-specific goggles can protect your eyes against laser light at particular wavelengths and frequencies. But don’t count on these goggles to protect you against chemicals and impacts!
Goggles don’t protect your face and neck – and because many don’t seal to your face, chemicals can still splash into your eyes. Wear a face shield over your glasses to give your face extra protection against impacts, sparks, chemical splashes, and UV light. But be sure you’re wearing a face shield that can actually protect you against the hazard!
Splash/impact face shields
Most face shields in the lab are designed to be secondary protection against chemical splashes, sparks, and (if they are marked with “Z87”) impacts.
Ultraviolet-resistant face shields
These face shields are designed to specifically protect you against UV light. To make sure a face shield can protect you against UV, look for a mark on it that says “UV” or “U” followed by a number from 2 – 6. Don’t forget to protect the rest of yourself by wearing a lab coat and nitrile gloves!
Along with gloves and lab coats, goggles and face shields are vital to protecting you against the many chemical and non-chemical hazards in the lab! To learn more about eye and face protection, go to the links below, or visit our SWAG page to pick up a copy of our ebook: The Bitesize Bio Guide to Lab Safety.
To learn more about eye and face protection:
- Cornell University Environmental Health & Safety. Eye Protection.
- Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety. PPE Selection Guide by Task.
- National Academies of Science. Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards. General Procedures for Working with Hazardous Chemicals.
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Eye and Face Protection eTool. PPE Selection – Chemicals: Goggles.
- Princeton University Environmental Health & Safety. Controlling Chemical Exposure.