Canadian Occupational Safety
Dec 1, 2016

Prescription eyewear must suit workers' safety needs, company budgets

Prescription safety eyewear
Optometrists’ associations, safety manufacturers, chain stores all offer different solutions for prescription eye protection
By Linda Johnson

Prescription eyewear programs come in a variety of forms. Some even eliminate the usual employee appointment with an eyeglass specialist. For example, one eyewear retailer introduced a program that simply required its representative to drive from one company to another in his pick-up truck. At each site, the employees, ready with their prescriptions, would gather to meet him and be fitted with the proper frames. A week later, he would return to deliver their new glasses.

It is essential to provide prescription safety eyewear to ensure all workers see their workplace — and its hazards — clearly. However, prescription safety glasses are very expensive and the process can be time consuming. Instead, many companies choose to join a safety eyewear program. By agreeing to buy all prescription glasses through one provider, they hope to reduce both costs and paperwork. Program providers range from the provincial optometrists’ associations and the Opticians’ Association of Canada to safety eyewear manufacturers and chain stores. While the various programs have certain procedures in common, they often provide different services, different payment options and, ultimately, different prices.

THE NOT-FOR-PROFIT OPTION

Edmonton-based Eyesafe is a safety eyewear program run by the Alberta Association of Optometrists through their membership. The association approaches employers in Alberta and sells the program as a way to provide personal protective equipment to their employees, says Brian Furman, director of vision care programs.

The program, which is free to join, works through an online system. Workers tell the safety manager when they need a new pair of prescription glasses. The manager then goes to the Eyesafe website and creates and prints off a work ticket, or requisition form. The manager — based on a work hazard assessment of the employee’s work tasks and environment — will include on the form information about the kind of frames and lenses the worker is supposed to wear (such as whether different coatings or tints are allowed).

“The work ticket asks for a description of duties because we need to know, is this worker digging in a mine with a shovel all day or is he climbing up a power pole? If he works with electricity, it’s good to know that we shouldn’t put him in a metal frame,” Furman says.

“Sometimes, a worker will come in and say he wants tinted lenses. We’ll call the safety supervisor and ask whether this person can have tinted lenses. ‘No, he’s a mechanic. He works indoors. Why would he want tinted lenses?’ Or vice versa: ‘He works outdoors all day; yes, he can have tinted lenses.’”

The employee takes the ticket to an optometrist. The doctor types the work ticket number into the online system to access the employee’s company information and other information needed to determine what kind of frames and lenses the worker is supposed to wear.

The optometrist orders the glasses and when ready, the worker picks them up at the doctor’s office. Once a month, Eyesafe sends a bill to the company for its usage.

Furman says of the 300 companies in the Eyesafe program, about one-half pay the full cost of the glasses, while the rest cost-share with the employee. For example, the employer will cover up to $200 and the worker pays anything over that.

“It depends on how well they’re doing. Generally, the large ones — like Imperial Oil and Suncor — cover the whole cost without question. Some of the littler companies will ask their guys to cost-share with them,” he says.

Similar prescription eyewear programs, administered by the Canadian Association of Optometrists, are available in other provinces, except Quebec. Because services are provided by optometrists, the programs run by the associations provide a higher level of health care than other programs, Furman says. The cost is also more reasonable; their not-for-profit status means that frames, lenses and, to some extent, doctor services can be provided to companies on a wholesale basis.

The programs also allow companies to ensure their workers are getting the most effective eye protection, Furman says. If workers are sent out to get their own glasses, the safety manager has no idea whether the glasses they get are up to proper standards.

“The program is a way to control all that. The eyewear is going to comply not only with CSA standards but also with specific company policy,” Furman says.

CSA standards on prescription safety eyewear are set out in CSA Z94.3-15, Eye and Face Protectors, which discusses design and performance requirements, and CSA Z94.3.1-16, Guideline for Selection, Use and Care of Eye and Face Protectors.

Most provincial OHS legislation (except Saskatchewan) and federal OHS regulation refer to CSA Z94.3-15, she adds. Safety eyewear must be CSA-compliant, indicated by a marking on the eyewear frame.

MANUFACTURERS’ PROGRAMS

Programs provided through manufacturers work in much the same way as Eyesafe. Bruce Gibson, health-care solutions manager at Oakville, Ont.-based Levitt-Safety, says the manufacturer meets with an employer in advance of an agreement to discuss the safety eyewear requirements and to select the frames that will be available to employees. Some types of frames may be eliminated because of unsuitable materials. Employees take their prescription and company authorization form to the dispenser — in this case an optician — who fits them with a pre-selected frame.

With some companies, employees pay for the prescription glasses in full at the time they pick them up and the company later reimburses them for some or all of the cost. Other companies have a program that works directly through the manufacturer.

“We just send them one bill at the end of the month and they do their own internal program of cost adjusting or payroll deduction. Or they cover everything. It depends on the company and how they’ve set up that program up for their employees,” says Gibson.

The main people involved in the program are safety management and, because it’s quite often run through an employee benefits package, the human resources department, Gibson says. While HR is responsible for administering the program, safety personnel handle the safety side — as the ones legally responsible for the well-being of their workers, they must make sure the PPE that each worker has been supplied meets safety requirements based on the job.

In addition to identifying the frame and lens features their workers need, the safety manager might also be involved on the financial side. For example, she may reject a premium group of frames that is not really needed for their job to reduce company expenses, Gibson says.

Along with guaranteeing all frames and lenses are CSA-compliant, the program also formalizes the procedure of buying prescription safety eyewear. It is easier to manage from both an administrative and safety management point of view because employees can go only to specified dispensers (opticians) and all payments go through that limited number of clinics, Gibson says. There is also one, detailed statement per month.

“With many informal programs that we replace, companies have just said to workers, ‘Go get your prescription. Go get safety eyewear. Bring me back the invoice and we’ll reimburse you.’ So they get invoices coming from all over the place and they have reimbursement issues.”

Some program providers such as Longueuil, Que.-based Securo Vision, have introduced systems that allow companies to manage the program completely online, so there is no paperwork to handle at all, says Sylvie Lapointe, administrative assistant. Other providers allow for the installation of a kiosk at the company. Employees can choose their prescription glasses and submit their prescriptions at any time at work.

It’s also important to note the frequency of and payment for eye exams are not affected by a prescription safety eyewear program. Rather, they are determined by the employer and based on the benefits the employee has through his health-care benefits package. Most companies cover the cost of the exam and will tell employees how often they can get new glasses — typically about every two years — and the employee will have an eye exam before getting them.

Testing frequency may also be governed by provincial regulation and by the particular industry, Gibson says. Companies employing drivers and forklift operators, for example, would probably test their vision more frequently than other workers and maintain an in-house vision-screening program.

While they are much cheaper than prescription safety glasses, safety lenses that clip to the frames of a person’s regular glasses should not be used in working conditions as a substitute for prescription safety glasses because they are not CSA-compliant, Lapointe says. Minimum dimension and size requirements for lenses and frames are set by the CSA to ensure glasses provide proper coverage. Regular glasses don’t meet these standards, leaving gaps and holes that could allow flying particles and other hazards into the eyes.

Moreover, she adds, safety frames must be equipped with permanent side shields, so clip-on side shields are not CSA-compliant. Wearing two lenses at once tends to produce a poorer fit and be much less comfortable for the wearer than safety glasses.

Prescription safety glasses require no special consideration over and above regular safety glasses when it comes to care and maintenance, Lapointe says. However, because prescription eyewear tends to cost much more than regular safety glasses, it makes a lot of sense to ensure workers care for them properly.

“Progressives, for example, may cost close to $1,000. When you pay that amount of money, it’s in your interest to take care of them if you don’t want to have to go and buy another pair in a year,” says Lapointe. “There are ways to care for any prescription glasses if you want to get the most from your money.”

Lapointe says having a prescription safety eyewear program helps show employees their company wants to provide them with proper eye protection and encourage them to wear the glasses. Many eye injuries occur daily at work, often causing a person to lose an eye.

“And once you lose your sight, there’s no going back,” says Lapointe. “Having a program should be a must — the same way employers provide steel-toed boots or hard hats. It should always be part of your protective equipment.”

 

Linda Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She can be reached at lindajohnson@sympatico.ca.

This article originally appeared in the December/January 2017 issue of COS.