by , on November 21, 2017

Question: Some of our workers want to wear metal eye glass frames with side shields for doing electrical work. Is this allowed by OSHA or NFPA 70E?

Answer: (We wanted to play the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” for while you were reading our response, but our copyright department nixed it!)

The question often arises about conductive eye wear for electrical workers. Let’s take a good long look at the subject.

OSHA covers conductive apparel in 1910.333(c)(8), which states, “Conductive articles of jewelry and clothing (such a watch bands, bracelets, rings, key chains, necklaces, metalized aprons, cloth with conductive thread, or metal headgear) may not be worn if they might contact exposed energized parts. However, such articles may be worn if they are rendered non-conductive by covering, wrapping, or other insulating means.”

A second reference appears in 1910.335(a)(1)(v), stating, “Employees shall wear protective equipment for the eyes or face wherever there is danger of injury to the eyes or face from electric arcs or flashes or from flying objects resulting from electrical explosion.”

OSHA again hints at the subject of electrical PPE in 1910.335(a)(1)(i), where the standard states, “Employees working in areas where there are potential electrical hazards shall be provided with, and shall use, electrical protective equipment that is appropriate for the specific parts of the body to be protected and for the work to be performed.

Note: Personal protective equipment requirements are contained in subpart I of this part.”

Subpart I, referenced in 1910.335, reduces down to wearing safety eyewear compliant with ANSI Z87.1 ( ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, ANSI Z87.1-2003, or ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R-1998)) when exposed to “eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

As for getting more specifics from OSHA on eyewear for electrical workers, this is as good as it gets. Looking to NFPA 70E makes things clearer but still leaves room for interpretation in the last two versions.

See below:

NFPA 70E 2018, Article 130.7(C) covers Personal Protective Equipment. Section (4) of this article addresses eye protection, and echoes what OSHA states above, stating that protective eyewear must be worn whenever a danger of injury exists from arc flashes, explosions, flying objects, etc.

But in 130.5 (D) NFPA 70E states, “Conductive articles of jewelry and clothing (such as watchbands, bracelets, rings, key chains, necklaces, metalized aprons, cloth with conductive thread, metal headgear, or metal frame glasses [our italics]) shall not be worn within the Restricted Approach Boundary or where they present an electrical contact hazard with exposed energized electrical conductors or circuit parts.” In previous versions this applied to the Limited Approach Boundary, so it was VERY clear that conductive frames could not be worn since the minimum Limited Approach Boundary is 42 inches (1M). But with the change to this applying ONLY to the Restricted Approach Boundary, it becomes a little more fuzzy for low voltage from a standards perspective.

The question was posed to OSHA  in 1993 and 1994, and two official letters of interpretation were issued. These are included in the links below. The summary of these letters is again a little vague and simplistic: Wear a non-conductive means of restraint, NEVER a metal chain or other metal keeper for your glasses, and wear either a faceshield in front of your conductive eyewear, or appropriate safety glasses over the metal frame optical glasses. Both letters of interpretation state these requirements.

We at e-Hazard prefer an even simpler solution: follow a common-sense approach and get non-conductive frames for your safety eyewear. Many of today’s safety glasses are thin, lightweight, carry a proper ANSI 87.1 rating, and as well pose absolutely no risk from electrical shock. These plastic frames prevent your glasses from slipping off, falling into the electrical equipment, and increasing the risk of a shock or arc flash event, and they are non-conductive. We’ve heard it all over the years – from wearing an arc-rated keeper, which we support, to wearing a keeper AND a large pair of plastic glasses over your metal-framed eyewear. I learned from my military years the principle of KISS – Keep It Simple, Silly (actually the word in the military was “Stupid,” not silly). The KISS solution here is  — bring nothing that could cause or increase the likelihood of a shock or arc flash into the electrical work area. This way, you can keep those big brown eyes (or blues, or whatever color you may have) working into retirement, and not pose a hazard to yourself or your co-worker.  This is our best practice solution.  Several companies offer even prescription safety eyewear in a non-conductive frame to meet your needs.

We often get asked about the small amount of metal in the hinge and screw.  There are few if any conditions that a screw that small could cause an arc flash or shock issue, and we know of NO incidents which could cause an arc flash or shock from the small screw in a pair of safety glasses.  Remember KISS!

Here’s to good eyesight and long-range vision! Enjoy the song “These Eyes” as a great reminder to actually wear your PPE any time you are exposed to a hazard. PPE works when it is worn. Those glasses do no good hanging on your front shirt pocket!


Ken Sellars
About author:

Ken Sellars is an instructor of electrical safety, NEC, Grounding/Bonding and Arc Flash Safety courses nationwide. Read more about Ken.


8 Comments on "These Eyes: Electrical Safety and Metal Eyeglass Frames"

G Becken - 5 December 2017 Reply

Ken provides good advise, but misses one point. Some people, like myself, have thicker corrective lens. Wearing the available (non-corrective lenses) safety glasses over them will quickly scratch the lens, requiring annual lens replacement. Taking a page from NFPA 70E (2018), the Likelihood (Probability) of Occurrence is less likely than Seldom (Remote possibility; could happen sometime; most likely will not happen) but slightly more likely than Unlikely (Rare and exceptional for all practical purposes; can assume it will not happen). This coupled with my limited exposure to energized components make it unnecessary for me to damage my lenses by adding the extra protection of wearing (non-corrective lenses) safety glasses over my safety glasses.

    Ken Sellars
    Ken Sellars - 8 December 2017 Reply

    Being a prescription lens wearer myself, I opted for the prescription plastic safety glasses with glass lenses many years ago. This negates the need for wearing anything over a conductive frame. OSHA specifically prohibits any conductive articles in the electrical area, without covering them (faceshield, etc.). Utilizing NPFA 70e and its hazard assessment and risk reduction techniques to justify introducing a conductive hazard into the electrical workplace seems a bit counter intuitive in my opinion when much easier solutions are available.

Keith L. Campbell - 5 December 2017 Reply

Excellent, common sense answer! Thank you.

    Ken Sellars
    Ken Sellars - 8 December 2017 Reply

    Much appreciated, Keith. Thanks for your comments.

Mark Rucker - 5 December 2017 Reply

Our company allows only non-conductive eyewear for anyone exposed to electrical hazards. The explanation I give for why is the same as Ken's above with one added fillip: "All of us have had the experience of our safety glasses slipping off our nose while working in a panel. If they are metal, and cause an arc-flash, then the very thing you are depending on most to protect you from being blinded is missing at the very moment you are leaning face-first into the arc blast." Thanks for the job you all do at e-Hazard. Keep it up!

    Ken Sellars
    Ken Sellars - 8 December 2017 Reply

    Very good company policy. I do like your reasoning. Why give electrical current any options besides the intended and designed circuit path?

Ron Hughes - 5 December 2017 Reply

Great article Ken I use the Osha letters when needed Also have a non conductive restraint Ron Hughes NTT INSTRUCTOR

    Ken Sellars
    Ken Sellars - 8 December 2017 Reply

    Thanks Ron. Great hearing from you! I looked for the non-conductive restraint in the OSHA letters - could have sworn that it stated that previously, but could not find it anywhere. Of course, common sense should apply.

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