Q: Some of our workers want to wear metal eyeglass frames with side shields for doing electrical work.
Is this allowed by OSHA or NFPA 70E®?
A: The question often arises about conductive eye wear for electrical workers
(We wanted to play the Guess Who’s “These Eyes” for you while you were reading our response, but our copyright department nixed it!)
Let’s take a good long look at the subject.
What OSHA Says
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.
What NFPA 70E® Says
Looking to NFPA 70E® makes things clearer but still leaves room for interpretation in the previous versions.
NFPA 70E® 2021, 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 130.8 (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 even offer 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. 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!