I am confused. Every safety recommendation regarding eye protection that is in the literature and in the standard safety references is clear that splash goggles are the gold standard for eye protection in chemical laboratories. Yet we regularly see videos, pictures in C&ENews, and oodles of chemistry department websites that show students, faculty, and research chemists wearing only safety glasses. I will grant that there are some labs where there is no reasonable chance of splashes and glasses may be appropriate (although in these very same labs there is probably equally low chance of an explosion involving shrapnel which argues that a site-specific hazard analysis would likely not require any eye protection.)
I will use this video in my classes, but partially as a demonstration of exactly why safety glasses are NOT appropriate – particularly when a splash is part of the scenario.
The safety community has embraced the use of lab coats and gloves as general safety equipment that should always or often be worn. I agree that using these forms of PPE are warranted when the hazards call for them. I am astonished at how often I see gloves used when it seems to me that the likelihood of skin contamination on the hands is very remote and the contamination would inconsequential, too. If anything, I fear that we teach students NOT to use critical judgment when we suggest, by this glove use pattern, that all chemicals pose a risk via skin exposure. Similarly, the use of coats seems hazard-dependent.
My risk assessment analysis goes like this: Death from skin contamination is unlikely; most skin contamination can be rinsed off and dealt with easily. I wear gloves only rarely, when the risk of exposure is moderate and the consequences are serious. Lab coats probably protect clothing more often than skin, but, again, in many labs they should be standard PPE in in others they seems unnecessary. With rare exception, (one of which we all know about,) the consequences of not wearing a lab coat are not likely to be serious.
However, I judge sight to be very precious and it seems to me that that prudent practice should be that safety goggles ARE the standard eye protection. Chemical exposure to the eye can often be very serious, and irreversible, and career-ending. Safety glasses do not adequately protect against splashes and this is surely a common hazard in many labs. Our rule is: safety goggles all of the time in chemistry labs (unless a specific circumstance makes this unnecessary).
If I have my choice between no gloves and no lab coat but wearing safety goggles vs. gloves, lab coat, and inappropriate eye protection, I’d choose the former every day. (Happily, such dichotomous choices are not necessary.)
Safety goggles are less comfortable than safety glasses, although my experience is that the greatest discomfort is fogging at times. Is there ANY other reason that glasses are chosen so often over goggles? What supervisor or department chair will want to explain to a jury or parent that the victim is now blind because the proper protection was “sometimes uncomfortable”?
David C. Finster
Professor, Department of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
I want to thank Professor Weizman for another creative and well done short safety video on the topic of PPE.
It can also be found on the UC San Diego Laboratory Safety Video web page:
Have a good day,
Environment, Health & Safety, CCHO
Chemical Safety Officer
University of California, San Diego
Office phone: (858) 822-1579
Cell phone: (858) 583-3257
Mail code: 0089
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