Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Technology Trends in Eye & Face Protection: The Focus Is on Eyewear That Meets Users' Needs, Says Sperian's Technology Director

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Technology Trends in Eye & Face Protection: The Focus Is on Eyewear That Meets Users' Needs, Says Sperian's Technology Director

Article excerpt

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EHS Today spoke with Phil Johnson, who is the director of technology for Sperian Protection's Eye & Face Protection Division in Smithfield, R.I. Johnson is responsible for research and development, technology and quality assurance for the group.

EHS Today: Are there any trends you see in eye and face protection for the last half of 2008 and beyond?

Phil Johnson (PJ): I think you'll be seeing more ways for manufacturers and suppliers of eyewear like us, Sperian, to provide more solutions-based eyewear. There's an effort to try to get the focus away from just eyewear being a commodity product; one-size-fits-all; and whatever type of protective eyewear you bought 10 years ago, you can still buy today. We are trying to find ways to make products serve certain niches and provide performance features that are above and beyond just normal routine.

EHS: Would style be one of the areas in eyewear that companies like Sperian are working on?

PJ: Style is certainly one of them. That trend has been continuing and we don't necessarily see that one letting up. There's no question that people want to look good and feel good about themselves when they are wearing protective eyewear--it's a very personal decision.

EHS Today: Regarding efforts to move safety eyewear from being just a commodity--can manufacturers and suppliers differentiate their product by offering more training to safety administrators and end-users in the plant? Is that one way to move eyewear from being just a commodity?

PJ: Sure, that's one way to do it. Certainly the educational piece is important in many applications. If you are talking about a huge company, where they have dedicated safety and hygiene personnel, I think it's their job to understand the product. But as you go to smaller businesses, there are oftentimes more managers wearing different hats, and the safety director may end up being someone who has a different responsibility, but he drew the short straw so to speak.

In terms of being the safety guy, he may need help in interpreting the ANSI standard, knowing what his obligation is to fulfill OSHA regulations and do hazard assessment in the workplace, and so we try to provide information for these managers so that it's a little easier for them to understand and at the same time we would have the opportunity to say, "Well if you have these hazards present, then these are the types of protective eyewear you are probably going to want to use."

And that gives us a good lead-in to say, "And here's what we offer in the way of spectacles, welding helmets, goggles, face shields, etc."

EHS: Have you seen any recent estimates that show growth trends in PPE sales or safety eyewear sales?

PJ: I think that loops back to the first thing that we talked about--that it's a way to be able to differentiate products because, frankly, the manufacturing base in the United States continues to dwindle a little bit, so you have to be in a position to show that your products are better and provide more features. That way the growth is going to come from more awareness and people who maybe today aren't fulfilling their responsibility to provide (safety) eyewear, so you educate them that they need eyewear, and then you can find a way to fulfill their needs.

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The numbers I hear with some frequency is 2 percent to 3 percent organic growth annually--that's what market researchers expect within the safety eyewear industry. I guess I'm not enough of an expert to know if that trend goes beyond into other areas, like hearing protection or respiratory protection. I would think yes, to some degree.

EHS: Is the recession having an impact on safety spending?

PJ: I don't necessarily see that. I know the pace in the Sperian factory here has not changed a lot. I think maybe what will end up is that there will be some lag--you can see that the unemployment rate is up a little bit. …

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