Safety Glasses - The Results

February 28th, 2021

A whistleblower wrote us late last year to report that “CSA and ANSI approved [safety] glasses are consistently failing their tests.”  That is, what the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) had approved as 100% UV blocking glasses weren’t blocking UV at all. 

We wrote about this in November, inviting the public to test their CSA approved glasses.  We gave some rudimentary instructions on how to test and linked to some more substantive guidance.  We also promised to report whatever results we received early in 2021.

Well folks, this is the report.  Spoiler alert:  CSA doesn’t fair well.

The Problem

Glasses can only be called safety glasses if they block 100% of UV light.  That’s needful because UV rays are well known to cause eye damage.  And it’s nasty, this damage.  Photoaging is an issue, cancer in the eye and on the eyelids is another, cataracts, retinal degeneration, etc.  Ungood.

Brace yourself; we’re about to get technical.  Think of the UV spectrum as a bowl of chili peppers.  Some peppers are pretty tame.  A bell pepper, for instance, isn’t worrying.  Other peppers are warmish, some are hot, and some are a searing inferno. 

The UV range of 200nm – 280nm (known as the UVC range) is the shortest UV wavelength in the spectrum, and the weakest.  It’s the bell pepper of ultraviolet.

Getting warmer, the UVB range of 280nm – 320nm is midrange strength.  As you go up in the UV range numbers, the UV penetration of body tissue increases. 

The UVA range is hot.  This range is defined as 320nm to 395nm, and it’s a big deal.  This is the jalapeno pepper of ultraviolet light.  It’s long wave UV and it penetrates a lot deeper than the previous two.

The Carolina Reaper is seriously hot pepper.  I mean, you’d remember eating it.  For days.  The UV equivalent is the 395nm – 455nm wavelength range, known as UVV, the longest wave on the UV spectrum.  The UVV range is the deepest penetration into body tissue and is therefore the most worrying from a public health perspective.

Alright, so we’d like to block 100% of UV light, all of the spectrum above, right?  Well, blocking 100% of UV light is difficult to do without spending a lot of money.  Polycarbonate (PC) lenses block most UV light naturally.  The balance is blockable with coatings, laminates, etc.  Of course, PC is pricey, and adding coatings pricier still. 

The Testing

“I saw the article for the safety glasses and did some tests on the guys’ glasses at work. I am the General Manager for [a swell company] in [a spiff place] and we use a bunch of different safety glasses.”

The results of the RestoreCSA invitation to test your glasses started rolling in.

“I did buy a UV flashlight from Canadian Tire yesterday and did some tests today at work.”

See?  We’ve got awesome readers.  It’s an audience participation website!

They even sent pictures of the testing too, but almost none of these are usable online, save the generic one below, because they contain identifying information of the testers and their lab / facilities.

CSA Logo on Tested Glasses

“I used my Ontario Drivers Licence and the flashlight to check if I could see the Ontario logo which reacts to UV light.”

And that’s exactly what we recommended and what was outlined on the links we provided.

Another outfit, big enough to have a budget for this sort of thing, wrote that they would “chop up some glasses and find out for sure where the protection starts and stops.”

The polycarbonate vs acrylic question is why some outfits were actually chopping up lenses.

Anyway, from the results;

“3M Nuvo Reader Protective Eyewear 1134-00000-20 1.5 diopters.  Result: no protection (no reduction in fluorescence).”

And again, from a different tester, this time using “a Mopilot LED UV light’”

“Amazon basics 82mm UV filter for Canon lens – Target reacts – no UV blocking.”

Yet this same tester wrote that some models were blocking very well indeed.  Among these;

Purity Smoke safety glasses
Purity Mirror safety glasses
Sperian Clear Safety glasses
Pyramex Clear Safety glasses
3M Virtua Clear Safety glasses

Another reader advised that the Stihl Model 0000-884-0307B showed “only 50% reduction [and] fluorescence still seen but reduced.”  Ok, so it’s a fail alright, but not as bad as the others.

From the total failures file, the following glasses had no detectable UV protection;

Pyramex Mini Ztek S2517SN
Pyramex Ztek S2515S
Pyramex Solo S510S
3M Virtua 11874-00000-20

Folks, picking on 3M for a moment, the very first line in their product specification sheet lists “CSA Z94.3-2007” certification.

Another tester wrote that of “all of the pairs [tested] I could see the UV Ontario logo, though some were fainter than others but all I could see pretty clearly.”  At this one plant, pretty much everything was failing the UV tests.

And another; “3M and Pyramex are some of the biggest offenders.”

Alright, so what does all of this mean?

The Meaning, M’boy

As you likely suspect, a lot of our readership work in the sciences.  They sent us scientific explanations and, impressively, some internal correspondence on the worrying results of their testing.

“Dear Gordon, […] I think I found the answer in either case.  I was wrong, the glasses are likely made from polycarbonate…”.

This relates to an early assumption from the writer that all the failures could be attributed to manufacturers using acrylic instead of polycarbonate. 

“….the trick is the legislation concerning ‘near’ UV, UVA, UVV, UV400 and U6.  It’s a messy soup of bureaucratic bullshit”.

Ah, we’ve seen this before. 

Readers will recall that CSA sells influence over legislation.  If you make widgets and want to sell more of them, you can purchase the right to amend the legislation that governs your widgets, either to mandate that people buy more of your widgets or you could write the regulations to harm your competitor.  The CSA is actually selling actual legislative votes at legislative committee.  So who do you suppose is most interested in voting on CSA’s UV protection committees?

From internal correspondence at a Canadian scientific institution; “From what I can tell you are probably right, they are all made from polycarbonate which blocks to 380nm quite well.  […] The main issue appears to be that 380nm – 400nm range.”

Remember the hot peppers?  That’s the hottest range, right there.

“Companies appear to have found, or more accurately created, a loophole in the nomenclature in an attempt to save money in the manufacturing process.” [emphasis added]

Again, we’re dealing with CSA Z94.3 regulations.  That’s where the text was altered to create a loophole.

The body of regulation has been written to “sidestep this, first by using the ambiguous term ‘near’ and ‘far’ ultraviolet.  […] The terms are used to designate different spectrums depending on the person or Agency using them.”

Then it gets really nasty.

“The governing Agencies […] such as the CSA […] use the term ‘near ultraviolet’ to define the UV spectrum only up to 380nm (but exclude 380 – 400nm) and begin to refer to it as UVV, despite UVV being defined as 395 – 455nm.”

Caught that?  The CSA committee governing UV regulation altered the text of law to redefine UVV as entirely outside of its actual range.  Thus, glasses that offer no UVV protection at all may be certified as blocking 100% of UV.

From a letter between research staff at a Canadian lab; “It is slippery wording that allows [CSA] to give glasses with almost zero UV protection from 380 – 400nm a full certification.”

Back to the scientific institution document, the correspondents were fretting “how damaging the 380 – 400nm wavelength is to the human eye and how other companies and governing bodies are deliberately ignoring it [as UVV] penetrates the deepest, leading to macular degeneration.”

Alright, so where do we land?  Well…

First, some glasses are good.  Said one tester, “there are plenty of safety glasses that block all the way to 400 and plenty that don’t, all a person needs to do is check.”

And checking doesn’t mean reading “blocks 100% UV” on the product info page.  Given the unreliability of CSA certifications, it means actually testing your glasses yourself.

Next, the reality is that CSA Z94.3 has been jerrymandered really badly, such that CSA can now certify safety glasses as blocking 100% UV without blocking anything close to that claim.

The other reality of course, is that CSA is known to certify products without testing at all, or with false testing, such that safety certifications are just stickers.  They mean nothing.  Heck, even CSA admitted in Court that their certifications mean nothing and advised that they shouldn’t be taken seriously.

So we don’t take what CSA says seriously.  And for your health, neither should you.