Invest in your vision

July is eye injury prevention month. Learn which products help officers see more safely


     During the average shift (as if there was one), officers can be exposed to spills and splashes, long days in sunlight, projectile objects and people who simply don't cover their mouth when they cough. The potential for exposure to caustic solids and liquids is enormous, and eyes can even be a portal to common diseases like SARS and measles. Research also suggests that ultraviolet (UV) exposure can cause painful eye injuries and contribute to cataract formation and other long-term injuries.

     Tactical eyewear creates a protective barrier to these harmful elements. Most people will don glasses when using machinery or working around chemicals. It is only logical that eye protection should be standard issue for law enforcement officers, as well.

Frameless eyewear

     Most tactical eyewear products use interchangeable lenses, of which there are two basic designs: lenses that fit into a flexible frame, or frames that snap into recesses on the edges of the lens. The latter "frameless" design usually has a snap-in nosepiece. This popular style offers users an almost unrestricted view devoid of frame lines.

     Frameless eyewear and interchangeable lenses have revolutionized the industry. For example, Eye Safety Systems (ESS) has two versions of the ICE eye shields, the ICE 2.4 and the ICE NARO. The NARO is a smaller version designed for narrow faces. Both versions accept prescription inserts for nearly all combat goggles, and another insert for tactical sunglasses. Revision Eyewear offers a similar package. The prescription insert fits Revision's Sawfly glasses and the Desert Locust goggle.

     Frames are generally made of rubber or bendable plastic, and most have strategic strips of tacky rubber on the temple and optional retention straps. If the wearer uses a prescription, the lens is suspended from the nose bridge on a lightweight carrier.

     Frameless models extend around the side of the eye, usually in stylish "wings." An example of this style can be found in the unrestricted view of the ESS ICE 2.4. The additional protection is essential on the shooting range, as well as on bike patrol, where road hazards can enter from the side of the face.

Polycarbonate

     Sunglasses with snap-in parts also provide a tactical advantage. The components flex when struck or shocked, which cushions impact. New polycarbonate lenses are stronger and more flexible than products from just a few years ago.

     Polycarbonate has its roots in the aerospace industry. While plastics are usually baked into their final shapes, polycarbonates are injection molded. The result is optically clearer, shatter-resistant, lighter and more flexible material.

     This is ideal for protective lenses. While some materials shatter when hit, polycarbonate merely dimples when struck by hard projectiles. And when it does fracture, it minimizes secondary projectiles. The lenses less brittle and also readily accept scratch-resistant coatings.

     Officers can benefit from religiously wearing eye protection while performing routine tasks. Consider the fact that standard eyewear tends to break the seal on earmuffs when training on the range. To address this situation, Law Enforcement Technology testers tried the SoundVision product by FullPro Protective Gear. With a lens that attaches to the outside of the earmuff by VELCRO, this product — an inexpensive high impact lens — makes sense.

     Most of the glasses tested were polycarbonate, except for the Rudy Project EKYNOX SX. Rudy Project uses ImpactX NXT, an optical polymer used in high-risk applications like Apache helicopter windshields. The material is even lighter and more transparent than polycarbonate. It also offers photochromic (darkening when in sunlight) and polarization features.

Safety standards

     Safety lenses have several standards by which to base their level of protection. These usually consist of a series of agreements on the quality of a product, based on input from the industry. Furthermore, the agreements are proven by an accreditation agency.

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