While working in my previous role, we had several engineers who had worked in ‘the good old days’ without safety glasses – and it wasn’t until multiple times getting brass and steel swarf in the eyeballs, that they started to consider that it might be a good idea to wear some eye protection. Apparently, a sharp piece of metal cutoff embedded in the eyeball isn’t a pleasant experience – neither that actual incident nor the weeks afterwards were particularly comfortable.
I have also been on a Pistol Range and seen ricochets come back towards and over shooters and been hit by a small piece of copper jacket. Though never in person, I know of people who have had catastrophic failures on their firearms – meaning their action ends up exploding – generally with spectacular, and painful results.
Let us be clear – there are plenty of reasons to be wearing eye protection while around firearms.
ACC statistics for the last couple of years indicate there have been over 10,000 injuries each year to the eye or area immediately surrounding the eye. The two biggest industry groups with eye injuries in New Zealand over this time were the building trades (18%) and metal works/machinery industries (22%). This is a disturbing figure as the majority of eye injuries are preventable.
Safety Glasses – ratings and marketing
So, working on the assumption that you understand, that if you spend enough time at the range, there is a good chance something is going to hit your, your face and potentially your eyes, how do you identify and choose decent safety glasses for shooting?
Glasses tested to this standard should be marked as such – and will generally also carry a ‘rating’ – dependent on design. This is known as a mechanical strength symbol:
- I. Medium energy impact, resists a 6 mm, ball at 45 m/s
- B. High energy impact, resists a 6 mm, ball at 120 m/s
- A. Extra High energy impact, resists a 6 mm, ball at 190 m/s
Ballistic Rated is a term that gets thrown around a bit – but – generally, it means that additional testing has been done – most often to the US military standard ‘MIL-PRF 32432 Ballistic Fragmentation’ – this is similar to the Aus/NZ standards – but a lot more rigorous in it’s testing. Not all safety glasses have a ballistic rating, and, not all ballistic rated safety glasses have it written on them or in the name. Read the label.
How much protection do I need?
The reality is – when pistol shooting, we are more interested in protecting ourselves against a truly odd-ball ricochet, a bit of jacket coming off and hitting us. With a rifle, the main concern is more likely a catastrophic failure of a firearm or reload – potentially meaning an explosion by the face and an action in the head.
While it never ‘hurts’ to have more protection, even the medium rated glasses (which are also going to be the most common) are going to be suitable for the majority of our use.
Do my prescription glasses count?
Maybe. Do they have a rating? Do they cover enough of the eye area to actually keep foreign objects out?
Many pairs of glasses (mine included) don’t really wrap around the face enough to stop something getting in from an angle. In addition, I have no idea if they lenses themselves have any impact rating – them might do – but it’s not something that was really part of the thought process when I got them. I am much more likely to switch to contacts and put on the shooting glasses that I have.
A word on optics
Don’t get the cheapest glasses you can find. It makes little sense to spend a small fortune on good rifle optics (i.e. your scope) then put a cheap and nasty piece of glass (or plastic) between you and it while shooting.
Not only can it literally degrade your view, it can also introduce parallax – so – if you are serious about your shooting – it’s worth spending some time reading up on the glasses you are looking at purchasing – even better – spend some time looking through them – as some will noticeably curve or otherwise distort what is going on in front of you. While it is true that this could be the reason people choose not to wear shooting glasses at all – I would suggest, hitting a target, no matter how far or awesome a shot it might be, it not worth losing your vision over.2
In terms of shooting glasses colours, contrast is your friend. Amber and yellow shooting glasses lenses are great for indoor shooting, and rose-copper or brown hues are ideal for outdoor shooting. These lens colours sharpen contrast and heighten depth perception, giving you an in-focus view of the target in your prescription shooting glasses.
Buy once, cry once.
More and more places are requiring you use both ear and eye protection while shooting on their range – so it’s worth investing in some decent optics so you don’t end up being forced to use some scratched up ‘communial’ use safety glasses. Who knows, they might just save your vision one day.