You are here

Safety goggles

Eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness among farmers, and eyes are the second most injured body part. Simply wearing the right kind of goggles, or other protective equipment, would prevent most of those injuries.

I've conscientiously worn safety goggles when mixing herbicides for 30 years. But one unexpected event showed me I wasn't wearing them often enough.

It happened when I carried a bag of AMS out of a storage shed and plopped it down on top of a small poly tank partially filled with mixed herbicide. That tank had a vent in the lid, and herbicide solution shot up through the vent into my unprotected eyes when the bag of AMS impacted the tank. I was scared as I flushed my eyes and called the chemical maker's hotline. I was also lucky. Lucky because that particular herbicide wasn't very dangerous and lucky because it was diluted rather than concentrated. (That mishap also reminded me to keep the herbicide labels handy.)

Farmers' eyes are at risk from impact, heat, radiation, and chemical splashes. According to the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, the most common eye injuries are flying objects, dust particles, chemicals, and sun exposure. Personal protective equipment must be tailored to the threat at hand. This article focuses primarily on the protective eyewear needed when handling herbicides and anhydrous ammonia (NH₃).

Although I wore goggles when mixing chemicals all those years, I'm not sure I always wore the right kind.

Protective eyewear

There are three types of eyewear that can be used when handling chemicals: safety glasses, face shields, and goggles. Goggles offer the most protection.

1. Safety glasses with sideshields and brow guards are suitable for handling some chemicals that aren't particularly harmful. They rarely meet label requirements for pesticides, however. Because they don't fit snuggly against the face, chemicals can still run into the eyes. Safety glasses are used primarily to protect eyes from direct impact and heat rather than chemicals.

2. Face shields offer a first line of defense against chemical splashes. But most experts stress that they shouldn't be used alone since chemicals can get past them.

“Face shields should not be worn without safety glasses or goggles,” says Frederick Fishel, University of Florida IFAS Extension. “Generally, face shields are worn when it is highly likely that splashing of pesticides will occur.”

3. Goggles come in three types: vented (ventilated), indirect vented, and unvented. In simplest terms, vented goggles protect against impact, indirect vented goggles protect against chemicals, and unvented goggles protect against vapors as well as chemicals.

Those are crucial distinctions when you are selecting goggles for handling pesticides or NH₃.

Chemical goggles are different

There is an important difference between chemical goggles and ordinary safety goggles, says George Maher, a retired North Dakota State University Extension ag safety specialist. “Chemical goggles have a baffled airway that prevents a direct splash from getting inside the goggles. Ordinary safety goggles do not.”

Indirect vented glasses come in two basic styles.

One style has covered vents on the top and/or bottom. These vents are typically the size of a quarter and look like buttons, but some are square or rectangular.

The second style is harder to spot. It has grooves or slits where the lenses meet the frames. These grooves are protected by plastic lips.

Ventilated safety goggles, which provide protection against impact but not chemical splashes, are easy to spot. They have lots of prominent holes in the top, bottom, or sides to let in air and reduce fogging.

Unvented goggles are designed to keep vapors, such as NH₃, out as well as liquids. Because these goggles protect your eyes but not your face, experts recommend also wearing a face shield.


“When working with chemicals that are extremely dangerous to your eyes, like anhydrous ammonia, unvented goggles as well as face shields are recommended,” says Timothy Prather, an Extension specialist at the University of Tennessee.

Pricing it out

Goggle prices range from $2.50 to $30 or more. As I worked on this story, I went to a Menards store in Des Moines, Iowa, and bought three pairs of Stanley goggles and a face mask.

● Ventilated safety goggles cost $3.49.

● Goggles that were almost the same except with indirect vents for splash protection cost $5.99.

● Goggles that look more refined and have wider straps cost $9.96. (I've been using three pairs of that model this growing season.) All these goggles fit over prescription glasses, but sleeker styles are available for people who don't wear regular eyeglasses.

● A face shield with what Stanley calls a chemical splash drip edge cost $12.97.

I've worn a lot of the lower-price goggles over the years, but now I'm wondering why. The $10 goggles I wore this year are more comfortable and fit better. When farmers are asked in surveys why they don't wear goggles, they often say it's because they're uncomfortable. Now I plan to buy some of the more expensive goggles and see if I like them even better. (Most companies have both low-cost and more expensive goggles. The table above features some of the more expensive models.)

Another reason farmers give for not wearing goggles is that it takes time to find them when needed. I try to keep at least one pair of goggles with each sprayer and nurse trailer. Plus, I like to have another pair or two in the pickup. Goggles are like pliers – you can never have too many.

As with herbicide application, the herbicide label is the final word on what type of protective eyewear is needed. But the labels can be a little confusing.

A second area of confusion is whether contact lenses should be worn – even under indirect vented or unvented goggles – when handling herbicides and NH₃. There is a concern that the contact lenses trap and hold chemicals next to the eye. If you get chemicals in your eyes while wearing contact lenses, most sources say to start flushing your eyes before removing the contact lenses.

One thing there is virtual agreement on is the need to rinse eyes for at least 15 minutes if they have been exposed to chemicals. Rinse longer for NH₃. Many experts recommend carrying a bottle of water in a shirt pocket for immediate use.

Where to purchase

Inexpensive goggles are readily available at farm stores, chemical dealers, and hardware stores.

More expensive goggles, which may be hard to find locally, are available in catalogs and online.

For example, in addition to several less expensive goggles, Gempler's( sells the MCR Safety PGXI chemical goggles for $30. Grainger Industrial Supply ( sells several brands of goggles.

To view and purchase lots of goggles, visit

Read more about

Machinery Talk

Most Recent Poll

Will you plant more corn or soybeans next year?