At least until eye transplants are made available or bionic eyes are invented...
I admit, I’ve been snooping around on various websites and came across a thread called “Eye Health and Lampworking”. In it, the OP states that she has been seeing “flashing lights” after finishing a lampworking session, and her eyecare professional has seen some minor changes in her eyes. Others commented on eye strain, halos of the torch image, etc.
The comments tell me that there are still many people out there who are not using proper filter eyewear. A significant percentage of these people are using Hot Head torches (” When I bought my hothead kit, it came with just general eye protection [most likely clear safety glasses] you would buy at the local hardware store, and the workshop teacher I went to, said that they were sufficient.”
Proper eye filter eyewear for soft glass IS NOT a pair of clear safety glasses, especially if you have sensitive eyes.
Let me step through the “levels” of eye filtration for glassworkers. Note: I will refer to the Aura filters unless there is a generic name, in which case I will use that as well.
Furnace/hot shop/traditional glassworkers: Use green welding shade 2.0 or darker. Your main source of problematic radiation is the furnace and glory hole. You are exposed to excessive amounts of IR (infrared) radiation (also called heat energy). Sunglasses do not block IR (UNLESS they are Bausch and Lomb green GLASS!! sunglass lenses) and cause the pupil of the eye to open wide allowing even more hazardous IR to enter the eye.
Soft glass lampworkers: If you are using a Hot Head or another single gas torch, clear safety glasses are not proper filtration eyewear. Yes, they will protect you from flying glass, but they do not filter the sodium flare. Sodium flare, while not hazardous, is certainly an annoyance, and for those who are sensitive to bright light, it can cause lingering spots or halos in your vision field. At a very minimum, didymium filters should be worn by soft glass lampworkers.
The “next-generation” filter is called ACE, or Blue Didymium. The filter is based on the original didymium filter but adds additional filtration in the primary and secondary color bands, as well as a deeper and wider sodium flare cut off. These additional color band filters act to limit the amount of non-essential light entering your eye and allow you to see your color temperatures more clearly.
For those who are sensitive to bright light when lampworking soft glass, adding a welding filter on top of the existing didymium or Blue Didymium filter will, in most cases, clear up the problem.
Clear Borosilicate lampworking: The only commercially available filter for eye protection when working with clear borosilicate is the AGW-300. This filter is based on the Blue Didymium filter and adds a clear IR (infrared) filter as a lamination. This filter will block all hazardous IR from 900 nm on out.
Entry Level Color Borosilicate: For this, I recommend the AGW-250/3 filter. It is a full coverage filter (the entire lens is dark) with an equivalent welding shade number of 3.5. It has excellent IR filtration. This filter can also be used by those who work soft glass but are sensitive to bright color flares. This filter is not dark enough for advanced techniques such as fuming, or with copious amounts of certain color-flaring colors, such as Turbo Cobalt, to name one.
Intermediate to advanced Borosilicate: AGW-325 easily. This is the only filter on the market that will fully protect your eyes from all radiation hazards found when working with borosilicate glass. It is available in a wide variety of shades and features a split lens, with part of the lens being an AGW-300 equivalent (high visible light transmission with low IR transmission), and the other part being a dark welding filter.
I’ve said many times that while there are no hazards to the eye when working soft glass, and that clear safety glasses can be worn, this does not mean that clear safety glasses are the proper filter for everyone.
OSHA will not even issue a report on this issue unless there are Occupational issues involved here, meaning that you have been “injured” in the workplace. OSHA’s mandate is for a safe workplace, and since most of us work at home, OSHA does not cover us.
The bottom line is this: if you are having problems with your vision after working for a time at the torch or at the furnace, your eyes are telling you that they are unhappy about something. Don’t ignore it. Do something about it. If you have clear safety glasses, upgrade to didymium or Blue Didymium.
If you have didymium or Blue Didymium, upgrade with either a welder's clip-on or move to the AGW-250/3 filter.
You only have one pair of eyes. While they are working on perfecting heart transplants, they haven’t even started yet on eyeballs. You have only one pair, and they must last you a lifetime.
Good and proper eyewear is not inexpensive, but then, nothing about our little “hobby” or craft is inexpensive. I get really frustrated when I hear people complaining about the ‘high price of eyewear’ then hear them talking about how much they spend on colored glass or oxygen. Or “I won’t pay that for a pair of filters, but hey, a new torch? Let me at it!”.