Our eyes are perhaps our most important sensory organ. So it makes sense to take care of them at work with eye protection glasses. Yet, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), reports that around 2,000 workers suffer job-related eye injuries every day in the U.S. These injuries are serious enough to require medical treatment.
Lack of eye protection safety also has a major economic impact. Each year, eye injuries result in more than $300 million in medical costs, workers comp claims and lost time on the job. Plus, most on-the-job eye injuries occur for one of two reasons. Workers weren’t wearing any eye protection goggles or glasses. Or they were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job.
Many eye injuries are minor. But even minor ones can result in long-term vision problems. Some can cause lasting damage. The most serious can disable a worker for life. OSHA estimates that up to 90 percent of eye injuries can be prevented by wearing proper safety eyewear.
How and Why Eye Injuries Occur
Most job-related eye injuries occur when small objects land in the eye. These include things like dust, wood chips, metal slivers and more. Many are smaller than a pinhead. Other common causes of eye injuries include:
– Nails, staples or metal that pierce the eyeball
– Blunt force trauma from falling objects
– Workers running into something face first
– Getting splashed by chemicals or cleaning products
– Thermal or radiation burns while welding
– Working on a computer for long periods of time
OSHA requires workers to wear eye and face personal protection equipment (PPE) under two conditions. One is when eye safety hazards exist on the job site. The other is when there’s a good chance wearing eye safety PPE could prevent an injury.
Eye hazards that require wearing eye safety PPE include:
– Projectiles, including dust, metal and wood
– Chemicals in liquid or gas form
– Radiation, especially UV, infrared, and lasers
– Harmful pathogens from blood and body fluids
The PPE to be worn depends upon the type of hazard. Some work sites include more than one eye hazard. Proper eye safety protection takes all hazards into account. Some trades have a higher risk for eye injuries than others. These include:
– Electrical work
– Auto repair
Eye Safety Programs
Eye safety should be an integral part of every company safety program. The safety manual should cover all OSHA eye protection guidelines. It should also contain guidance on:
– When to wear eye safety protection
– What type of eye PPE to wear (based on the job)
– How and where workers can get the PPE eyewear they need
– Consequences of eye safety violations
To select the right eye safety PPE for each job, list all potential eye hazards. Then look at how workers are exposed to those hazards. Take into account the personal vision needs of each worker. Also consider whether other types of PPE are used.
PPE eyewear needs to fit snugly but comfortably. If not, it should be adjustable so it can provide full coverage. It should also allow good peripheral vision.
Different Types of Eye Safety PPE
Eye safety PPE ranges from basic safety glasses to special protection devices for high-risk jobs.
– Safety Glasses. These look a lot like everyday glasses. However, they use stronger frames and lenses to provide more eye protection. Safety glasses are well-suited for jobs that involve dust, chips or flying particles. Side shields and wraparound safety glasses can provide extra protection.
– Safety Goggles. These are designed to protect against impact, dust and chemical splash. Their secure shield around the entire eye protects against hazards coming from any direction. Goggles can be worn over contact lenses and regular glasses.
– Face Shields and Helmets. These are designed for high-risk jobs, such as exposure to chemicals, heat, or blood-borne pathogens. Some helmets are made just for welding or working with other molten materials. Protective eyewear should always be worn underneath shields and helmets. This helps protect the eyes when the shield is lifted or the helmet removed.
– Special Protection. Some helmets or goggles have special filters to protect against radiation exposure. These are used for welding or working with lasers. Safety glasses should be worn underneath for full protection.
Other eye safety protection methods include machine guards, screened or divided work stations, and other engineering controls.
Getting Workers to Buy Into Eye Safety
Many workers don’t like wearing protective eye gear. Some say it isn’t comfortable. Others feel it interferes with their vision. Still others think it looks “uncool.” Providing workers with comfortable and stylish eye safety PPE will increase the wear rate.
Eye safety PPE must be comfy enough to wear for an entire shift, even in hot weather. Features that enhance comfort include:
– Cushioned brows
– Soft gel nosepieces
– Padded nose bridges
– Vented frames
– Flexible temples
– Lenses that can be adjusted to different angles
Workers also like anti-fogging features and lenses surrounded by foam. These improve comfort and provide extra particle protection.
Workers are more likely to wear stylish eye safety glasses. Features such as bright colors, wraparound designs and mirrored lenses enable workers to look cool. This lowers their resistance to wearing eye safety PPE.
Style and comfort are important. But don’t overlook safety features such as lenses built to resist impact. Lenses should also protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays. Some workers need prescription safety lenses. Those made with tempered glass or acrylic plastic lenses should not be used in high-impact situations. Also, don’t use them in debris areas unless covered by goggles or a face shield. Polycarbonate lenses that resist scratching are the best choice for high-impact areas.
Taking good care of eye safety glasses will also encourage wearing them. A gentle cleaning at the end of the day is a good idea. To avoid scratches, don’t set the glasses down when not in use. Instead, workers should wear a retainer strap that keeps the glasses hanging around their neck. Eye safety glasses should be stored in a clean, dust-proof holder. Scratched or pitted glasses should be replaced.
Creating an Eye-Safe Work Site
Eye safety is a team effort. Employers are responsible for:
– Complying with all OSHA eye safety standards
– Conducting a workplace eye hazard assessment
– Removing or reducing eye hazards where possible
– Providing the right safety eyewear and making sure workers wear it
Workers are responsible for:
– Knowing the eye hazards of their jobs
– Wearing proper eye safety PPE to protect against those hazards
– Keeping their safety eyewear in good condition
– Replacing it when damaged
Both groups need to know what do when an eye injury occurs. This starts with seeking medical attention as soon as possible – especially if there is pain in the eye or blurred vision. Apply basic first aid until medical help arrives or the victim is taken to an emergency room.
For chemicals in the eye, flush with water for at least 15 minutes. (Remove any contact lenses before flushing.) Don’t attempt to neutralize the chemical with other substances, and don’t bandage the eye.
For particles in the eye, don’t rub it. Instead, see if tears can wash away the particle. If not, apply an over the counter tear solution. Gently lifting the upper eyelid out and down over the lower eyelid may remove the particle. If it remains, keep the eye closed and bandage it lightly. Then get medical help as soon as possible.
For blows to the eye, lightly apply a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling. For cuts or punctures to the eye, do not rinse it. Also, don’t try to remove an object stuck in the eye. Instead, cover the eye with a rigid shield. Then seek medical care right away.
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