(Updated July 2020)
Our eyes are perhaps our most important sensory organ. So, it makes sense to take care of them at work with glasses.
Eye Safety Facts That Every Employer Needs to Know
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. Many of these injuries are serious enough to require medical treatment.
Poor eye protection safety also has a major economic impact. Each year, eye injuries result in more than $300 million in medical costs, workers compensation claims, and lost time on the job. Plus, most on-the-job eye injuries occur due to the fact that workers weren’t wearing goggles or glasses or were wearing inadequate eye protection for the job.
Many eye injuries are minor, but even these injuries can result in long-term vision problems. Some minor eye injuries can escalate and cause long-lasting damage, and the most serious eye injuries can blind a worker.
Although eye injuries are problematic, they may be preventable. In fact, OSHA estimates that up to 90% of eye injuries can be prevented by wearing proper safety eyewear.
How and Why Do Eye Injuries Occur?
Most job-related eye injuries occur when small objects land in the eye. These include things like dust, wood chips, and metal slivers.
Other causes of eye injuries include:
– Nails, staples, or metal scraps that pierce the eyeball
– Blunt force trauma from falling objects
– Workers running into an object face first
– Splashes from chemicals or cleaning products
– Thermal or radiation burns that occur while welding
– Spending extended periods of time working at a computer
OSHA requires workers to wear eye and face personal protective equipment (PPE) under two conditions. One is when eye safety hazards exist on a jobsite. The other is when it is likely that wearing eye safety PPE could prevent an injury.
Common Eye Protection Safety Hazards That Require PPE
The following eye protection safety hazards are present in a wide range of work environments:
– 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
Workers may require eye safety glasses or other PPE to safely complete tasks in settings where one or more of the aforementioned hazards are present.
Are Eye Safety Glasses or Other PPE Necessary for All Workers, at All Worksites?
The PPE to be worn depends on the type of hazards present in a work environment.
Some worksites include more than one eye hazard, and proper eye safety protection must account for all on-the-job hazards.
Workers in some industries have a higher risk for eye injuries than others. These industries include:
– Electrical work
– Auto repair
Employers in any of these industries must provide their workers with the proper eye protection. That way, these employers can help their workers see clearly and limit the risk of eye injuries at work.
Does Your Business Need an Eye Safety Program?
Eye safety should be an integral part of every company safety program. Your workplace safety manual should cover all OSHA eye protection guidelines and contain guidance on:
– When to wear eye 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 these 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 eye protection. Eye PPE also should not disrupt employees’ peripheral vision.
Different Types of Eye Safety PPE
Eye safety PPE ranges from basic safety glasses to special protection devices for high-risk jobs. Common eye PPE includes:
1. Eye Safety Glasses
Eye safety glasses resemble reading glasses, but they have a stronger frame and lenses. Safety glasses are well-suited for jobs where dust, debris, and other flying particles are present. Side shields and wraparound safety glasses can provide extra protection.
2. Safety Goggles
Safety goggles protect against impact, dust, and chemical splashes. They feature a secure shield around the entire eye that protects against hazards coming from all directions. Goggles can be worn over contact lenses and regular glasses.
3. Face Shields and Helmets
Face shields and helmets are designed for high-risk jobs in which employees may be exposed to chemicals, heat, or bloodborne pathogens. Some helmets are made exclusively 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.
4. 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 equipment includes machine guards, screened or divided workstations, and other engineering controls. To determine which eye safety equipment best suits your business, you should evaluate OSHA guidelines. You can also enroll your workers in a safety training program to teach them how to correctly wear eye PPE.
How to Get Workers to Buy Into Eye Safety
Many workers don’t like wearing protective eye gear. Some say eye PPE is uncomfortable, while others feel it interferes with their vision. Still, others think it looks “uncool” to wear eye protection.
Providing workers with comfortable and stylish eye safety PPE will increase adoption rates across your workforce. At the same time, it will help lower the risk of eye injuries.
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 may also like anti-fogging features and lenses surrounded by foam. These features improve comfort and provide extra protection against foreign particles.
Workers are more likely to wear stylish eye safety glasses, too. Features such as bright colors, wraparound designs, and mirrored lenses enable workers to personalize their eye safety glasses.
When it comes to eye protection, style and comfort are important, but they are secondary to safety. For instance, eye protection features like lenses that can resist impact and protect against UVA and UVB rays can make a world of difference for employees.
Furthermore, eye goggles and glasses made with tempered glass or acrylic plastic lenses should not be used in high-impact situations. Also, these types of eye protection should not be used in areas where there is significant debris. In high-impact work areas, polycarbonate lenses that resist scratching are the best choice.
Promote Eye Protection at Your Worksite
Eye safety is a team effort, and 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
Meanwhile, workers are responsible for:
– Knowing the eye hazards associated with their jobs
– Wearing proper eye safety PPE to protect against on-the-job hazards
– Keeping their safety eyewear in good condition
– Replacing defective eyewear
Both employers and workers need to know what to 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; for employees who wear contact lenses, their lenses should be removed 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 any particles in the eye. If not, apply an over-the-counter tear solution. Gently lift the upper eyelid out and down over the lower eyelid to remove any particles. If particles remain, keep the eye closed and bandage it. Then, get medical help as soon as possible.
For blows to the eye, 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. Next, seek medical care.
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