Eye Protection for the Workplace
OSHA’s recent changes to injury and illness reporting requirements include a rule that states employers must report all accidents that result in an employee losing an eye. This type of event may not seem like something that occurs all that frequently, but thousands of people are blinded annually because of eye injuries in the workplace.
Additionally, about 2000 eye injuries occur daily in American workplaces. Many of these are obviously less serious than blindness, but almost all of them could be prevented with proper eye protection.
According to OSHA, employers must provide eye protection to employees who are exposed to the following hazards:
- Flying particles
- Liquid chemicals
- Acids and caustic liquids
- Molten metal
- Chemical gases and vapors
- Dangerous light radiation
The majority (70%) of eye injuries are the result of flying or falling objects, and many of these objects are smaller than the head of a pin. Employees must be protected from all of the hazards listed above, though, and not all hazards require the same types of protection. Assessing the hazards present in the workplace and matching PPE to those hazards is critical. Eye protection that isn’t appropriate for the hazard present or doesn’t fit well will not provide employees with enough protection.
Types of Eye Protection
Safety glasses, safety goggles, face shields and welding helmets are commonly used types of eye protection in industrial workplaces. Each of these types also comes in many varieties for use in different circumstances.
Safety glasses are commonly used to protect workers from risks like flying particles. Some safety glasses look similar to regular eye glasses, while others provide protection on the sides of the face in addition to right in front of the eyes. In many cases, this side protection is required to adequately protect workers’ eyes. Safety glasses are also available with shaded lenses for use outdoors in bright sun, and some glasses can be made with prescription lenses, too.
Safety goggles provide additional protection that safety glasses cannot by sealing against the wearer’s face. As a result, goggles are suitable for protecting employees from hazards like liquid chemicals, acids/caustic liquids and other hazards that could splash into the eyes. Some goggles are ventilated, meaning they allow air to enter, while others are non-ventilated. When certain dangerous substances are present—fine dusts or hazardous liquids, for example—non-ventilated options may be necessary.
Face shields protect the face in addition to the eyes and offer higher impact protection. These shields should always be worn with safety glasses or goggles, though—never on their own—according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Workers who perform welding may be exposed to dangerous light radiation from the energy given off by this hot work. Eye protection for welders must have the required protective shade number (1.5-14), which filters the light and varies depending on the type of work being performed. OSHA offers some helpful charts showing the different levels of protection needed for common types of hot work. Certain types of safety glasses, goggles and helmets can all filter radiant energy, and for welding, some of these types of protection can be worn together. Generally, helmets are required for the highest hazards, while welding goggles are suitable for less severe light radiation. Consult OSHA standards for further information about welding and eye protection.
Guidelines for Using Eye Protection
As with all PPE, workers need to know what kind of eye protection they need, when to wear it, how to wear it and how to care for it. In some workplaces, workers may use more than one kind of eyewear—goggles for pouring concrete and a helmet for welding, for example—so they need to understand both types of gear. The following guidelines should help workers protect their eyes.
Safety glasses and goggles are not one-size-fits-all. Workers who wear these devices should check to see if there are gaps around the edges of their eyewear, which are common near the corners of the glasses. When gaps are present, workers should be given the opportunity to try out different sizes and styles of glasses. Some glasses may have nosepieces that improve comfort or straps that can be adjusted to improve fit. Eye protection needs to be comfortable and have appropriate coverage or an appropriate seal on the face.
Wearing with Other Eyewear
For workers who wear prescription eyeglasses, safety glasses and goggles exist that can fit over regular glasses. If workers find this cumbersome, they can also obtain glasses or goggles with prescription lenses.
Workers who wear contact lenses can easily wear regular safety glasses or goggles, but they should note that it’s a good idea to bring glasses or extra contacts to work in case something gets in their eyes and damages their contact lenses.
Employees should make sure to keep eye protection clean, as any dirt or smudges on the lenses can impede vision and compromise safety. Cleaning usually involves washing all parts of the glasses or goggles with soap and water. In some cases, the lenses of glasses may fog and require cleaning more often. Anti-fog solutions can be used, and if fogging becomes a persistent problem, lenses with an anti-fogging coating can be purchased.
If more than one employee wears the same eyewear, the PPE must be disinfected before being used by a different employee.
OSHA notes that scratches on lenses can also interfere with vision, so any damaged eye protective gear should be replaced.
Because lenses can be easily damaged, they must be stored in a clean, dry container. Glasses should not be casually thrown in a duffel bag, toolbox or other location where they could easily get scratched.
First Aid for Eye Injuries
If workers all wore proper eye protection, more than 90 percent of serious eye injuries could be prevented, according to The American Academy of Ophthalmology. Obviously, the best way to deal with eye injuries is to utilize appropriate safety glasses, goggles and other eyewear. When an eye injury does occur, though, everyone needs to know how to respond to prevent further damage.
Workplaces should have emergency eyewash stations in areas where hazards are located, and employees should know where to find them. Try labeling these stations and pointing employees toward them with signs or labels. First aid kits should also be readily available.
These first aid tips from Prevent Blindness, the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, should also be followed in an emergency:
For Chemical Burns/Exposure:
- Flush the eyes with water for 15 minutes.
- Flush the eyes, even if the person is wearing contact lenses. The lenses may come out of the eyes.
- Don’t bandage the eyes.
- Seek medical attention.
For Specks in the Eyes:
- Don’t rub the eyes.
- Try lifting the upper eyelid and pulling it outward.
- Let tears wash out the speck. If that doesn’t work, use an eyewash station.
- Bandage the eye lightly and seek medical attention if the speck cannot be removed.
For Blows to the Eyes:
- Apply a cold compress (without putting pressure on the eye).
- Seek medical attention if symptoms like pain or reduced vision occur.
For Cuts/Punctures to the Eyes/Eyelids:
- Don’t wash the eyes.
- Don’t try to remove objects.
- Cover the eye with a rigid shield like a paper cup.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
Unfortunately, eye injuries are very common. By properly preparing the workplace with appropriate PPE, first aid equipment and education, many of these injuries can be prevented, though.