According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day an average of about 2,000 workers in the United States suffer job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment.
October has been designated Eye Injury Prevention Month, but reviewing eye and face protection protocols with employees and ensuring they are not only using the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job but that they know how to use it correctly is a sound practice any time of year.
Injuries to the eye in the workplace can take a number of forms from chemicals or particulate matter in the eye and cuts or scrapes to the cornea. Other common causes of eye injuries are splashes, steam burns, and exposure to ultraviolet or infrared radiation.
Common forms of PPE for the face and eyes safety glasses, goggles, face shields, and full face respirators. The PPE chosen depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, the type of other PPE to be used, and a person’s vision needs.
Under OSHA Face Protection Standard 1910.133(a) (1), it is the responsibility of the employer to “ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards.” That includes making sure the PPE uses eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects (OSHA Face Protection Standard 1910.133(a) (2). For those who wear prescription lenses, OSHA Face Protection Standard 1910.133(a)(3) requires that an individual engaged in operations that involve eye hazards to wear “eye protection that incorporates the prescription in its design, or wears eye protection that can be worn over the prescription lenses without disturbing the proper position of the prescription lenses or the protective lenses.”
According to these standards, a person should always wear properly fitted eye protective gear when:
-Doing work that may produce particles, slivers, or dust from materials like wood, metal, plastic, cement, and drywall;
-Hammering, sanding, grinding, or doing masonry work;
-Working with power tools;
-Working with chemicals, including common household chemicals like ammonia, oven cleaners, and bleach;
-Using a lawnmower, riding mower, or other motorized gardening devices like string trimmers;
-Working with wet or powdered cement;
-Welding (which requires extra protection like a welding mask or helmet from sparks and UV radiation);
-“Jumping” the battery of a motor vehicle;
-Being a bystander to any of the above situations.
OSHA urges employers not to rely on PPE devices alone to protect against eye hazards. Keeping a watch on eye safety means personal protective gear should be one part of a safety environment that includes engineering controls and robust safety practices.