Each day, an average of 2000 workers in the United States suffer job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Even though March has been designated Workplace Eye Wellness Month, any time is a good time to review eye and face protection protocols with employees and ensure they are correctly using the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the task at hand.

According to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately three out of every five workers who experienced eye injuries were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or were not wearing the proper kind of eye protection for the job. Perhaps even more eye-opening was that the workers surveyed most often reported that they did not believe the situation called for protective eyewear.

Common eye injuries in the workplace are exposure to chemicals or particulate matter and cuts or scrapes to the cornea. Other common sources of eye injuries are splashes, steam burns, and exposure to ultraviolet or infrared radiation.

The PPE selected depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, the type of other PPE to be used, and an individual's vision needs. Common forms of PPE for the face and eyes include safety glasses, goggles, face shields, and full face respirators.

According to OSHA Face Protection Standard 1910.133(a)(1), it is up 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 eye protection 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 each affected employee "engaged in operations that involve eye hazards wears 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."

Important and effective as they are in protecting against eye hazards, PPE devices are just one part of a safety environment that should include guards, engineering controls, and strong safety practices.
How is your workplace keeping an eye on employee eye safety?