October has been declared both Eye Injury Prevention Month by the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Home Eye Safety Month by the Prevent Blindness organization. No matter the month, though, it’s always sound practice to review eye and face protection protocols periodically with employees to ensure they are correctly using the personal protective equipment (PPE) suited to the job.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), each day an average of 2,000 workers in the United States suffers job-related eye injuries requiring medical treatment. According to a survey conducted 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 task.
PPE selection 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 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 selected for 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, the 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.”
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, concrete, 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 ready mix concrete, mortar mix, or repair products;
-Welding (which requires extra protection like a welding 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. Rather, personal protective gear should be a part of a safety environment that includes engineering controls and robust safety practices.