Eye injuries on the job can occur from a variety of sources, from exposure to chemicals or particulate matter to cuts or scrapes to the cornea. Other common sources of eye (and skin) injuries are splashes, steam burns and exposure to ultraviolet or infrared radiation.
Every 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). March has been designated as Workplace Eye Wellness Month, a time to focus on vision safety on the job. Obviously, that should be a year-round concern; anytime is a good time to determine what personal protective equipment is appropriate for the job, review eye and face protection protocols with employees, and ensure they are correctly using the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job.
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 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 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."
The PPE selected depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, the type of other PPE to be used, and a person’s vision needs. Common forms of PPE for the face and eyes include safety glasses, goggles, face shields, and full face respirators.
Of course, having the PPE is only part of equation: The equipment will only do its job properly if it is used properly. A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey of workers who suffered eye injuries showed that nearly three out of five were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. The workers in the survey most often reported that they believed protection was not required for the situation.
A final thought: OSHA urges employers not to rely exclusively upon PPE devices to protect against eye hazards. Personal protective gear should be a part of a safety environment that includes guards, engineering controls, and robust safety practices.
How is your workplace watching over employee eye safety?