Each day an average of 2,000 workers in the United States suffers job-related eye injuries requiring medical treatment. That’s according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),
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. That’s according to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The BLS also reported that in 2014 there were 23,730 eye injuries requiring time away from work that year, accounting for 6 percent of the total of all lost-time cases in both private industry and state and local government.
What we don’t need these statistics to tell us is that eye injuries can be life-changing. Their effects can range from simple eye strain to severe trauma that result in permanent damage or loss of vision. Blunt trauma can damage the eye directly or even the bones that surround it.
According to OSHA, thousands of workers are blinded each year from occupational injuries that could have been prevented through properly selected and fitted vision protection. Such personal protective equipment which must be worn by employees who are exposed to hazardous chemical splash, dust, and particulate matter.
OSHA Face Protection Standard 1910.133(a) (1) states that 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.”
Common forms of PPE for the face and eyes safety glasses, goggles, face shields, and full face respirators. However, 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.
OSHA standards recommend that 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 notes that ensuring PPE fits an employee properly is essential to effectively protecting that person; this is particularly true with eye protection. Without a good fit, protective eyewear is likely to be uncomfortable, to slip, and possibly to be damaged or even discarded. Again, we don’t need statistics to tell us that the consequences of even brief lapses in protection can be severe.
OSHA's Eye and Face Protection eTool (available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/eyeandface/index.html) offers a basic hazard assessment table to help employers begin the process of selecting proper PPE. The table lists five types of vision hazard that might be encountered at work – impact, heat, chemicals, dust, and optical radiation — and offers examples and common tasks related to each.
One final note: OSHA urges employers not to rely on PPE devices alone to protect hazards. Instead, personal protective gear should be a part of a safety environment that includes engineering controls and robust safety practices.