Takeaway: Eye protection is about more than just safety glasses. Having a shelf full of protective eyewear on hand does not ensure your workers’ eyes are safe.
1. Eye Injuries Are Still Very Common in the Workplace
Each day, more than 2,000 U.S. workers experience a work-related eye injury. And that’s just the number of employees who seek medical treatment. It doesn’t include those who are able to treat their injury with basic first aid.
(Learn more in The 5 Main Hazards to the Eyes and Face.)
Roughly 10% of workers with an eye injury need at least one day away from work for recovery. Others may require restrictions or transfers until they’re able to perform their regular jobs again.
Sadly, some of these injured workers will never fully recover.
2. Eye Protection Is More Than Just Safety Glasses
When most people hear the words “eye protection” they immediately think of safety glasses. But there’s more to it than that.
OSHA’s eye and face protection standard states that eye protection must be worn when exposed to hazards from:
- Flying particles
- Molten metal
- Liquid chemicals
- Acids or caustic liquids
- Chemical gases or vapors
- Light radiation
As you can see, there are a number of workplace hazards that can lead to eye injuries.
We need to be more diligent about protecting our employees from eye injuries. Instead of just stocking the PPE shelves with goggles and safety glasses, work with your employees to conduct a hazard assessment of each work area.
3. Safety Eyewear Must Meet the ANSI Z87 Guidelines
Employees must be provided with eye protection that meets the ANSI Z-87 guidelines. Most of the approved eyewear products will have “Z87” stamped on the inside frame. If you’re unsure, check with the manufacturer.
Here are the basic criteria for ANSI-approved eyewear:
- Provides appropriate protection
- Has a safe design for the task at hand
- Fits snugly and is comfortable
- Is durable for the work environment
- Is easy to clean and can withstand disinfecting
- Has been marked with the manufacturer’s identification
- Must be used in conjunction with proper training
4. Contact Lenses May Present Additional Hazards to Employees
In general, it is safe for employees to wear contact lenses in the workplace. However, certain situations may present additional hazards for these employees.For instance, welding activities that produce gases or vapors may cause irritation and excessive watering of the eyes for someone who wears contacts.
Chemical splashes can also be more severe for an employee wearing contacts. And dust and other particulates can become trapped between the lens and the eye.
The best way to address this issue is to provide additional training for workers with contact lenses. Explain the hazards and present them with alternative options. They should also know that contacts cannot be used as a substitute for regular safety eyewear.
5. In Most Cases, Employers Are Not Required to Cover the Cost of Prescription Eyewear
According to federal OSHA, employers are not required to purchase prescription safety eyewear for their employees.
Some State Plans, however, may go above and beyond this regulation. Check with your local OSHA office to be sure. Some companies and labor unions will also set their own policies regarding the cost of prescription safety eyewear.
At a minimum, employers must provide safety eyewear options that would fit over an employee’s regular pair of glasses. However, many employees find this to be cumbersome and uncomfortable.
That’s why it’s a best practice for the employer to cover at least a portion of the prescription safety eyewear. Even though it isn’t required, it will make your employees more likely to comply with the eye protection requirements in your workplace.
6. Detachable Side Shields Are Deemed Acceptable by OSHA
The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects. Detachable side protectors (e.g. clip-on or slide-on side shields) meeting the pertinent requirements of this section are acceptable.
That being said, it’s important to remember that employers and State Plans may go above and beyond the federal regulation. Check with both to determine whether detachable side shields are allowed at your workplace.
7. Most Eye Injuries Result from Objects Striking or Scraping the Eye
According to the CDC, most eye injuries result from small particles or objects. They strike or scrape the eye when ejected by tools and machinery. Another common problem is when these particles and objects are airborne and blown into the eye.
Examples of common particles and objects include:
- Cement chips
- Metal shavings
- Wood chips
8. Burns and Penetrating Objects Are Also Sources of Eye Injuries
Chemical and thermal burns are another common source of eye injuries in the workplace. Industrial chemicals or cleaning products can affect workers in various industries. Thermal burns typically affect welders and those who work near them.
Other sources of eye injuries include objects like nails, staples, or wood chips that penetrate the eyeball. When an injury of this nature occurs, it usually results in permanent vision loss.
9. OSHA Has Specific Shade Requirements for Various Types of Radiant Energy Work
Welders and other employees exposed to radiant energy hazards must wear appropriate eye and face protection. The equipment used must have filter lenses that provide adequate levels of protection.
OSHA has established minimum protection requirements for radiant energy work (you can view the charts and tables here).
Keep in mind that you may need to provide your workers with several pairs of hoods, goggles, and eyewear.
10. Emergency Eyewash Stations Must Meet Specific Design and Installation Requirements
In emergency situations, employees may need to use an eyewash station to flush or rinse their eyes. OSHA requires eyewash stations to be readily accessible in areas where employees may be exposed to “injurious corrosive materials.”
Eyewash stations must meet the following minimum requirements:
- Flushing fluid must consist of either potable water (or a saline solution that has been preserved and buffered) or a preserved water source
- The eyewash station must provide a minimum of 15 minutes continuous flushing
- The station must be equipped and able to flush both eyes at the same time
- The velocity and temperature of the flush should not be to a point that it causes further damage to the eye
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