Eyes On This: Prevent Eye Injuries at the Workplace

By: Barbara Nessinger, Editor-in-Chief

© Anna Kosolapova – stock.adobe.com

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is estimated that more than 2,000 people a day injure their eyes in the workplace, resulting in an average of 19,000+ lost workdays a year. In about 90% of incidents, minor to severe eye injuries and permanent vision loss could have been prevented by properly fitted (and appropriate) PPE, as well as education and training.

Because of its prevalence on the job, awareness of what can cause eye injuries is more important than ever for both workers and safety managers or industrial hygienists. Eye injury hazards include:

  • Exposure to flying objects, dust particles, heat, chemicals and optical radiation
  • Working overhead or with moving parts when welding; using power tools; or handling live circuits, pressurized air, liquids or gas
  • Liquids or foreign bodies in the eye, flash burns and corneal scratches (some of the most commonly occurring injuries)
  • Blows to the face from accidents and contact sports and objects, such as firecrackers, ammunition, darts and materials with springs or elasticity

People in certain occupations must also take precautions to reduce exposure to contagious diseases that can be spread through contact with infected blood or respiratory droplets via eye mucous membranes or from touching eyes with contaminated fingers. This is, obviously, why so much emphasis has been put on “don’t touch your face or eyes” during the Covid era.

Situational Awareness & The Right PPE

PPE selection really depends on likely exposure hazards. Protective eyewear can be made of glass, plastic or polycarbonate. Glass is scratch-resistant and is suitable for prescriptions; it can be used around harsh chemicals. However, it can fog and be heavy or uncomfortable. Plastic lenses are lighter weight, protect against splatter and are less likely to fog, but they are more prone to scratches. Polycarbonate lenses are often preferred, because they have higher impact-resistance than glass or plastic, but they are not as scratch-resistant as glass.

Optimally, face and eye protection selected for work-related or personal use is durable and comfortable—and able to be easily cleaned. Eye protection PPE should never restrict vision, movement or use of other equipment. The following face and eye protection equipment is recommended for specific conditions:

© Bannasak – stock.adobe.com

Impact Hazards

Goggles: Provide eye protection from hazards coming from above, below and the sides

Safety glasses: Can look similar to regular eyewear, but they have impact-resistant frames and lenses that have optional, transparent side shields blocking access to the outer perimeter of the eye

Face Shields: Offer frontal protection, but they should only be used in conjunction with safety glasses, because they don’t sit close to the eyes to provide adequate protection

Heat/spark Hazards

Safety Glasses: Primary protectors intended to shield the eyes from a variety of heat hazards

Goggles: Primary protectors intended to fit the face immediately surrounding the eye

Face Shields: Secondary protectors intended to protect the entire face, in addition to the eyes, from certain heat hazards

Chemical Exposures

Goggles: Primary protectors intended to shield the eyes against liquid or chemical splash, irritating mists, vapors and fumes

Face Shields: Secondary protectors intended to protect the entire face against exposure to chemical hazards

In addition, for other hazards, such as dust exposure, goggles are intended as primary protectors to guard against airborne particles and harmful dust. For optical radiation, a worker must wear protection that has the correct filter shade number that helps protect the eyes from radiant energy sources.

Providing the correct safety gear and enforcing safety protocols protects workers from personal injury, saves money and creates a professional workplace atmosphere. If, indeed, “the eyes are the window to the soul,” it’s up to professional safety managers to do their utmost to keep them that way.

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