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Looking Out for Eye Protection

Eye injuries, the the most damaging and disabling, of workplace injuries, are all too common, and all too costly, both in consequences for you and for injured workers.

According to CDC/NIOSH, each day about 2000 U.S. workers have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment. About one third of the injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments and more than 100 of these injuries result in one or more days of lost work. The majority of these injuries result from small particles or objects striking or abrading the eye.

Injuries to the eyes accounted for 37 percent of all head injuries involving days away from work in 2008 and 62 percent of all face injuries involving days away from work. Men experienced far more eye injuries than women, and men age 25 to 44 suffered more eye injuries than men in other age groups. Workers who were most at risk of incurring an eye injury included those in the manufacturing, construction, and trade industries, and those in the production; installation, maintenance, and repair; construction and extraction; and service occupations. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

What Are the Risks?

There are a lot of ways workers’ eyes can be injured. According to NIOSH, the majority of these injuries result from small particles or objects striking or abrading the eye. Examples include metal slivers, wood chips, dust, and cement chips that are ejected by tools, wind blown, or fall from above a worker. Some objects, such as nails, staples, or slivers of wood or metal penetrate the eyeball and result in a permanent loss of vision. Other dangers include:

  • Large objects may also strike an eye, or a worker may run into an object causing blunt force trauma to the eyeball or eye socket.
  • Chemical burns to one or both eyes from splashes of industrial chemicals or cleaning products are common.
  • Thermal burns to the eye occur as well. Among welders, their assistants, and nearby workers, UV radiation burns (welder’s flash) routinely damage workers’ eyes and surrounding tissue.

In addition to those common eye injuries, health care workers, laboratory staff, janitorial workers, animal handlers, and other workers may be at risk of acquiring infectious diseases via ocular exposure. Infectious diseases can be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye as a result of direct exposure (e.g., blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing or suctioning) or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects. The infections may result in relatively minor conjunctivitis (reddening/soreness of the eye) or in a life threatening disease such as HIV, B virus, or possibly even avian influenza.

Take Action to Prevent Eye Injuries

Workplace eye injuries are, of course, preventable. And the best way to prevent them is to require employees to wear appropriate eye protection whenever there is even the slightest risk of eye injury. While it is ultimately the employee’s responsibility to take the necessary precautions regarding their safety, incorporating these fundamentals in your workplace policies and procedures will provide the understanding and awareness – or the carrot and the stick- that will facilitate the right decision on their part:

  • Train in the need for and use of eye protection.
  • Post signs in areas where eye protection is required.
  • Make sure supervisors monitor compliance with eye protection rules.
  • Give employees positive reinforcement for wearing assigned eye protection.
  • Discipline those who repeatedly fail to follow the rules.

Choosing the Right PPE

Engineering controls should be used to reduce eye injuries and to protect against ocular infection exposures. Personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full face respirators must also be used when an eye hazard exists.

The eye protection you choose for specific work situations depends upon:

  • The nature and extent of the hazard
  • The circumstances of exposure
  • Other PPE used
  • Personal vision needs

Eye protection should be:

  • Fit to an individual or adjustable to provide appropriate coverage. Just as with respirators, if the bad stuff can get past, its insufficient to ensure safety.
  • Comfortable and allow for sufficient peripheral vision. If it interferes with the worker’s ability to do their job efficiently or comfortably, it is more likely to not be used when they feel they can get away with it.
  • Appropriate for a given task based on a hazard assessment of each activity, including regulatory requirements when applicable.

Seven Ways to Protect Worker’s Eyes

1. Create a safe work environment.

  • Minimize hazards from falling or unstable debris.
  • Make sure that tools work and safety features like machine guards are in place.
  • Make sure that workers (particularly new ones) know how to use tools properly.
  • Keep bystanders out of eye hazard areas.

2. Evaluate safety hazards. OSHA requires you to make hazard assessments to determine when specific PPE is needed. Be sue to:

  • Identify the primary eye hazards at the site.
  • Identify hazards posed by nearby workers, large machinery, and falling/shifting debris.

3. Make sure workers wear the proper eye protection. OSHA makes you, not employees, responsible for selecting the right eye protection and providing it to employees. Be sure to select the appropriate Z87 eye protection for each eye hazard in your workplace.

4. Make sure employees inspect eye protection before each use. Damaged or worn eyewear, or eyewear that doesn’t fit properly, won’t protect adequately.

  • Teach employees how to inspect eye protection.
  • Have supervisors check to be sure employees follow inspection rules.
  • Show workers how to ensure eye protection fits properly and will stay in place.
  • Explain how to clean and how to store eye protection to prevent damage.

 

5. Require the use of safe work practices. Teach employees to always use caution while they work. For example:

  • Always wear assigned eye protection, even if the job will “only take a minute.”
  • Brush, shake, or vacuum dust and debris from hardhats, hair, forehead, or the top of the eye protection before removing the protection.
  • Don’t rub eyes with dirty hands or clothing.
  • Clean eyewear regularly.

6. Make it easy for employees to replace worn or damaged eye protection. Explain the circumstances in which eye protection should be replaced. Use samples of damaged equipment to make your point. Then explain the procedure for exchanging PPE.

7. Prepare for eye injuries and first aid needs. Have an eyewash station near eye hazard areas, or make sure bottles of sterile solution are on hand. Teach employees first aid for eye injuries.

Great resources for formal eye safety training as well as informal “Tool Box” talks are provided by NIOSH:

  • Eye Safety Checklist  – A five point checklist of good eye safety practices with printable flyer.
  • Eye Safety – Emergency Response & Disaster Recovery – Provides an overview of eye hazards and injuries, plus information on types of eye protection, safety for prescription lens wearers, and first aid.
  • Eye Protection for Infection Control  – Provides background information and specific details on eye protection used to supplement eye protection recommendations provided in current CDC infection control guidance documents. It is intended to familiarize workers with the various types of eye protection available, their characteristics, and their applicable use.
  • Eye Safety Tool Box Talk  – Provides an example tool box talk on eye protection for construction workers.
  • Contact Lens Use in a Chemical Environment – Provides safety guidelines for contact lens wearers working in chemical environments.
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