Focused on eye safety

October 1, 2004
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I didn’t see anything coming. I just heard something blow. And just that fast, the hose end hit me right in the face, then kept thrashing back and forth. So I ran out from under the tank, headed straight for the generator, and shut it off.

“I’ve always worn safety glasses, and I like the newer styles because they look sporty, yet give me protection. [If I hadn’t been wearing them] on that day, I would have definitely lost an eye. So from now on, I’ll always wear my safety glasses. And I strongly recommend that others do the same.”

Like this worker whose eyes were spared thanks to his protective eyewear, most of the time in an industrial incident, you don’t even see “it” coming — before it’s too late.

Cautions about wearing eye protection are nothing new. It’s common knowledge that hazards to the eyes can be found in most industries, and OSHA standards require that employers provide workers with appropriate eye protection that is properly fitted. Safety eyewear helps prevent injuries from anything ranging from blows to the eye, surface wounds or abrasions, and even dust.

With better fitting, more effective, more comfortable, and more stylish protective eyewear more readily available and inexpensive today than ever before, there really is no excuse for workers suffering eye injuries because they weren’t wearing their safety glasses. Don’t let your workers take their vision for granted. Even minor mishaps to the human eye can cause many ongoing problems.

A doctor’s view

Erik Happ, M.D., chief resident of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., comments on some of the industrial eye injuries seen at Presbyterian Hospital’s ER/trauma unit and the Eye and Ear Institute. “We’ve noticed a recent reduction in welding injuries, especially flash injuries (UV keratopathy), which we attribute to improved OSHA standards and increased worker compliance.

“However,” he cautions, “workers should be careful of all hazards in the work area. We see workers who incur such injuries from a multi-group setting. One welder finishes his job and removes his eye protection, but other welders are still working, and he is injured by the hazards of another’s work in progress.”

“Overall, because many workers are wearing some form of eyewear, we’ve treated fewer penetrating eye injuries. Still, at least once or twice weekly in the emergency room, we treat eye injuries involving a metal foreign body on the cornea (clear, protective outer covering of eye).

“Most eye injuries that persist are due to inadequate protection and/or noncompliance with standards, especially in the areas of manufacturing and vehicle repair, and wherever there is grinding or pounding of metal. Too often, workers fail to protect their eyes from overhead hazards, such as a car on a rack.”

Reportedly, the majority of eye injuries for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters are caused by a foreign object entering the eye. Injuries occurred while working overhead, soldering or welding, grinding metal, painting, or working with pressurized pipes.

Dr. Happ suggests that employers and their employees collaborate to analyze job tasks and/or the work day and consider three things: the materials and tools worked with; the positions worked in (angle to eye); and the work space/environment, with regard to other workers.

What’s the hazard?

There is no one-size-fits-all standard for every industry, so safety managers must assess what types of safety gear to purchase. You need to choose and wear safety eyewear that is appropriate for your occupation.

  • Workers who are at risk of eye injury from flying particles, hazardous substances, projections, or detrimental light rays need to wear suitable eye and/or face protection that meets the requirements of American National Standards Institute ANSI Z 87.1-2003 (American National Standard Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection). Look for a “Z87+” mark on the lens or frame of your protective eyewear. (The “+” stands for “high impact.”)

  • Impact-resistant safety glasses with side shields, or impact-resistant goggles, are used for chipping, grinding, sawing, drilling and other operations with hazards of flying fragments, chips, etc.

  • Only splash-resistant goggles, which are unventilated or have indirect ventilation, should be used when working with hazardous liquid chemicals.

  • During welding operations, employees should wear welding goggles with filter lenses or plates (appropriate for the specific type of welding) to screen out harmful light and ultraviolet rays.

  • Exposure to laser beams requires laser-safety goggles and eyewear.

  • People who need both vision-correcting glasses and worksite eye protection should wear either safety glasses with suitable corrective lenses, goggles with suitable corrective lenses, or goggles that fit over their own corrective glasses.

    90 percent preventable

    Of the thousands of workers each year who are disabled because of vision loss due to injury, many didn’t think they needed eye protection, or they wore eyewear inappropriate for the job.

    According to Prevent Blindness America (PBA), 90 percent of workplace eye injuries are preventable, provided that workplace safety procedures are enforced and safety eyewear is mandatory for 100 percent of workers, managers and visitors to the site. Employees who are unsure about what is appropriate protection for themselves should check with their employer or eye doctor.

    SIDEBAR: Don’t become a stat

    Statistically, in 2002, of the 60,064 nonfatal occupational facial injuries and illnesses involving days away from work, 42,286 or 70.4 percent involved workers’ eyes. Manufacturing operators, fabricators, laborers and workers in precision, production, craft and repair occupations were most at risk of incurring an eye injury.

    Workers aged 25 to 44 years experienced 62 percent of the eye injuries. Men were more likely than women to be injured (i.e., 81 percent). No surprise there perhaps, but only 15 percent of all eye injury cases occurred in construction. Over 50 percent were in manufacturing or trade (wholesale and retail), with another 20 percent in the services industry, and 8 percent in transportation and public utilities.

    Source: Patrick M. Harris, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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