ISHN

Five common eye hazards

May 30, 2003
Each day more than 1,000 eye injuries occur in U.S. workplaces. They vary greatly in degree of severity and how they occur. Protecting your workers against flying fragments, for instance, requires a different strategy than protecting them against optical radiation or irritating mists.

A hazard assessment, as per OSHA's requirement, should determine the risk of exposure to eye hazards. Be aware of possible multiple and simultaneous hazard exposures, and be prepared to protect against the highest level of each hazard.

"The work site itself is a hazard," claims Jim Johnson, CSP, safety manager for Black & Veatch and a member of ASSE's Construction Practice Specialty Group. "Workers need to wear their eye protection equipment not only when there is a potential eye hazard, but they have to be ready at all times."

Let's review five eye hazards your workers might deal with, and strategies to protect them. OSHA singles out these five primary types of hazards when it comes to selecting personal protective equipment (PPE) for eye safety:

1) Impact

Impact hazards include flying objects such as chips, fragments, particles, sand and dirt. These hazards typically result from tasks like chipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, wood-working, sawing, drilling, chiseling, powered fastening, riveting and sanding. These objects or sparks are usually very small but can cause serious eye damage such as punctures, abrasions and contusions.

OSHA advises that while working in a hazardous area where there is exposure to flying objects, fragments and particles, workers must wear primary protective devices such as safety spectacles with side shields or goggles. Secondary protective devices like face shields are required in conjunction with primary protective devices during severe exposure to impact hazards.

Johnson is a staunch proponent of utilizing full face shields along with primary protective eyewear. "If you try to cut corners and go with minimum protection, you're going to do more harm than good. Some workers just want to attach side shields to their prescription glasses, for example, but this doesn't necessarily meet ANSI standards," he says.

2) Heat

Heat injuries, including burns, can occur to the eye when workers are exposed to high temperatures, splashes of molten metal, or hot sparks. Workplace operations that are especially vulnerable to these types of hazards involve pouring, casting, hot dipping, furnace operations and other similar activities.

When exposed to heat hazards, workers should be required to wear goggles or safety spectacles with special-purpose lenses and side shields, says OSHA. Many heat hazard exposures require the use of a face shield in addition to safety spectacles or goggles. When selecting PPE, consider the source and intensity of the heat and the type of splashes that could occur in the workplace.

Anti-fog coatings can help improve compliance in high-heat situations.

3) Chemicals

Direct contact with chemicals is another leading cause of eye injuries. A lot of these injuries, which typically occur in the form of a splash, mists, vapors or fumes, result from an inappropriate choice of PPE, according to OSHA. With the wrong type of PPE in place, a chemical substance could enter the eye area from around or under the protective equipment.

Damage from chemical substances contacting the eyes can often be extremely serious and even irreversible. When working with or around chemicals, workers need to know the location of emergency eyewash stations and how to access them with restricted vision.

OSHA recommends that when fitted and worn correctly, goggles provide proper protection for eyes against hazardous substances. A face shield may be required in areas where workers are exposed to severe chemical hazards.

4) Dust

In many workplace environments, dust can be very hard to avoid. It is most prevalent in such operations as woodworking and buffing. Working in a dusty environment can cause eye injuries and especially presents hazards to contact lens wearers.

When dust is present, workers should wear either eyecup or cover-type safety goggles. According to OSHA, safety goggles are the only effective type of eye protection from nuisance dust because they create a protective seal around the eyes.

Ronald Miller, CSP, director of Training & Consulting Services for the Occupational Safety & Health Services Group of the National Safety Council, notes that since dust tends to stick on eyewear, making it difficult to see through and frustrating the worker, it is vital that a regular cleaning regimen be maintained. "In dusty situations, good eyewear cleaning practices need to be kept," he says.

"If dust is due to the nature of the work operation," adds Johnson, "then there will be continual exposure. If this is the case, workers need a goggle that will seal."

5) Optical radiation

Laser work and other similar operations that create high concentrations of heat, ultraviolet, infrared and reflected light radiation are also potential eye hazards. Unprotected laser exposure may result in retinal burns, cataracts and permanent blindness.

OSHA's advice: Determine the maximum power density, or intensity, lasers produce when workers are exposed to laser beams. Then select lenses that protect against the maximum intensity. Selection of laser protection should depend upon the lasers in use and the operating conditions.

"Workers can even need protection against ordinary sunlight," Johnson suggests. As a result you may need to provide, at the very least, smoked or tinted eyewear.

Be in compliance

Of course, there are countless eye hazards in addition to these five primary ones. Whatever type of protection you choose, make sure it complies with the ANSI Z87.1 standard and provides adequate protection against the hazards for which it is designed.

Miller adds that it is helpful to have multiple styles of eyewear available to your workers. "Workers must want to wear the eyewear and should have input into the selection of the eyewear. There are plenty of ANSI-compliant glasses out there in many different styles. Give workers a choice, and they'll be more likely to wear them."

SIDEBAR: If an injury occurs. . . Here's what to do

Chemical splash

  • Don't squeeze eyes shut. Hold them open with thumb and index finger.
  • Flood eyes with cool, clean water for 15-20 minutes.
  • Get medical attention immediately. Have the chemical container and its label available for evaluation.
  • Don't use another chemical to neutralize the spilled chemical.

Flying particles

  • Don't try to remove anything embedded in the eye. You could cause more damage.
  • Don't pull or squeeze the eye. Cover it and get medical attention immediately.

Radiation/burns

  • If the eyes are exposed to intense heat, flames, lasers or arc welding radiation, apply ice packs to relieve pain.
  • Get medical attention immediately.

Blows to the eyes

  • Apply ice packs to control swelling and relieve pain.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

Eyestrain

  • Glare, poor lighting and long periods spent at a video display terminal can cause eye fatigue, soreness and headaches.
  • Improve the lighting in the area.
  • Give eyes adequate rest.

Source: National Safety Council