Seeing your way to safety

June 1, 2004
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So often we take eye protection for granted. Safety glasses, goggles and face shields can prevent most eye injuries. Of course, there’s a slight catch — they have to be worn. Sometimes getting employees to wear the eye protection is the greatest challenge.

It is estimated that 1,000 eye injuries occur each day. Keeping our eyes protected is a matter of wearing the right eye protection for the task.

What’s the hazard?

Most eye injuries occur because the injured person was not wearing any eye protection or was wearing the wrong eye protection for the task.

Assessing the hazard is the first step in a good eye protection program. There are three types of hazards:

1) Dust and particles in the air. Common occurrences are found in metal-working factories and in workplaces where powders and dry materials are used, as well as tasks that create particles in the air such as drilling wood and metals or sanding and cutting wood.

2) The risk of a chemical splash. This can typically occur at chemical facilities, laboratories and any time a person handles chemicals.

3) Being hit in the eye by flying parts or debris. This applies to everyone from a construction worker to a machine operator.

Protection from welding arcs is additional protection that requires specific filter lenses usually worn in the welding hood.

Hazards must be evaluated for employees working on electrical equipment. A protective face shield or appropriate safety glasses may need to be worn over metal eyeglass frames.

Determine the eyewear

Safety glasses with side shields that meet the ANSI standard Z-87 are the minimum protection. There are also detachable side shields that meet the requirements. Safety glasses keep general dust and particles from the eye and are good protection against flying material. For example, a carpenter wearing safety glasses is protected from sawdust and the safety lens would protect the eye from a nail that flies back when hammered. There are also safety glasses available that have foam around the frame that work well when working in dusty conditions.

Goggles and face shields give extra protection. When working with chemicals a goggle will seal to the face and keep a splash from entering the eye. Face shields protect against splashes and flying debris but should be worn along with a pair of safety glasses.

Those employees who wear prescription glasses can purchase prescription safety glasses, or there is the option of wearing protective eyewear that can be worn over the prescription lenses. Prescription inserts for full-face respirators can also be purchased.

Part of the culture

Wearing safety glasses and other eye protection has to be a part of your safety culture. When your program is working correctly a person will not be able to walk into the work area without someone reminding him to put on his glasses.

I can remember my first day working at a steel mill as a young man. Along with steel toed boots and a hard hat I was handed a pair of safety glasses. Back then all safety glasses looked the same — ugly and heavy. I hated having to wear them, and at the end of the day it was nice to take them off. Being a new employee I diligently wore my safety glasses, but I noticed that many of the other employees kept them in their pocket unless a manager came by and then they slipped them back on. The safe behavior of wearing protective eyewear was not a part of the steel mill’s culture.

When asking employees why they don’t wear their safety glasses, goggles or face shields the following excuses are typically given:

1) “They’re uncomfortable.” Safety glasses and goggles can be uncomfortable, but with the newer, lightweight styles, comfort should not be an issue. Not so long ago there was only one style of goggle that stuck way out from the face and rode right on the bridge of the nose. Newer models can be very comfortable and easy to use.

Face shields can be cumbersome, but very seldom does a job require that they be worn for extended periods.

2) “They impair my vision.” Vision is another area that has improved with the newer designs. Wearers have always had a problem with peripheral vision because of the side shields. Wrap-around styles are not really a side shield but give the same or better protection.

Another vision problem has to do with the lens fogging. This problem can be controlled with anti-fog cleaning solutions.

Employees who have never worn glasses are going to need some time to adapt to the use of safety glasses.

3) “They look funny.” Years ago safety glasses did make the wearer look odd, but these days the styles have canceled out that complaint. Be proactive in your selection of safety glasses. It seems like the best-looking glasses cost the most, but the prices on the more stylish glasses are improving and if the employees will be more apt to wear them it may be worth the additional cost.

NOTE: Safety glasses also come with dark lenses which are appropriate for some jobs, but be aware of the hazards of reduced vision when employees are wearing dark glasses in poorly lit areas.

Several years ago, I was working for a chemical company and we were having an ongoing problem with eye injuries. Safety glasses were standard PPE and goggles were required when handling liquids. The safety glasses with side shields were not doing the job because of a couple of factors. Employees were having liquids drip from overhead and occasionally liquids would splash under the glasses.

We instituted a full goggle policy. Anyone working in the chemical units had to wear chemical splash goggles.

In this scenario we had assessed the hazard and identified the need for increased eye protection. The goggle policy resulted in a major reduction in our eye injuries.

Proactive program

A proactive eyewear program includes clear, precise rules on when, where and who wears safety glasses. The program will also be easier to control if there is easy access to the eye protection. In other words, provide safety glasses at the entrances to the work area, keep face shields next to areas where chemicals or saws are used, and have user-friendly programs for obtaining items such as prescription glasses and removable side shields.

When you assess the injuries occurring at your workplace, consider most eye injuries an easy fix. A good program will remove those injuries from your injury log.

SIDEBAR: Meeting the criteria

Is your protective eyewear up to speed? According to OSHA, the following minimum requirements must be met by all personal protective devices, including eyewear. The safety equipment shall:

  • Provide adequate protection against the particular hazards for which they are designed;
  • Be of safe design and construction for the work to be performed;
  • Be reasonably comfortable when worn under the designated conditions;
  • Fit snugly and not unduly interfere with the movements of the wearer;
  • Be durable;
  • Be capable of being disinfected;
  • Be easily cleanable;
  • Be distinctly marked to facilitate identification only of the manufacturer.

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