Losing vision in one or both eyes can have major impacts on a person’s life and livelihood. Yet according to NIOSH, upwards of 2,000 workers each day are sent for medical treatment. Some recover fully and others lose part or all of their vision. Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries. These injuries occur because employees aren’t wearing eye protection or they’re wearing improper or poorly fitting eye protection.

Data show that men experience far more eye injuries than women, and that men ages 25 to 44 suffer more eye injuries than men in other age groups.

Eye injuries in the workplace

Some causes of eye injuries and their related workplace operations include: 

  • Flying objects or particles — Sources include chiseling, grinding, hammering, and metalworking. These hazards cause the majority of eye injuries. Materials such as cement chips and metal slivers may be ejected by tools, windblown, or fall onto a worker.
  • Gases, vapors, and liquids — Sources include handling acids or caustics, or welding. Industrial chemicals or cleaning products can cause chemical burns to the eyes and thermal burns can be caused by welding. 
  • Dusts or powders, fumes, and mists — Sources include scaling, light grinding, hammering, spot welding, and woodworking.

Anytime machines or operations present potential eye injury from physical, chemical, or radiation elements, your company must select, provide, maintain, and require affected employees to use appropriate eye protection.

Eye protection requirements

Eye protection must be:

  • Provide protection for the hazards at hand,
  • Snug without interfering with the movements of the wearer,
  • Durable, 
  • Capable of being disinfected and cleaned, and
  • Comfortable and easy to use.
  • Where the eye hazard is from laser beams, you must furnish laser safety goggles that:
  • Will protect for the specific wavelength of the laser;
  • Be of optical density adequate for the energy involved; and
  • Bear a label that identifies the laser wavelengths for which use is intended, the optical density of those wavelengths, and the visible light transmission.

    Employees who wear prescription lenses must wear:

  • Glasses whose protective lenses provide optical correction;
  • Goggles that can be worn over corrective lenses without disturbing the adjustment of the glasses; or
  • Goggles that incorporate corrective lenses mounted behind the protective lenses.
  • For protection against radiant energy, you must select the appropriate shade number for the filter lenses or plates used in welding.

Types of eye and face protection

Safety glasses protect from flying chips or particles, and they can have tinted lenses for radiation and laser hazards. They may look like normal glasses, but they’re made of much stronger materials. Side shields provide protection for the sides of the eyes. Some styles are designed to be worn over prescription glasses. Prescription safety glasses are also available for people who need to wear corrective lenses. Don’t use standard prescription eyeglasses as safety glasses.

Goggles fit closer to the eyes and provide more coverage than do safety glasses. Goggles with direct ventilation protect from chips and particles. Styles with indirect venting (or no venting) protect against liquid splashes, fumes, vapors, and dusts. Some styles are designed to be worn over prescription glasses.

Face shields provide additional protection for the face. Safety glasses or goggles should always be worn under the face shield to make sure the eyes have enough protection.

Although it’s usually safe to wear contact lenses, remember that they don’t provide eye protection. Employees must wear any required eye protection when wearing contact lenses.

Acceptable eye and face protection, including prescription safety eyewear, is marked to show it conforms with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard ANSI Z87.1, American National Standard Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection.

Wearing eye protection

In order for eye protection to be effective, it must be comfortable, and it must be worn properly. Wearing proper eye and face protection for a specific job, such as welding, is important. Employees must understand its purpose and limitations. Multiple options for safety eyewear should be available so employees can find a correct and comfortable fit.

Also, keep in mind that inspection and maintenance are important considerations for protective equipment. Continuously looking through dirty lenses causes eye strain and can become an excuse for not wearing eye protection. Pitted, cracked, scratched, or chipped lenses not only make the lenses harder to see through, it can lead to employees stopping use, and they also aren’t providing the intended level of protection.

Eye protection training

When employees are required to wear PPE such as safety glasses or goggles, they must be trained on:

  • When and which PPE is necessary;
  • What PPE is necessary;
  • How to properly put on, take off, adjust, and wear the PPE;
  • The limitations of the PPE in protecting from injury; and
  • The proper care, maintenance, storage, useful life, and disposal of the PPE.
  • Before employees can begin work on a task or in an area that requires the use of eye protection, they must demonstrate an understanding of the training and their ability to use the PPE properly. It’s important they understand why proper selection, fit, and wearing of PPE at all times is crucial to their safety. 
  • Retraining must be given when:
  • Changes in the workplace or in the types of PPE to be used make prior training obsolete.
  • Employees aren’t putting into practice what they learned in training.

The bottom line

Eye protection is vital in keeping employees safe from everyday hazards lurking in the workplace. By training employees on the proper use, getting a comfortable fit, and providing correct sizing of eye protection, the company reduces their chance of a recordable incident while employees significantly reduce their risk of injury.

Employers are responsible for providing employees with training on how to care for and wear eye protection as well. The employer should ensure that employees understand the long-term impacts and risks associated with insufficient eye protection. Consistent enforcement and ensuring that employees can demonstrate what they’ve learned goes a long way in protecting their sight.