In safety, we are all working towards the same goal: reducing injuries. A detailed eye safety program can help you achieve that goal.

While the good news is that eye-related injuries can be reduced and/or eliminated, the bad news is that they’re not always an easy fix. Ensuring that employees wear the correct eye protection for the task requires an effective protective eyewear program.

On the attack

If eye injuries are occurring at your company, attack the problem by doing hazard assessments in the areas where the injuries are happening. Also, ensure that eye safety is a part of all hazard assessments.

To make the assessment, identify what hazards are present in your work areas. Hazards may include:

  • metal chips, saw dust;
  • the handling of hazardous liquids such as paint or acids;
  • lights from welding or burning;
  • flying debris from moving machinery or as simple as a carpenter’s nail flying back toward the face;
  • bloodborne pathogen hazards.

Decision time

After the hazard assessment, it’s time to decide what level of eye protection is needed. A variety of protection is available, including:

Sideshield safety glasses — The variety of glasses is unbelievable. They are offered in various styles and prices. They must meet ANSI Standard Z87.1.

Goggles — These are used for chemical splash and impact resistance. Models are also available with a form-fitting material around the goggles that gives extra protection. For chemical protection, indirect vents are needed. Direct-vented goggles are used for protection against flying debris only.

Face shields — Use of a face shield must be accompanied by safety glasses or goggles worn under the shield. The face shield itself is not eye protection, but it does add protection from flying debris that could fall behind a pair of safety glasses.

Welding hoods — These are used to protect eyes from bright light, heat, ultraviolet light and flying sparks. Filter lens requirements can be found in OSHA CFR 29 1910.133 Eye and Face Protection.

Prescription safety glasses — Although a lot of safety eyewear fits over personal eyeglasses, prescription safety glasses provide a better option. Companies can work with local eyewear distributors and implement programs to enable employees to purchase prescription safety glasses. Prescription inserts can also be purchased for goggles and respirator facemasks.

Get specific

Wearing safety glasses in the workplace has become more and more commonplace, but there are still plenty of challenges in the area of eye protection.

One reason employees don’t comply is because they don’t think safety glasses are needed. It’s hard to enforce the wearing of safety glasses in general work areas because although safety glasses may be required for an entire manufacturing plant floor, there could be areas where hazards are minimal and employees become lax.

It’s different for a face shield or goggles, which have identified tasks for which they are required. For example, a face shield might be required when using a grinder or a saw. But for general tasks, employees become complacent when it comes to safety glasses.

When the eye protection rules are general — required in the entire building — employees will be tempted to remove their glasses when they think the risk is minimal.

Other pitfalls that can result in a poor protective eyewear program include:

  • not enforcing written rules;
  • not enforcing the rules for everyone (including visitors and management);
  • lack of eyeglass cleaning stations.

Start immediately

Eye injuries can be avoided. Injury data states that nearly 60 percent of eye injuries happen to workers not wearing eye protection. Workers wearing safety glasses without side shields are also at a higher risk. Flying particles cause the majority of eye injuries, and 20 percent of the injuries are due to chemical splashes.

To start reducing eye injuries immediately:

  • Review past eye injuries and identify the causes.
  • Do a hazard assessment in the areas where the injuries are occurring.
  • Identify the needed level of eye protection.
  • Roll out the new safety efforts with training sessions on the eye protection and where it will be utilized.

SIDEBAR: Why workers shirk using face shields & goggles

Utilizing face shields and goggles in high-risk tasks can reduce injuries. When using equipment that is capable of propelling objects into the air and when chemical splashes may occur, a face shield or goggle is the best protection.

Despite the protection face shields and goggles provide, why don’t employees use them when they are needed and/or required?

1) Availability — Have a face shield or goggles hanging at the saw or grinder so that they’re easy to access. If a worker needs a face shield but cannot easily find one he will often do the task without wearing the correct protection.

2) Condition — Having dirty or scratched face shields and goggles often results in the same at-risk behavior. If the work area is prone to dirt build-up, keep the face shield or goggles under a cover at the workstation. Make sure that replacement lenses are easily obtainable.

3) Enforcement — If management does not enforce the rule of using a face shield the employee will oftentimes feel that his safety glasses are sufficient protection. Make sure that supervision is enforcing the face shield rules. Your program should be audited on a regular basis by the safety person going to the area and visibly ensuring that face shields are being worn. NOTE: Always wear safety glasses under a face shield.