Of the five senses, vision is generally the last one we would chose to lose. So why are eye injuries so common? It’s usually a failure of employers to effectively identify and control hazards or a failure of employees to follow safety rules. But eliminating workplace eye injuries can be achieved though a dedicated eye protection program that includes employee involvement and the following tips.

Do it their way

Getting employees to buy into eye protection programs requires that they take part in program development. Ask them what can be done to ensure they don’t end up blind and include their answers in your program. Make it “their rule” to use eye protection, but be sure to cover every eye hazard.

Go shopping

Eye protection products exist for every situation and every worker. So let employees help select the proper protection, such as styles and colors. Consider having your local safety product distributor bring several styles and models for employees to try before you buy. But remember, one size does not fit all, so ensure safety glasses have adjustable side pieces.

Include everyone

If you walk into a facility and see everyone wearing safety glasses, you can bet that they have a good eye protection program. While not everyone may need safety glasses, it is much easier to identify non-compliant employees if everyone on the floor is required to wear them.

Establish a program

Developing a program that will eliminate eye injuries involves the following steps:

  • Identifying hazards

  • Designing and implementing hazard controls

  • Creating an understandable and enforceable policy

  • Training employees

  • Monitoring behavior

  • Continuing awareness

    Identify hazards

    Hazards that can cause eye injury include operations and areas that have:

    • Chemicals;

    • Molten metal;

    • Hydraulic systems;

    • Spraying;

    • Fumes, dust, and mists;

    • Bloodborne pathogens; and

    • Grinding and chipping operations.

    Control hazards

    There are two ways to control eye hazards — either completely eliminate specific eye hazards or control them though a combination of engineering, administrative, and work practice controls.

    Engineering controls center on redesigning equipment and processes to totally encapsulate or eliminate a hazard.

    Administrative controls include:

    • Daily supervisor checks to ensure all eye hazard controls are in place and effective;

    • Placement of eye hazard signs and labels;

    • Access control to eye hazard areas;

    • Selection and provision of correct eye protection; and

    • Continuous monitoring by supervisors and managers.

    Work practice controls involve specific trained (and enforced) behaviors like wearing safety glasses while using hand or power tools or wearing non-vented or indirect vented goggles and face shields while using chemicals.

    Work practice controls also involve actions required to protect others in the work area such as using welding curtains, limiting air blowdown or water spray cleanup to non-production hours, ensuring exhaust ventilation is operating, or preventing pedestrian traffic in areas where chipping or grinding is in progress.

    Make it count

    Your written eye protection program should provide information on the types of eye hazards in your facility and the controls used to prevent injury. An important provision is mandating that all employees involved in non-office activities wear safety glasses without exception. Also, list the type of eye protection available for each hazard. Include a procedure for turning in damaged or worn eye protection for new ones. State specifically what will happen to an employee for failure to use the correct eye protection.

    Provide training

    While training should be required for all those who are required to wear eye protection, it’s especially important to target employees who work in high-hazard areas. Shock videos are a good way to drive home the effect of not taking eye protection seriously. Another way is to ask employees for typical excuses someone might use for not wearing eye protection. Write them down and ask which of the reasons is worth risking their vision.

    Make it clear that eye protection is a serious subject and that you will accept nothing less than total compliance, and then training can begin. Teach your workers about each type of eye hazard, what protection is required, and how to select, inspect, clean, and store their eye protection. Make sure they know how and where to get replacements.

    Inspect for results

    Any system will degrade over time unless you continually monitor, train, inspect, and audit. Once you have identified every eye hazard in your workplace, it becomes easier to develop area-specific eye protection checklists for supervisors to use each week.

    Sidebar: Do you have the right goggles for the job?

    While goggles may seem to offer a great deal of eye protection because they create a seal around the eyes, using the wrong type can be dangerous. When conducting your PPE assessment, you have three basic choices of goggles:

    • Direct vented goggles — These offer small holes or slots that allow the goggles to breathe, which reduces fogging. Use them only for impact protection, not for work that involves vapors, fumes, mists, sprays, fine dust, or chemical splash hazards.

    • Indirect vented goggles — These feature small, channeled air passages that are designed to limit the entry of liquids from splash hazards. Do not use these goggles for eye protection against eye irritants produced from fumes or vapors. Limited protection may be provided for tasks involving sprays, mists, or fine dust particles. Fogging may occur, so use a brand with an anti-fog coating and be sure to renew the coating frequently.

    • Non-vented goggles — These provide the best protection from airborne eye irritants from fumes, vapors, and splash hazards. Since there is no air exchange across the goggle barrier, fogging can occur if the anti-fog coatings are not maintained and renewed.

      Other tips to remember when selecting goggles:

    • For all splash hazards use a face shield with indirect or non-vented goggles to provide face protection.

    • If you use a goggle with any type of porous foam padding on the seal area, the splash hazard protection is no longer effective.

    • Make it easy for your employees by placing lens cleaning stations, stocked with both cleaning material and anti-fog coating products, near where you store goggles and at locations where goggles are used.

    • If goggles, or any eye protection, are stored at work areas, provide a protective case to prevent them from getting dirty, deformed, broken, or misplaced. Put up a sign that tells employees, “Prevent blindness — use these goggles.” Supervisors should check that eye protection is in place at the start of every work shift and replace damaged or missing equipment.