The swashbuckling pirate and his eye patch have remained in our imaginations since childhood. But losing an eye at work is not an imaginary problem. Every day an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace and cost businesses more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and workers’ compensation.

Many eye injuries occur simply because employees aren’t using safety eyewear. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that three out of every five workers who received eye injuries were not wearing eye protection. Others were harmed when they wore the wrong kind of eye protection for the job.

Eye-opening hazards

OSHA does require employers to provide proper eye protection where necessary. So it’s important to determine where eye hazards are located and what kind of equipment will best protect your workers’ eyesight. Look for these typical eye hazards:

Flying particles — Almost 70 percent of all eye injuries result from flying or falling objects striking the eye.

Chemicals — Contact with chemicals (liquids, gases, dusts, fumes, or vapors) causes another 20 percent of eye injuries.

Swinging objects — Most of the remaining injuries are caused by objects that swing from an attached position. Tree limbs, ropes, chains, or tools are common examples.

Bloodborne pathogens and bodily fluids — In health care, maintenance, and housekeeping fields, there is a danger of these liquids being splashed into the eyes.

Other causes — Electrical arcs and sparks, molten metal, and radiant energy from welding, cutting, lasers, and ultraviolet and infrared light also contribute to eye injury.

It’s also important to examine the occupations in your facility to see who might be most at risk. While eye injuries can occur in just about any job, mechanics, repairers, carpenters, plumbers, assemblers, sanders, and grinding machine operators are most likely to be victims.

Providing eyewear

After conducting this “workplace hazard assessment,” all this information must be put in writing and signed by a person with safety responsibility. Next, you will need to find the best protection available for your workers. Whatever kind of protection you choose, it must comply with ANSI standards. For starters, you should:

  • Provide a good selection of colors and styles to help motivate your workers to use the eyewear.

  • Make sure it fits. There have been many cases of injuries caused by objects or chemicals going around or under the protector when it is loose. But be sure air is allowed to circulate between the eye and the lens.

Making it fit

Protective eyewear should fit comfortably, but securely. Goggles should fit with the center of the lens in front of the eyes. Adjust straps so goggles fit snuggly against the bridge of the nose and place them low on the back of the head for good fit. Spectacle sidepieces should touch the side of the head and curl behind the ears. If any of your workers have prescription lenses, they should have either prescription safety eyewear or equipment that can be worn over the lenses.

Inspect eye protection daily to assure it is in good condition. Replace knotted, twisted, worn, or stretched goggle straps. Replace eyewear that has lenses too pitted or scratched to see through.

An eye on training

You can’t just hand out safety eyewear and expect everyone to know what to do with it. OSHA requires you to train employees in the use of safety equipment. Start off your training session by relating a recent eye injury or near miss. Or try this experiment with your employees: have them close one eye and ask them to imagine how they would do everything with just one eye. Now have them close both eyes and imagine being completely blind.

Once you’ve caught their attention, pass on the following important safety information:

  • How to summon medical attention.

  • Your facility’s safety rules and procedures.

  • Read the instructions on protecting eyes that appear on labels and material safety data sheets.

  • Make sure eye protection fits and protects against the specific hazards of the job.

  • Check that eyewear provides front and side protection to prevent hazards from getting under or around the protector.

  • Wear goggles under face shields. Shields and welding helmets alone do not provide complete eye protection.

  • Make sure you understand when to wear the eye protection and how to properly use it and adjust it.

  • If you have contact lenses, do not wear them in areas where there is a chance that foreign matter could enter your eyes. Specks of dust and even liquids can become lodged under contacts.

  • Keep safety glasses or other eye protectors clean and in good condition.

If you and your workers follow all these safety tips, you should be able to keep that eye patch where it belongs – with the Halloween costumes.

Sidebar: Treating an injury

To handle eye injury emergencies, your workers should be ready with some basic knowledge of first-aid, including:

  • The location of the nearest eyewash station and how to use it. Eyes should be flushed with water for at least 15 minutes in the event of a chemical splash. Have someone check the chemical material safety data sheet for instructions. Get the victim immediate medical attention.

  • If a foreign object gets in the eye, flush with water until the object rinses out. Don’t rub the eye. If it doesn’t rinse out, cover the eye and seek medical assistance.

  • If the eye is exposed to laser or other radiation, effects might not appear right away. If the eye reddens or swells, keep it closed until medical assistance is received.

  • The importance of checking eyewash stations frequently to be sure there is always plenty of clean water available.

Sidebar: Starting a program

The National Association to Prevent Blindness suggests a workplace eye safety plan that includes the following steps:

  • Perform an eye hazard analysis to identify hazardous operations. Review incident and injury reports and inspect the workplace.

  • Require everyone to wear eye protection in hazard areas, including managers and visitors.

  • Use other means of protecting eyes whenever possible, such as machine guards.