The first step in an eye protection program is determining your risks. Potential eye hazards can be found in nearly every industry, but certain jobs carry greater risks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 40 percent of eye injuries occur among craft workers such as mechanics, repairers, carpenters, and plumbers.

More than a third of the injured workers in one eye protection study were operatives, such as assemblers, sanders, and grinding machine operators. Laborers suffered about one-fifth of the eye injuries. Almost half the injured workers were employed in manufacturing; slightly more than 20 percent were in construction.

OSHA's requirements

You must provide eye protection for employees whenever they are exposed to potential eye injuries during their work if work practice or engineering controls do not eliminate the risk of injury, according to OSHA. (See 29 CFR Part 1910.133 Eye and Face Protection standard). Some hazards that might cause eye injuries include:

  • Dust and other flying particles, such as metal shavings or wool fibers.
  • Molten metal that might splash.
  • Acids and other caustic liquid chemicals that might splash.
  • Blood and other potentially infectious body fluids that might splash, spray, or splatter.
  • Intense light such as that created by welding arcs and lasers.

Selection criteria

According to OSHA, eye protection must:

  • Protect against the specific hazard(s) encountered in the workplace.
  • Be reasonably comfortable to wear.
  • Not restrict vision or movement.
  • Be durable and easy to clean and disinfect.
  • Not interfere with the function of other required PPE.

    In addition, the American National Standards Institute has issued standard requirements for the design, construction, testing, and use of protective devices for eyes and face. OSHA requires that all protective eyewear you purchase for your employees must meet the requirements of ANSI Z87.1-1989 for devices purchased after July 5, 1994, and ANSI Z87.1-1968 for devices purchased before that date.

    Prescription eyewear

    Eyeglasses designed for ordinary wear do not provide the level of protection necessary to protect against workplace hazards. Special care must be taken when choosing eye protectors for employees who wear eyeglasses with corrective lenses.

    Prescription spectacles with side shields and protective lenses meeting the requirements of ANSI Z87.1 are available. These glasses also correct the employee's vision.

    Goggles that can fit comfortably over corrective eyeglasses without disturbing the alignment of the eyeglasses are another option.

    Goggles that incorporate corrective lenses mounted behind protective lenses are a third option.

    OSHA says you also must provide protective eyewear to employees who wear contact lenses and are exposed to potential eye injury. Eye protection provided to these employees may also incorporate corrective eyeglasses. That way, if an employee must wear eyeglasses in the event of contact lens failure or loss, he or she will still be able to use the same protective eyewear.

    Types of eye and face protectors

    Safety spectacles:
    Protective eyeglasses made with safety frames constructed of metal and/or plastic and fitted with either corrective or plano impact-resistant lenses. They come with and without side shields, but most workplace operations will require side shields.

    Impact-resistant spectacles:
    Used for moderate impact from particles produced by jobs such as carpentry, woodworking, grinding, and scaling.

    Side shields:
    Protect against particles that might enter the eyes from the side. Side shields are made of wire mesh or plastic. Eye-cup type side shields provide the best protection, according to OSHA.

    Generally, goggles protect eyes, eye sockets, and the facial area immediately surrounding the eyes from impact, dust, and splashes. Some goggles fit over corrective lenses.

    Welding shields:
    Constructed of vulcanized fiber or fiberglass and fitted with a filtered lens, these protective devices are designed for the specific hazards associated with welding. Welding shields protect eyes from burns caused by infrared or intense radiant light, and protect face and eyes from flying sparks, metal spatter, and slag chips produced during welding, brazing, soldering, and cutting.

    Laser safety goggles:
    Laser safety goggles provide a range of protection against the intense concentrations of light produced by lasers. The type of laser safety goggles you choose will depend upon the equipment and operating conditions in your workplace, according to OSHA.

    Face shields:
    Transparent sheets of plastic extending from the brow to below the chin, and across the entire width of the employee's head. Some are polarized for glare protection. OSHA recommends using face shields to protect your employees' faces from nuisance dusts and potential splashes or sprays of hazardous liquids.

    Face shields do not protect employees from impact hazards, according to OSHA. Face shields can be used in combination with goggles or safety spectacles to protect against impact hazards, even in the absence of dust or potential splashes, for additional protection beyond that offered by goggles or spectacles alone, according to the agency.

    Cleaning tips

    You need to train your employees how to clean eye protectors, according to OSHA. Allow them time at the end of their shifts to do the following:

    • Disassemble goggles or spectacles;
    • Thoroughly clean all parts with soap and warm water;
    • Carefully rinse off all traces of soap; and
    • Replace all defective parts.

    Occasionally, you must disinfect the protective eyewear. To do so, after cleaning you can do the following:

    • Immerse and swab all parts for 10 minutes in a germicidal solution.
    • Remove all parts from the solution and hang in a clean place to air dry at room temperature or with heated air.
    • Do not rinse the parts after submerging them in the disinfectant. Rinsing will remove the germicidal residue that remains after drying.

    Ultraviolet disinfecting and spray-type disinfecting solutions also may be used after washing.

    Sidebar -

    Safety eyewear works The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than half of the workers injured while wearing eye protection in one study thought the eyewear had minimized their injuries. But nearly half the workers also felt that another type of protection could have better prevented or reduced the injuries they suffered. It's important to choose the right type of protective eyewear for the job. OSHA estimates that 90 percent of eye injuries can be prevented through the use of proper protective eyewear.