According to Prevent Blindness America®, thousands of eye injuries occur daily. More than 2,000 eye injuries happen in the workplace each day, with 10-20 percent resulting in temporary or permanent vision loss. In addition to the injury itself, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average cost of a disabling eye injury at nearly $4,000, with a cumulative annual cost of all reported eye injuries at nearly $355 million. Sadly, with the use of appropriate eye protection, 90 percent of these tragic and costly injuries could have been prevented.
So, what can safety managers do to make sure these injuries don’t occur? Choosing the correct safety eyewear can make a huge difference and can keep your workers from becoming mere statistics.
Correctly assess your hazards
Conducting a proper workplace hazard assessment is one way to be sure workers are being protected effectively. OSHA and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1-2003 standards explain what employers must do to be compliant. Your protective eyewear manufacturer is an excellent resource to guide you through the process of assessing your specific needs and selecting the appropriate protective eyewear.
Once you are OSHA and ANSI-compliant, your workplace may still have incidences of eye injuries simply because employees are not wearing their protective eyewear for a variety of reasons, including:
- Fit: To be effective, safety eyewear must be comfortable and fit snugly and securely. Because the contours of the face play a part in protecting eyes, it’s important to choose eye protection that is adjustable and of the correct size and shape to ensure proper fit and coverage. Consult your protective eyewear supplier for product lines that offer a variety of sizes and adjustability features. It’s simple â€” if the eyewear doesn’t fit and is uncomfortable, workers won’t wear it.
- Fogging: In environments where high humidity, temperature changes or high levels of physical exertion are issues, specialized anti-fog coatings can protect eyewear from fogging, minimizing a hazardous temporary loss of visibility.
- Scratching: In addition to anti-fog coatings, there are other coatings available that significantly reduce scratching as well as the harmful effects of chemical splashing. The best of these coatings is permanently bonded to the lens surface, thus providing long-lasting scratch protection and resistance against the harmful effects of many chemicals. Most importantly, these coatings help to retain optical quality and extend visual clarity for the life of the lens.
- Optical clarity: As defined by ANSI, optical clarity includes the measure of prismatic power, refractive power and haze that all lenses have. Each affects how well safety glasses can provide clear vision. Poor performance makes it more likely employees will experience issues like headaches and fatigue, ghosting (images overlapping), starbursts (light appearing to be spread out) and a decrease in visibility at close range. These problems are often overlooked as they are rarely reported. However, they can result in a loss in productivity or refusal to wear safety eyewear, leading to lost work time and possible on-the-job injuries. ANSI Z87.1 requires strict optical performance for clarity and fatigue-free wearing over the course of the work day.
- Eye strain: Varying work environments warrant different lens tints. These are designed to protect wearers from ultraviolet or infrared radiation, to enhance visual perception and to relieve eye strain in different job applications. The use of appropriate tints can greatly reduce eye injuries on the job, thereby reducing the potential financial impact on both employers and employees.
According to ANSI, non-prescription protective eyewear must meet the ANSI Z87.1 industrial eyewear standard and be marked with the manufacturer's logo on each lens and with “Z87” or “Z87+” on all component parts, including frames and temples. A Z87+ mark on the lens indicates it has passed ANSI high-impact testing. This means the eyewear can withstand an impact from a projectile traveling 150 feet per second, as well as a high mass drop test from 50 inches.
But what about those workers who also require vision correction?
In selecting the appropriate protection, you must understand the ANSI requirements for wearers of prescription (Rx) eyewear. ANSI Z87.1-2003, Section 126.96.36.199, states that “Wearers of prescription (Rx) eyewear shall wear eye protection that incorporates the prescription in its design or that can be worn over prescription lenses without disrupting either the prescription eyewear or the protective eyewear.”
Safety managers incorrectly assume that “dress” glasses provide sufficient protection to the 50 percent of the general working population who require some degree of vision correction. But prescription glasses designed for wear outside the workplace do not provide the protection necessary for occupational hazards. Simply adding sideshields does not make them ANSI-compliant.
The most effective solution is to implement an Rx safety eyewear program. Even though a large percentage of people need corrective eyewear, only about 50 percent of companies provide an Rx safety program, typically because it is a common misconception that prescription eyewear is too expensive. While non-prescription (plano) safety eyewear carries a cost of approximately $42 per year or $84 every two years, the average cost of prescription protective eyewear every two years is approximately $80.
But what about the investment of time and resources to implement a program?
Many product suppliers will actually do the work for you, beginning with an occupational vision screening. These are performed using the Purdue Job Standards to measure the level of visual performance needed for a specific task.
First, the distance at which the job is commonly performed is determined. Then the worker’s visual performance is determined based on that distance. Employees should wear their prescription glasses for the screening â€” even while wearing them, an average of 3 out of 10 employees will fail the screening because an average of 60 percent will need a new prescription.
Occupational vision screening is a simple and accurate method to determinine the need for a prescription safety eyewear program. Once you’ve identified employees needing new prescriptions, your safety eyewear supplier will lead you through the next steps. The program will increase productivity, quality, and efficiency in your daily operations using the following steps:
- Make certain that employees make an appointment for an eye exam.
- Develop a prescription safety eyewear program. Most prescription safety eyewear manufacturers will help you tailor a program, and the manufacturer will identify a distributing laboratory capable of handling your safety requirements.
- The optical laboratory will usually have optical dispensers available near your location to fit your employees’ prescription safety frames, either on-location or at their office.