Loss Control Insights
Tips for Battling Eye Injuries
We hear all kinds of excuses—“They’re uncomfortable.” “I don’t have time to put them on.” “They fog up too much.” “I just don’t need them.” But you should quickly counter those excuses with terms like irritating eye strain, severe eye trauma and blindness.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20,000 workplace eye injuries happen each year, costing employers an estimated $300 million in lost productivity, medical treatment and workers’ compensation costs. Although it’s best to eliminate a hazard or use engineering controls to reduce the likelihood of injuries, sometimes personal protective equipment (PPE) must also be used.
Site Assessments Reveal Potential Eye Hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to perform a hazard assessment and ensure that appropriate PPE is available to employees. A thorough review of each workstation at your facility or jobsite is invaluable in identifying potential eye hazards such as:
- Dust, fibers, dirt, metal or wood chips from activities such as chipping, grinding, sawing, hammering, die cutting and the use of power tools
- Chemical splashes from corrosive substances, hot liquids, solvents or other hazardous solutions
- Swinging objects such as tree limbs, chains, tools or ropes
- Radiant energy, intense light from welding, harmful rays from the use of lasers or other radiant light
- Exposure to bloodborne pathogens typically found in health care settings
A review of loss experience data will also be helpful in identifying troublesome areas. For example, a manufacturer of paper clamshell containers was experiencing a high rate of eye irritation claims from stamping press operators. Upon closer examination, fine fiber particles of the paper were getting past the edges of the wrap around safety glasses being used. A completely different type of eye protection was recommended, and the hazard was mitigated.
Choosing the Right PPE for the Hazard
After determining the workplace eye hazards, select the most appropriate PPE for the hazard. Some of the most common types of eye protection include:
- Safety glasses with side shields or wraparound contour—This form of PPE consists of safety frames constructed of metal or plastic with impact-resistant lenses. Regular eyeglasses do not provide adequate protection and should not be used as substitutes for safety glasses. Employees with corrective lenses should consider prescription safety glasses.
- Goggles—Goggles should be tight fitting and completely cover the eyes, eye sockets and the facial area surrounding the eyes and provide protection from impact, dust and splashes. Goggles can be sized to fit comfortably over an employee’s corrective lenses.
- Face shields—This type of eye protection is made of transparent sheets of plastic extending from the eyebrows to below the chin and across the entire width of the face. Face shields protect against dusts/debris and potential splashes of hazardous liquids and should be worn over safety glasses or goggles. Face shields alone do not provide adequate protection against impact hazards.
- Welding shield—These shields are fitted with a filtered lens to protect eyes from burns caused by infrared or intense radiant light. They also protect the eyes and face from flying sparks, metal spatter and slag chips produced during welding, brazing, soldering and cutting operations. OSHA Publication 3151 contains information to help you determine the right protective shades by type of operation, electrode size and arc current.
Educating the Workforce on the Proper Use of PPE
Once the appropriate eye protection has been selected, it is crucial that employees be educated on the importance of wearing eye protection. In addition to educating employees about the importance of wearing eye protection, they should be trained on how to adjust the PPE to make certain it fits correctly and as comfortably as possible. Proper maintenance and cleaning procedures should also be a part of the training. Allowing time at the end of the shift to prepare PPE for its next use is one way to reinforce your commitment to reducing eye injuries. Also, be sure to include training on the use of emergency shower/eyewash stations and eyewash bottles.
Be on the Lookout for Eye Dangers
Because eye injuries can result in serious vision loss, it’s important to be able to recognize an injury. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, if you notice any of the following signs, get medical help right away. Do not attempt to treat a serious eye injury yourself.
- Obvious pain or trouble seeing
- A cut or torn eyelid
- One eye does not move as well as the other
- One eye sticks out compared to the other
- Unusual pupil size or shape
- Blood in the clear part of the eye
- Something in the eye or under the eyelid that can’t be easily removed
Make Eye Protection Part of Your Overall PPE Program
The objective of a PPE program is to reduce employees’ risk of injury or death by maintaining a safe work environment. PPE is not a substitute for good work practices, elimination of hazards, substitution of hazardous operations or materials, engineering controls or administrative controls. PPE should be used in conjunction with these controls to ensure the safety and health of employees. EMC’s PPE Program Template can be used to help your organization develop a written PPE program. We have made this template easier for you to customize by adding visual prompts that identify some areas where your input is needed.
The following resources from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health provide additional information specific to eye protection:
- Eye Safety Checklist—A five-point checklist of good eye safety practices with a printable flyer
- Eye Safety - Emergency Response & Disaster Recovery—Provides an overview of eye hazards and injuries, plus information on types of eye protection, safety for prescription lens wearers and first aid
- Eye Protection for Infection Control—Provides background information and specific details on eye protection used to supplement recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control
- Eye Safety Tool Box Talk—Provides an example toolbox talk on eye protection for construction workers