Imagine working in construction with limited or no vision. Try walking across the site with your eyes closed—not easy. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates 2,000 eye injuries occur every day at work. Most of these among construction workers, and most are preventable. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists two major reasons for work-related eye injuries: not wearing any eye protection or not wearing the correct type. A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey found that three out of five workers with eye injuries were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. Of those who were wearing protection, more than 90 percent of the injuries occurred when objects or chemicals went around or under the protection.

Since the majority of workers who wear eye protection still experience eye injuries, something isn’t right. It seems logical that the problem is in matching protection to a specific job. There are many different types available, and some are better suited to some tasks than others.

To start with, all eye protection used must meet OSHA’s standard, which requires all eye and face protection be American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1-certified. All certified protection will have the Z87.1 mark on the lens or frame. Next, you must determine which type of protection best fits the job at hand by performing a hazard assessment to ascertain what eye hazards exist. Although this may be a time-consuming process, this early assessment might save time and money by minimizing eye injuries at the site. Some of the most common job site hazards include the following:

  • Dust, concrete, metal and other particles
  • Chemicals such as acids, bases, fuels, solvents and cement powder
  • Falling or shifting debris, building materials and glass
  • Smoke and noxious or poisonous gases
  • Welding light and electrical arcs

Most construction sites will have a combination of hazards. So how do you pick the correct type of eye protection?

NIOSH put together a list of eye and face protection that can be used as a starting point. NIOSH strongly encourages that all eyewear be Z87.1-certified, so this is factored into its recommendations.

Safety glasses with side protection will provide the minimum. They are best used for general working conditions where there is a minimum of flying particles, including dust and chips. Lenses should have an antifog treatment. Glass lenses are more scratch-resistant than polycarbonate but are heavier and do not provide the same impact protection.

Goggles provide higher impact, dust and chemical splash protection than basic safety glasses, and they can have indirect or direct venting. When working with fine dust or a splash hazard, indirect venting should be used. The problem with indirect vents is they fog more easily, however. Direct vent goggles can be used when working with larger particles. These will fog less but do not provide the same level of protection as the indirect vents.

Also available are hybrid safety glasses or goggles. These include safety glasses with foam or rubber around the lens to minimize the amount of particles or splash coming in contact with the eye. The hybrids should not be used when there are impact hazards because the hybrids do not stand up to impacts as well as standard goggles do.

Workers who wear prescription glasses present a different problem. They already are wearing some type of eyewear. Do they need more? The answer is yes. If the glasses have nonsafety lenses, the workers should wear tight-fitting goggles over the prescription glasses. Contact lens wearers also should wear goggles on the job site. Prescription safety glasses are available, but they lack high-impact protection and should not be used in debris areas unless covered by goggles or a face shield.

Although we have focused on eye protection, don’t forget that the face must also be protected. For highest impact protection, a shield will protect the whole face from chipping, spraying, grinding, and chemicals or blood-borne hazards. Face shields should never be worn without some type of eye protection (safety glasses or goggles). The eye protection will protect against any particle that may get under the shield.

For further eye safety, in addition to eye protection, always remember the following:

  • Brush, shake or vacuum dust and debris from hard hats, hair, the forehead or the top of eye protection before removing the protection.
  • Avoid rubbing eyes with dirty hands or clothing.
  • Clean eyewear regularly, and ensure the protector is working properly.
  • Ensure eye protection fits properly and will stay in place.

Remember, this is a partial list, and many other options exist, including variations of the types listed. The most important point to keep in mind is that the proper eye protection can save your eyes and vision—and quite possibly your livelihood.  EC

KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or dkelly@intecweb.com. This article was edited by Joe O’Connor.