Every day, More than 2,000 people incur job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment. It is estimated that proper eye and face protection can prevent 90 percent of these injuries. Employers should be vigilant in promoting eye and face safety through training, awareness campaigns and personal protective equipment (PPE). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some minimum requirements pertaining to these types of hazards; however, even more can be done.
Flying particles or objects cause the majority of occupational eye injuries. Some of these hazards include metal slivers, dust, and wood and cement chips, and they can be ejected by tools or machinery, wind-blown hazards, etc. Drywall and sawdust are common problems for electricians.
A wide range of PPE can prevent these types of injuries. Safety glasses with side protection, goggles and face shields can prevent flying fragments, objects, particles, sand, dirt and dust from entering the eyes or striking the face. These hazards are often created by chipping, grinding, machining, sawing, drilling, chiseling, powered fastening, riveting or sanding.
When choosing safety glasses, there are three common types of lenses to consider: glass, plastic and polycarbonate. Each provides different degrees of protection and comfort. Glass lenses are typically difficult to scratch, can be worn around harsh chemicals and can be made with a corrective prescription. However, glass lenses can also be heavy and uncomfortable, and they tend to fog up in humid conditions. Plastic and polycarbonate lenses are usually lighter than glass and less likely to fog, but they are not as scratch-resistant. Polycarbonate lenses are stronger than glass and plastic lenses, and they can absorb a greater impact.
Electricians, linemen and wiremen should wear eye protection or safety glasses that are fully dielectric with no metal parts when exposed to electrical hazards or electrical arc. In some scenarios, a face shield may be needed to protect against electrical arc, as well. Electrical workers also may encounter thermal-burn hazards, typically from welding and cutting.
Employees involved in this type of work are at an increased risk of experiencing injuries such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation burns, also known as “welder’s flash,” which can cause damage to the skin and surrounding tissue. Welder’s flash is essentially like sunburn on the eyes. Mild cases can be treated with eye drops or ointments or by using an eye patch to protect the eye while it heals.
Welding poses a number of additional dangers that require the use of eye and face protection, such as safety glasses, goggles, welding helmets or welding face shields. These forms of PPE come equipped with filter lenses and a shade number that provides varying degrees of protection. Typically, the greater the shade number, the greater the protection to radiation. As a rule of thumb, OSHA recommends starting with a shade that is too dark to see the weld zone. Then, go to a lighter shade that provides a sufficient view of the weld zone without going below the minimum required levels.
In addition, eye injuries can occur when working with chemicals. When using chemicals and acids, workers should wear special chemical goggles with eye cups and a face shield. Using approved eye and face protection when working with these hazards will prevent damage from vapors and irritant mists.
Chemical exposure to the eyes can have permanent consequences if not immediately treated. Whenever this type of injury occurs, victims must avoid rubbing their eyes and should flush the area with water, using a water fountain, shower, garden hose or other clean water source, so long as the pressure is controllable. Keep the flow at a safe setting for the eye. Avoid bandaging the eye.
Under any circumstances, eye-injury victims who experience symptoms such as blurred vision, worsening glare, seeing spots or light flashes, pain while moving the eyes, or intensifying pain should consult a doctor immediately or go to an emergency room.
Eye injuries cost employers upward of $300 million per year in lost productivity, medical expenses and worker compensation. With a little diligence, education and awareness, the number of eye injuries can be greatly reduced.
For more information regarding eye and face protection and hazards, visit www.osha.gov.