Eye and face injuries can be painful and gruesome. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2,000 people incur job-related eye injuries requiring medical treatment every day. These types of injuries cost employers production time, medical expenses and workers’ compensation. Fortunately, most can be prevented by using proper eye and face protection.
A majority of occupational eye injuries are caused by small particles or objects striking the eye. This may include items ejected by tools or machinery or even wind-blown hazards such as metal slivers, dust particles and chips of wood or cement. Larger objects such as nails, staples, wood and metal fragments can cause significant injury.
Workers may also experience burns to the eyes and face. Chemical burns can occur when splashes of industrial chemicals or cleaning products contact the eyes or skin. Thermal burns can be sustained during welding and cutting operations. This type of work can also result in ultraviolet radiation burns or “welder’s flash,” which occurs when an arc or flame creates radiant energy, causing damage to the eyes and surrounding tissue.
Another occupational eye and face hazard is blood and bodily fluids. Although these are not common hazards to encounter in most electrical jobs or the construction industry, it is important to understand that they exist when administering first aid.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to ensure employees’ safety and that eye and face protection is provided whenever necessary to protect against chemical, environmental, radiological or mechanical irritants and hazards. It is also addressed in specific OSHA standards for general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring and the construction industry.
Eye and face protection
There are four different types of eye and face protection: spectacles/safety glasses, goggles, face shields and welding helmets. Each is categorized as either primary or secondary protectors. Primary protectors are pieces of protective equipment that can be worn standalone or in conjunction with a secondary protector.
Goggles and safety glasses are considered primary protectors. Goggles fit around the area of the face near the eye and are held in place by a strap or band around the head. They may provide protection from particles, liquids, chemical vapors and radiation.
Safety glasses are the most frequently worn PPE for eye and face protection. There are three types of safety glass lenses: glass, plastic and polycarbonate. Each provides different degrees of protection and comfort, as well as advantages and disadvantages.
Face shields and welding helmets are categorized as secondary protectors because they must be worn with goggles or safety glasses. Various styles and special-purpose models are available to address specific hazards. They provide additional coverage for the face.
Workers involved with welding or cutting are required to wear special eye and face protection. This comes with filtered lenses and a shade number that provides varying degrees of defense. Usually, the greater the shade number, the less intense the level of exposure to radiation. When selecting eye and face protection, OSHA recommends starting with a shade that is too dark to see the weld zone, then trying a lighter shade that gives a sufficient view of the weld zone without going below the minimum required levels.
The table lists the minimum protective shade numbers for welding and cutting processes.
Electricians involved in work where the potential exists for an arc flash also have special PPE needs. Reference NFPA 70E for the proper protective clothing and eyewear. It requires an analysis, which includes procedures for determining an electrically safe work condition, a determination of the flash protection boundary and the PPE required for workers that will be within the boundary. An electrically safe work condition is one in which equipment has been deenergized and a proper lockout/tagout has been performed.