Facing Down the Hazards

Eye and face hazards don't have to be exotic to be highly dangerous.

EVERY day, workers in many locales are injured--including quite a few who are left with permanent disabilities--because they did not wear adequate eye and face protection. Or because they wore inadequate protection, the result of being poorly trained or not trained at all.

In fact, more than a thousand eye injuries are recorded daily in the United States. About a third of these, or 100,000 injuries, are disabling, according the organization Prevent Blindness America. About 60 percent of the injured workers in these cases were not wearing any kind of protective gear when they were hurt.

Eye and face protection is required in workplaces ranging from paint booths and car repair shops to foundries, welding operations, and chemical manufacturing. Experts say the injuries are almost entirely preventable through adequate training and proper protection. You can start on both tasks by making a thorough assessment of eye and face hazards and assigning proper PPE to each. Typical hazards requiring safety eyewear are found with machines or operations that produce sparks or slung objects, chemicals, harmful radiation, or a combination of these hazards. Anyone who works in such an area or passes through one should be wearing appropriate protective eyewear, without exception.

But eye and face hazards don't have to be exotic to be highly dangerous. An inattentive employee can walk into a doorframe or right into the protruding end of a beam, causing serious injuries. The victim might be hurrying, or clumsy, or simply preoccupied. What magic can you conjure to train these people so they get the job done without a mishap? Every job has a risk of some injury; the keys are training and initial orientation, vigilance, intelligent supervision, and tough-minded disciplinary action. After all, the pain is personal--but the liability is almost entirely the employer's burden to bear.

Conduct a job safety analysis for each position. As you are jotting down the nature of the tasks and potential hazards, discuss them with the employees and encourage their input. Use it to develop and refine your training.

Employees can forget about safety when they are striving to meet production deadlines or are working overtime. Reinforce your safety essentials on a frequent basis and make sure every employee knows and understands the procedures completely. Maintain these testing records along with your documentation of the hazard assessments you have conducted.

Effective Discipline
This is no place for weakness or indecision. Consistency is critical. You must be even-handed but no pushover, and you cannot ignore a problem in the hope it will miraculously disappear.

At the outset, use oral warnings or a documented counseling session. Tell the employee what he or she is doing wrong and what must be done to correct the situation. And you must follow up with the employee and his or her supervisor to make certain the individual doesn't slip back into the unacceptable bad habit. If needed, administer written warnings and even termination, if warranted, for repeated violations of eye and face safety rules. Your boss will thank you. Believe it or not, so will your workers, when they realize these measures have prevented serious injuries and losses.

Selecting Eye and Face PPE
OSHA has published non-mandatory guidelines for assessing hazards and selecting eye and face protection. The guidelines (an appendix to 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I) include an excellent selection chart:



Assessment of Hazard


Impact--Chipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, woodworking, sawing, drilling, chiseling, powered fastening, riveting, and sanding

Flying fragments, objects, large chips, particles, sand, dirt, etc.

Spectacles with side protection, goggles, faceshields. For severe exposure, use faceshield

Heat--Furnace operations, pouring casting, hot dipping, and welding

Hot sparks


Splash from molten metals

High temperature exposure

Faceshields, goggles, spectacles with side protection. For severe exposure, use faceshield

Faceshields worn over goggles


Screen faceshields, reflective faceshields

Chemicals--Acid and chemicals handling, degreasing, plating



Irritating mists

Goggles, eyecup and cover types. For severe exposure, use faceshield

Special-purpose goggles

Dust--Woodworking, buffing, general dusty conditions

Nuisance dust

Goggles, eyecup and cover types

Light and/or Radiation

Welding: Electric arc


Welding: Gas

Optical radiation

Optical radiation

Welding helmets or welding shields. Typical shades: 10-14

Welding goggles or welding faceshield. Typical shades: gas welding 4-8, cutting 3-6, brazing 3-4

Cutting, Torch brazing, Torch Soldering

Optical radiation

Spectacles or welding faceshield. Typical shades, 1.5-3


Poor vision

Spectacles with shaded or special-purpose lenses, as suitable

In notes accompanying the chart, OSHA points out that "Care should be taken to recognize the possibility of multiple and simultaneous exposure to a variety of hazards. Adequate protection against the highest level of each of the hazards should be provided. Protective devices do not provide unlimited protection."

Other notes remind employers and exposed workers that operations presenting heat hazards may also involve light radiation. If this is the case, the relevant OSHA standard requires protection to be provided for both hazards.

Faceshields--including welding helmets or faceshields--must be worn over primary eye protection such as spectacles or goggles, and filter lenses must meet the requirements for shade designations in 29 CFR 1910.133(a)(5). "Tinted and shaded lenses are not filter lenses unless they are marked or identified as such," OSHA cautions. "Eye and face protection should be designed and used so that it provides both adequate ventilation and protects the wearer from splash entry."

Eye & Face Protection Checklist

Use the following checklist to guide your eye and face protection auditing process. It is not a comprehensive list, but merely a part of a comprehensive safety program.




During the interview process prior to hire, is safety discussed with each individual?



Are prior accidents/injuries or property damage in the workplace discussed with each candidate?



Are safe work practices reviewed with each affected employee during new employee orientation?



Do orientation and training cover the specifics of the product being manufactured, materials, and unique hazards of materials being used?



Is specific training given on personal protective equipment such as eye/face protection, gloves, hearing protection, and associated items?



Are workers trained in first aid procedures as well as location of first aid supplies?



Are emergency notification numbers clearly posted and up to date for all employee areas?



Is each employee briefed on reporting accidents/injuries and the required paper work to be completed in a timely manner?



Are employees advised of the consequences of not following safety training and approved guidelines, and the steps involved toward termination? Ensure your protection and the company's by maintaining a signature sheet in each personnel folder.



Is annual training given as needed in those areas requiring it, or as new hazards are introduced into the workplace?

This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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