Both OSHA and the Canadian Standards Association have head protection standards designed to protect workers.

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This is a perfect time for employers to become more familiar with ways in which they can protect their workers from head, face, and eye injuries.

When it comes to work-related injuries to the eyes, face, and head, the statistics are sobering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2008, approximately 3.7 million injuries and illnesses were reported in private industry workplaces at a rate of 3.9 per 100 full-time workers. Among the nearly 1.1 million injuries resulting in at least one day away from work, more than 70,000 were head injuries, and more than 60 percent of all head injuries occurred to the face.

Injuries to the eyes in the workplace accounted for 37 percent of all head injuries resulting in days away from work. The study stated that there were 27,450 non-fatal occupational injuries or illnesses involving the eye (or eyes) and that men made up about 81 percent of these eyes-related injuries. It also found that 62 percent of all face injures resulted in lost workdays and that men aged 25 to 44 suffered more eye injuries than men in other age groups. No explanation for this was provided.

The BLS study concluded that "workers who were most at risk of incurring an eye injury included those in the manufacturing, construction, and trade industries, and those in the production; installation, maintenance, and repair; construction and extraction; and service occupations."

Interestingly, this study was conducted in 2008 when the economic slowdown leading to the Great Recession was just beginning. However, for many industries where these head, face, and eye injuries occurred, the downturn had already begun. This implies that if the economy had not been entering a recession, more workers would probably have been employed in these industries and, therefore, these numbers most likely would have been even higher and all the more sobering.

Now, many of these same industries that were the first to experience the downturn--especially the construction industry (both residential and commercial), as well as factories and other industrial locations--are adding workers because the economy has significantly picked up. So this is a perfect time for employers to become more familiar with ways in which they can protect their workers from injuries, especially when it comes to the head, face, and eyes.

Protecting the Face and Eyes
According to some reports, as many as 90 percent of all workplace eye injuries could be prevented if proper safety glasses are worn. The BLS study reports that some of the occupations that have the highest number of eye injuries include those in the construction industry, welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers. In addition, those working with various types of chemicals are also high on the list. Along with chemicals, these workers are exposed to airborne objects and particulate matter as well as dust, all of which can do harm if exposed workers’ eyes are not protected.

Before selecting any type of eye protection, employers and managers are encouraged to assess the head, face, and vision hazards their workers are likely to face. This is because different hazards may require different safety gear. Some safety eyewear is designed to look like large glasses; in fact, they are designed to be placed over workers' glasses, should they be wearing them. Especially valuable in settings where chemicals may be a hazard, they provide basic splash and impact protection and, because many styles wrap around the face, peripheral vision is protected.

All safety eyewear must comply with the American National Standards Institute's ANSI Z87.1 standard for eye and face protection devices. In addition, frames should meet Canadian Standards Association's CSA Standard Z94.3, also for impact resistance. These standards do not apply to dress eyewear.

For workers in construction, cutting, grinding, and similar occupations, along with safety eyewear, faceshields or welding helmets are also called for. Faceshields should have a wraparound design to protect from airborne filings, splashes, dust, or debris. If welding helmets are worn, employers and workers should know that there are two types of safety helmets: older models that are passive and newer types that are auto-darkening.

Passive helmets are made with a shaded piece of glass or polycarbonate that contains a dark filter. Auto-darkening helmets, on the other hand, darken automatically as soon welding work begins and offer greater flexibility for the worker. No matter which type is selected, both welding helmets and faceshields should be made of high-quality, durable materials that deflect sparks and reduce the risk of "burn-through" during specific work applications.

Finally, in high-dust environments or where hazardous chemicals are used, goggles that seal tightly to the face should be worn at all times.

For workers using cleaning chemicals, many of them, whether green or conventional, can prove dangerous if they come in contact with the eyes. BLS lists custodial work as one of the top five high-risk occupations, with a great deal of the work-related injuries in this industry happening as a result of the use of chemicals. According to Jennifer Meek of Charlotte Products/Enviro-Solutions, a leading manufacturer of conventional and green cleaning chemicals, workers should know that just because a chemical is labeled "green" does not mean it is safer than a conventional product. "Green cleaning chemicals tend to be highly concentrated, so proper use and application is a must," she said.

Head Protection
Both the Canadian Standards Association and OSHA have safety standards designed to help protect workers from various head injuries. For example, hard hats labeled ANSI Type I and CSA Type I are intended to protect the wearer against impact to the crown of the head only. Type II helmets are designed to protect against both crown and side impacts.

Many workers wear safety caps, and often they wear them backward, but not all caps should be worn backward. Those that are approved for reverse wear will have a reverse symbol--two arrows adjoined in a circle--which identifies them as meeting ANSI and CSA standards to be worn in both directions. Wearing a safety cap in reverse that does not have this label can result in serious injury.

For workers involved in welding and similar activities, where a helmet and faceshield may be worn together, some form of mounting system that attaches the headgear to the face is necessary. The system should be easy to use, durable, flexible, and compatible with different types of faceshields and other protective gear.

Turning to Distributors and Suppliers
There are a number of considerations when selecting protective gear for the head, face, and eyes. Many managers and employers are too busy with their own work to be familiar with all these considerations. As a result, it can be valuable to select a distributor or supplier familiar with the type of work, the related hazards, and compliance issues. These astute providers can prove so valuable that finding such a supplier should be the primary goal before making any purchasing selection.

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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