Whatever type you choose, be sure the safety eyewear at your site stands up to the variety of impact hazards present. (Honeywell Safety Products photo)

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Tips for Protecting Construction Workers' Eyes in the Summer

While hazards to the eyes exist in nearly every industry, construction ranks second among occupations with the highest rate of eye injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers in this field often conduct various job functions in the course of a day and therefore face a wide variety of hazards, including airborne debris, splashing chemicals, and radiation. In the summer, when the amount of work conducted outdoors surges, workers are exposed to even more eye hazards caused by environmental factors such as high wind, natural light, extreme heat, and humidity.

Because every site is unique, no single standard for eye protection exists for the construction industry. However, national and employer-based standards are in place to help guide safety managers in selecting the personal protective equipment to keep workers safe. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls for employers to outfit workers with the appropriate type of safety eyewear for the specific hazards present and to ensure such eyewear is properly fitted. Furthermore, many workplaces implement guidelines above and beyond OSHA’s for the types of eye protection to be used based on the specific hazards that are present.

While safety standards have helped to reduce the overall number of construction-related eye injuries in recent years, the number of such injuries involving days away from work still totaled more than 25,000 in 2013, according to BLS. Yet, according to many safety professionals, nearly all occupational eye injuries could be prevented through the use of the appropriate safety eyewear. Given the boundless options available, from various frame styles to technically advanced lens coatings and specialized lens tints, selecting suitable eye protection for the outdoor workforce can seem daunting. This article explores factors that deserve special attention to ensure the safety eyewear you choose stands up to extreme summer environments and supports a safe and healthy workforce.

Provide Ample Impact Protection
A leading cause of eye injuries in construction is contact with foreign bodies. Splinters, chips, nails, and metal fragments are just some of the materials whose contact with the eye can cause abrasions or punctures resulting in short-term or long-term vision loss and even the loss of an eye. Therefore, the top priority for safety eyewear at construction sites is impact protection.

To ensure safety eyewear is rated to American National Standards Institute's industrial-level impact protection, be sure that every pair is marked with Z87 on the frames and/or lenses. If extreme impact hazards exist, you may want to consider the added protection of the U.S. military ballistic impact resistance requirement (MIL-PRF-31013, CLAUSE 3.5.1.1), the standard commonly employed in public safety and security applications.

Another consideration in outdoor eye protection is wind. Activities such as cement mixing, sawing, grinding, and chipping all cause particles and dust to become airborne. In windy environments, these materials greatly increase the chances of injury. To protect workers from windblown particles, look for the added coverage of safety goggles or sealed eyewear. While traditional goggles seal to the face and protect from flying dust and debris as well as chemical splash, they can also feel bulky, which may cause workers to remove them. A relatively new primary eye protection style, sealed eyewear, is rapidly gaining in popularity at construction sites. With the sleek, low-profile styling of safety spectacles and the added fit and all-around protection of a goggle, sealed eyewear keeps airborne debris away from the eyes.

Whatever type you choose, be sure the safety eyewear at your site stands up to the variety of impact hazards present. And, remember, because street-wear sunglasses are not manufactured to resist impact, they are never a safe choice for eyewear in the construction zone.

Block Sunlight and Glare
In outdoor environments, workers' eyes must be protected not only from impact, but also from the sun's visible and invisible rays. Optical radiation is an easily overlooked hazard, yet the effects on the workforce range from short-term injuries to permanent vision loss. Long-term exposure to the sun's invisible ultraviolet light is a leading cause of cataracts and blindness. Employees who spend any time outside should be outfitted with eyewear that blocks UV and whose lenses are marked with a corresponding "U" to denote ample protection from both the UVA and UVB spectrums.

While outdoors, workers are also exposed to direct sunlight and glare, forms of visible optical radiation also commonly overlooked in safety audits. Overexposure to direct and reflected light leads to headaches as well as eye fatigue, redness, dryness, and irritation, all of which can undermine productivity. To combat natural light hazards, eyewear with standard gray, brown, or mirrored lens tints offer suitable protection and may be selected based on user preference. In environments where glare from sunlight being reflected off surfaces--such as water, sand, glass, sheet metal, or concrete--look for lenses that are mirrored, polarized, or darkly tinted and marked with an "L" to denote glare reduction.

For workers who frequently transition between indoor and outdoor environments, variable, or photochromic, lenses are an ideal solution. Rather than switching out safety eyewear with clear lenses for those with tinted lenses between workspaces or wearing a dark tint indoors that can hinder the view, variable lenses rapidly transition from darkly tinted to clear based on UV exposure. Outfitting workers with variable lenses also reduces the risk of accidents during the time it takes eyes to adjust to different lighting, which can take up to several minutes. Lenses intended for variable light applications are marked with a "V."

Reduce the Effects of Fog
Whether safety eyewear is sealed or spectacle-style, fogging is a challenge faced by nearly all safety eyewear users. Lenses fog for many reasons, including environmental heat and humidity, worker exertion, differences in temperature between the outside and inside of the lens, rapid changes in temperature, and frequent washings. In the summer these factors combine, making fogging nearly impossible to avoid.

When vision becomes obscured from foggy lenses, workers are at risk of potentially catastrophic injury. In an instant they can experience a slip and fall or come into contact with machinery, electrical current, or hazardous chemicals. To gain a clear view and continue to work safely, workers must remove their eyewear--sometimes frequently--to wipe the lenses clear. If they do so in the work zone, they increase their risk of injury; if they do so outside the work zone, productivity is lost.

To combat foggy lenses, look for safety eyewear with a high-performance anti-fog lens coating. The methods used for applying anti-fog coating vary widely, and applying the coating so that it goes on and stays on–even after repeated washings–is key to the coating's durability and performance. When selecting anti-fog lenses, look for trusted suppliers with a long history of delivering high-quality coatings that ensure effective anti-fog protection and long-lasting durability that won't wash or wear off.

Benefits to a Safety Culture
When construction work moves outdoors for the summer, workers face many additional hazards to their eyes. While hazards such as flying objects require obvious protection, others such as wind, natural light, and obscured vision from fog also must be considered. By providing safety eyewear that stands up to summer's demanding environmental factors, employers can improve compliance, reduce the chance of eye injury, and support workers' long-term vision health. Together, these benefits help build a strong foundation for a successful culture of safety.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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