Getting Eye and Face Protection Right

Having an eye and face protection program in place will boost the chances employees will use their PPE correctly.

Vision protection is paramount for workers in many industries, from construction and manufacturing to warehousing, transportation, health care, maritime, and even landscaping and professional sports. OSHA's eye and face protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.133, explains when eye and face PPE should be used: when workers are exposed to eye or face hazards such as flying objects, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially harmful light radiation. Employers must provide this PPE for their workers who are exposed to potential eye injuries during their work, if work practice or engineering controls have not eliminated the risk of injury.

And employee training is required before eye and face protection is used. Such training must be provided to employees who are required to use eye and face protection—OSHA points out1 it must be comprehensive, understandable, and recur annually, and more often if necessary. At a minimum, it should address:

  • Why the eye and face PPE is necessary
  • How improper fit, use, or maintenance can compromise its protections
  • Limitations and capabilities of the PPE
  • How to inspect, put on, and remove
  • Maintenance and storage
  • Recognition of medical signs and symptoms that may limit or prevent effective use
  • General requirements of OSHA's eye and face protection standard

Developing and implementing an eye and face protection program is recommended because having one will boost the chances employees will use their PPE correctly. We know this doesn't always happen, because there are thousands of eye injuries every day in the United States, about 90 percent of which are fully preventable, Prevent Blindness has reported. Most of those aren't occupational injuries, but the number of them that occur at workplaces is significant. In 2014, there were 20,910 occupational eye injuries and 68,940 work-related head injuries in private industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics2 reported. BLS reported 3,530 of the 2014 occupational eye injuries occurred in the construction industry, 4,900 of them occurred in manufacturing, and 1,150 occurred in transportation and warehousing.

Eye Protection for Pesticides and Other Chemicals
Oregon OSHA posted a revised guidance document3 in October 2018 on selection and use of personal protective equipment for pesticide use. The guide covers vision protection, respiratory protection, apparel, hand protection, and footwear.

"When selecting personal protective equipment (PPE) for yourself or your employees who are applying pesticides, the label on the pesticide is your main source of information," it states. "Unlike most other types of product labels, pesticide labels are legally enforceable. In other words, the label is the law! The Environmental Protection Agency controls labeling requirements for pesticide products. Manufacturers must provide personal protective equipment guidance for handlers to ensure their safety when mixing, loading, applying, or otherwise handling pesticides."

The document states that workers must use appropriate eye protection when the pesticide label specifies the following:

  • Protective eyewear—Use safety glasses with brow, front, and temple protection; a faceshield; fully enclosed goggles; or a full-face respirator.
  • Goggles—Use fully enclosed, chemical splash-resistant goggles or a full-face respirator.
  • Full-face respirator—You must use a tight-fitting, full-face respirator.

The document notes that the protective eyewear must meet or exceed the current impact-resistance specification of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI Z87.1). "Polycarbonate is lightweight and provides strong impact resistance and good chemical splash resistance. Wrap-around safety glasses are not acceptable for protection when spraying. Special goggles are made to wear over prescription glasses. Goggles must not interfere with the seal of a tight-fitting respirator. If you use a half-mask respirator, use goggles designed to fit over the nose-piece of your respirator."

As the guidance document demonstrates, chemical exposure is one of the main causes of eye and face injuries. Goggles and faceshields are effective in preventing chemical exposures; it is also important for employees working with "injurious corrosive materials" to know the location of emergency eyewash stations and how to access them with restricted vision. That term is found in OSHA's medical services and first standard, 29 CFR 1910.151: "Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use." The key consensus standard is ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014, American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment.

Linking Good Vision to Road Safety
Essilor this year has stressed what it called "the crucial link between good vision and road safety" with a global campaign that urged pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to:

  • Check your vision regularly
  • Wear appropriate glasses
  • Protect your eyes from glare

The company noted that "vision is one of the most important senses used when making decisions on the road, yet it remains uncorrected in many regions around the world."

Worldwide, more than 1.25 million people die in traffic crashes every year and from 20 million to 50 million people suffer non-fatal injuries in traffic accidents annually, the World Health Organization has reported. More than 90 percent of the traffic deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced on Oct. 3, 2018, that highway deaths declined in 2017 in the United States after two consecutive years of large increases. "Safety is the Department's number one priority,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said. "The good news is that fatalities are trending downward after increasing for the two previous years. But the tragic news is that 37,133 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2017. All of us need to work together to reduce fatalities on the roads."

As it marked World Sight Day in October 2018, Essilor updated the website that had been introduced in 2017. It now features basic screening tests suitable for mobile devices at near vision distance, to encourage visitors to take the first step toward checking their vision and help to increase consultations with eye care professionals.

2. National Safety Council Injury Facts®, 2017 edition

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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