Assessing and Controlling Visual Hazards in the Workplace

Assessing and Controlling Visual Hazards in the Workplace

Eye injuries on the job today are far too common. Employers should conduct risk assessments to determine hazards and protect against them.

According to the CDC there are approximately 2,000 eye injuries each day (730,000 per year) in the workplace.

These injuries result from striking or scraping by flying objects, dust, etc., penetration from objects such as nails, staples or metal/wood slivers, optical radiation or chemical and thermal burns. Simply providing safety glasses or goggles is not enough to ensure that employees are protected from eye injuries.

Before implementing a visual protection program, it is first necessary to conduct a comprehensive hazard assessment of the work environment to determine the type and extent of the hazards present.

There are five basic steps to risk assessment that apply to hazards in the workplace, including:

1. Hazard Identification

2. Hazard Assessment

3. Control Development and Decision-Making

4. Control Implementation

5. Evaluation/Supervision of Controls

Hazard Identification

To understand hazard identification, it is first necessary to define a hazard. A hazard is a naturally occurring or man-made agent or condition that has the potential to cause harm.

The hazard identification process begins with a comprehensive review of the facility and its specific processes that pose visual hazards to employees. Such hazards might include:

Flying debris. Flying debris is often found in manufacturing, mining and other industries which have loose materials or materials that are being cut, welded or brazed. In addition, areas in manufacturing, mining and construction industries create significant falling object debris which can cause eye injuries.

Grinding operations. Most grinding operations release fine particles or sharp shreds that can cause eye injuries by embedding or penetrating the eye.

Dusty environments. One of the more common causes of workplace eye injuries is the presence of naturally occurring dust particles or particles created by work activities.

Impact tools. Impact tools, such as staple and nail guns, pose a significant visual threat to employees. These hazards can cause severe and permanent eye injuries.

Chemicals. Specific hazards from chemicals occur most frequently during mixing and pouring and can cause burns and systemic issues as a result of contact.

Optical radiation. Laser radiation and welding operations are two main areas of concern in the workplace. Both can create high levels of heat, both ultraviolet and infrared, as well as reflected light radiation.

When conducting a survey of hazards and control options, it is vital to include the specific equipment operators.

Hazard Assessment

Hazards are assessed on probability and severity of injury. There are varying methods to conducting hazard or risk assessments. They can be qualitative or quantitative in nature, depending on the method used. However, each one has the same basic probability and severity aspects.

Control Development and Decision-Making and Control Implementation

The next step in the hazard assessment process is the development of controls and decision-making on which to implement control. The control development used should always be based on the NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls Model, which includes the following:

Elimination. To prevent eye injuries in the workplace, the best and more permanent solution is to eliminate the hazard altogether. An example of a visual hazard elimination may include removing the cause of flying debris, such as falling objects. This can be accomplished by correcting conditions that cause the objects to fall (i.e. more frequent clean-ups, guards to prevent objects from falling from conveyors, etc.).

Substitution. Substitution for visual hazards could be challenging, but with some creativity, it can be achieved. For example, substitute the more harmful or hazardous chemicals with those than pose less of a risk.

Engineering controls. Engineering controls to prevent eye injuries are limitless in nature. For example, a grinding operation that creates flying debris and dust can be placed in a glove box. This will contain the debris, but it has limits due to manufactured part sizes. Other engineering controls may include isolation from the hazard, such as the separation of employees from laser beams.

Administrative controls. Administrative controls include training, procedures, policies or shift designs. These are intended to change the behavior of employees rather than actually removing the hazard.

Personal Protective Equipment. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is one of the most common methods of protecting workers from eye injuries. It is used in conjunction with other control methods and will be discussed in more detail below.

Evaluation/Supervision of Controls

After implementation, these control measures must be evaluated. It is important that all hazard assessments be reviewed at least annually to ensure validity.

Selection of PPE for Visual Hazards

The selection of the appropriate PPE must be based on the comprehensive hazard assessment. All safety eyewear must be clearly labeled as “ANSI Z87” (American National Standards Institute.) ANSI Z87 is a certification process that tests eyewear for basic and high impact for lenses and frames, exposure to non-ionizing radiation and chemicals and durability to flammables and corrosion.

Specific Hazards

Dust and flying debris. The most often used PPE to prevent eye injuries from dust and flying debris includes safety glasses, goggles and shields. These devices are rated to protect against high-impact debris and chemicals. In addition to standard safety glasses, many safety professionals now recommend “enhanced eyewear,” which are those that have foam rims around the edges to prevent the intrusion of particles behind the lenses. These types of eyewear greatly reduce the risk of flying debris but are not without their problems.

In humid environments, these glasses tend to fog more often and can create conditions where workers are pulling them off more often to clear them. The use of anti-fog wipes is helpful, but it does not eliminate the problem entirely.

Impact tools. The use of safety glasses and face shields is useful in preventing eye injuries resulting from nail or staple guns or air-compressed tools.

Chemicals. As has been mentioned, the time of mixing and pouring of chemicals is critical in determining the prevention of eye injuries. When pouring or mixing chemicals, the best PPE to wear to protect from injuries to the eyes would be the use of vented goggles and a face shield, both of which are recommended.

Optical radiation: Lasers. Optical radiation protection against lasers begins with the selection of a filter. To select the appropriate PPE, the maximum power density or intensity of the laser must be determined. Once this has been done, the PPE lens can be selected.

OSHA recommends that the selection of laser protection should depend upon the lasers in use and the operating conditions. The following table shows the maximum power or energy density for which adequate protection is afforded by safety goggles of optical densities 5 through 8. (29 CFR 1926.102(b)(2)(i)

Welding Operations. The intensity of welding (due to visible light and radiant energy) depends on the task, the electrode size and the arc current. Only filters with the appropriate shade number will provide against optical radiation, (OSHA). Most welding helmets come equipped with automatic lenses which automatically determine the proper lens darkness based on the intensity of light.

In summary, eye injuries are too common in today’s work environment. Therefore, great emphasis should be placed on the employer to prevent such injuries. These efforts begin with a comprehensive inventory of visual hazards, the selection of controls and the selection of the most appropriate PPE.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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