Protection: Make Sure Their Eyes Have It

You must be aware of the possibility for multiple and simultaneous hazard exposures. Be prepared to protect against the highest level of each hazard.

ACCORDING to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, about 2,000 workers have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment each day. One-third of these injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments, and more than 100 result in one or more lost work days. Further, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly three of every five workers injured were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job.

BLS has found that most eye injury accidents result from flying or falling objects or sparks striking the eye. These are some common workplace eye injuries or concerns and their causes:

  • Scrap materials, waste, and windblown dust: Flying material particles such as grit, plastic bits, or metal flakes can fly into the eye.
  • Impact: Falling or misdirected objects--or collisions with objects swinging from a fixed position, such as tree limbs, ropes, chains, lumber, or tools--can damage eyes.
  • Chemicals: Hazardous chemicals can splash into eyes.
  • Welding light: Ultraviolet light from welding torches can cause radiation burns to the eyes and surrounding tissue of welders, helpers, and bystanders.
  • Infections: Fertilizers, waste, body fluids, human remains, and bacteria can cause eye infections.
  • Eyestrain: Glare, poor lighting, and inadequate rest can cause eye fatigue, soreness, and headaches.

More than PPE Needed
Personal protective equipment alone should not be relied on to protect against hazards. Use appropriate PPE such as goggles, faceshields, safety glasses, or full-face respirators when an eye hazard exists, in conjunction with machine guards to deflect flying particles; engineering controls to reduce eye injuries and to protect against ocular infection exposures; and sound manufacturing practices.

Engineering and work practice controls

  • Remove or reduce all eye hazards where possible.
  • Use protective barriers between the worker and the hazard.
  • Keep bystanders out of work areas and/or behind protective barriers.
  • Use caution flags to identify potential hazards, such as hanging or protruding objects.
  • Put safety features, such as shields, in place on machines and tools.
  • Be sure workers use tools properly and that tools are in proper working order.
  • Ensure computer users have adequate protections.
  • Provide emergency sterile eyewash solutions/stations near hazardous areas.
  • Post first aid instructions and information on how to get emergency aid.

Protective equipment for the eyes and face is designed to prevent or lessen the severity of injuries. Selection for a given task should be made based on a hazard assessment of each activity, including regulatory requirements when applicable. It is the employer's responsibility to assess the workplace and determine whether hazards that necessitate the use of eye and face protection are present, or are likely to be present, before assigning PPE to employees.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey showed 94 percent of the injuries to workers wearing eye protection resulted from objects or chemicals going around or under the protector. The hazard assessment should determine the risk of exposure to eye and face hazards, including those that may be encountered in an emergency. You need to be aware of the possibility for multiple and simultaneous hazard exposures and be prepared to protect against the highest level of each hazard.

The best eye protection chosen for specific work situations depends on the:

  • Nature and extent of the hazard,
  • Circumstances of exposure,
  • Other protective equipment used, and
  • Personal vision needs.

Hazard Assessment

Hazard type

Examples of hazard

Common related tasks


Flying objects such as large chips, fragments, particles, sand, and dirt

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


Anything emitting extreme heat

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


Splash, fumes, vapors, and irritating mists

Acid and chemical handling, degreasing, plating, and working with blood


Harmful dust

Woodworking, buffing, and general dusty conditions

Optical radiation

Radiant energy, glare, and intense light

Welding, torch-cutting, brazing, soldering, and laser work

Impact hazards
The flying or falling objects or sparks causing most of these injuries are caused by objects smaller than a pin's head. They can cause serious injuries, such as punctures, abrasions, and contusions.

While working in a hazardous area where the worker is exposed to flying objects, fragments, and particles, primary protective devices such as safety spectacles with sideshields or goggles have to be worn. Secondary protective devices such as faceshields are required in conjunction with primary protective devices during severe exposure to impact hazards.

Heat hazards
Heat injuries may occur to the eye and face when workers are exposed to high temperatures, splashes of molten metal, or hot sparks. Heat injuries can occur in operations that involve pouring, casting, hot dipping, furnace operations, and similar activities. Burns to eye and face tissue are the main concern when working with heat hazards.

Working with heat hazards requires eye protection such as goggles or safety spectacles with special-purpose lenses and sideshields. However, many heat hazard exposures require the use of a faceshield in addition to safety spectacles or goggles. When selecting PPE, consider the source and intensity of the heat and the type of splashes that may occur in the workplace.

Chemical hazards
A large number of eye injuries are caused by direct contact with chemicals. These injuries often result from an inappropriate choice of PPE, which allows a chemical substance to enter from around or under the protective eye equipment. Serious and irreversible damage can occur when chemical substances contact the eyes.

When your employees are working with or around chemicals, it is important to have emergency eyewash stations accessible within 10 seconds from the hazard. Generally, goggles protect the eyes from hazardous substances, but a faceshield may be necessary in areas where workers are exposed to severe chemical hazards.

Dust hazards
Dust is present in the workplace during operations such as woodworking and buffing. Working in a dusty environment can cause eye injuries and present additional hazards to contact lens wearers.

Either eyecup or cover-type safety goggles should be worn when dust is present. Safety goggles are the only effective type of eye protection from nuisance dust because they create a protective seal around the eyes. Goggles are the primary protectors intended to protect the eyes against a variety of airborne particles and harmful dust.

Optical radiation hazards
Laser work and similar operations create intense concentrations of heat, ultraviolet, infrared, and reflected light radiation. A laser beam of sufficient power can produce intensities greater than those experienced when looking directly at the sun. Unprotected laser exposure may result in eye injuries, including retinal burns, cataracts, and permanent blindness. When lasers produce invisible ultraviolet or other radiation, both employees and visitors should use appropriate eye protection at all times.

First, you need to determine the maximum power density, or intensity, the lasers produce when employees are exposed to laser beams. Based on this knowledge, select lenses that protect against the maximum intensity. The selection of laser protection should depend upon the lasers in use and the operating conditions. Employees with exposure to laser beams must be furnished suitable laser protection.

When selecting filter lenses for welding, begin with a shade too dark to see the welding zone. Then try lighter shades until one allows a sufficient view of the welding zone without going below the minimum protective shade. When selecting filter lenses for laser operations, if lasers emit radiation between two measures of power density (or light blocking capability), lenses must be provided that offer protection against the higher of the two intensities.

Glare Protection
Control glare with special-purpose spectacles that include filter or special-purpose lenses to provide protection against eyestrain; make changes in the work area or lighting; or use tinted eyeglass lenses or visor-type shade.

PPE Markings
Eye and face protection must clearly identify the manufacturer. OSHA requires that any new eye and face protective devices comply with ANSI Z87.1-1989 or be at least as effective as this standard requires. Any equipment purchased before this requirement took effect on July 5, 1994, must comply with the earlier ANSI standard (ANSI Z87.1-1968) or be shown to be equally effective. (Note: A new edition of ANSI Z87.1 was issued in 2003, but OSHA regulations do not reference it.)

For employees, wearing PPE may be the only thing that comes between them and a debilitating hazard. While we all have a personal responsibility to wear required protection, employers have the added regulatory responsibility to ensure workers are wearing equipment that provides the very best protection.

Fortunately, there's a lot of help available--not only from equipment manufacturers, but also from peers, industry associations, Internet safety forums, trade publications, consultants, and OSHA. When in doubt, take advantage of these and other resources.

This article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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