Why Have a Safety Eyewear Program?

Flying or falling particles/objects or sparks striking the eye cause almost 70 percent of the accidents.

Every day, an estimated 1,200 eye injuries occur in the workplace, and about 120,000 of these injuries per year are disabling. Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection.

Eye injuries alone cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker's compensation. Some costs are often overlooked, however:

    1) Wages paid for lost time by the uninjured workers
    2) Overtime that maybe necessitated by the accident
    3) Wages paid to safety professionals and supervisors investigating an accident
    4) Wage cost caused by lower work output by the injured worker after returning to work
    5) Cost of training and the learning time for replacement workers
    6) Damage to material and equipment

The average cost of a disabling eye injury is $3,048, meaning the annual cost to American industry reaches $365,760,000.

Affected employees should use appropriate eye and face protection when exposed to flying particles (impact), molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, or potentially injurious light radiation. Side protection is required when they are exposed to flying object or particles. Who should wear eye and face protection? This large population includes assemblers, millwrights, carpenters, chemical process operators, electricians, grinding machine operators, laborers, lathe and milling machine operators, machinists, mechanics, plumbers, pipefitters, sanders, sawyers, sheet metal workers, timber cutters and logging workers, and welders.

Contributors to Workplace Eye Injuries

Not wearing eye protection. Nearly three of every five workers injured were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident.

Wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. About 40 percent of the injured workers were wearing some form of eye protection when the accident occurred. These workers were most likely to be wearing protective eyeglasses with no sideshields, although injuries among employees wearing full-cup or flat-fold sideshields occur, as well.

Flying or falling particles/objects or sparks striking the eye cause almost 70 percent of the accidents. Injured workers estimated nearly three-fifths of the objects were smaller than a pin head. Most of the particles were said to be traveling faster than a hand-thrown object when the accident occurred. Contact with chemicals accounted for about one-fifth of the injuries. Other accidents were caused by objects swinging from a fixed or attached position, such as tree limbs, ropes, and chains, or tools that were pulled into the eye while the worker was using them.

Accidents occur most often during industrial equipment operation. Potential eye hazards can be found in nearly every industry, and more than 40 percent of the injuries occurred among craft workers, such as mechanics, repairers, carpenters, and plumbers. More than one-third of the injured workers were operatives, such as assemblers, sanders, and grinding machine operators. Laborers suffered about one-fifth of the eye injuries. Almost half the injured workers were employed in manufacturing, and slightly more than 20 percent were in construction.

How to Prevent Eye Injuries

Always wear effective eye protection. OSHA standards require that employers provide workers with suitable eye protection. To be effective, the eyewear must be of the appropriate type for the hazard encountered and properly fitted; 94 percent of the injuries to workers wearing eye protection resulted from objects or chemicals going around or under the protector.

Eye protective devices should allow for air to circulate between the eye and the lens. Only 13 workers injured while wearing eye protection reported breakage.

Nearly one-fifth of the injured workers with eye protection wore faceshields or welding helmets. However, only 6 percent of the workers injured while wearing eye protection wore goggles, which generally offer better protection for the eyes. Best protection is afforded when goggles are worn with faceshields.

Provide better training and education. Most workers were hurt while doing their regular jobs. Workers injured while not wearing protective eyewear most often said they believed it was not required by the situation. Even though the vast majority of employers furnished eye protection at no cost to employees, about 40 percent of the workers received no information on where and what kind of eyewear should be used.

Maintain PPE properly. Eye protection devices must be properly maintained. Scratched and dirty devices reduce vision, cause glare. and may contribute to accidents.

Prescription Safety Eyewear

Employees who wear prescription glasses must wear required eye protection that incorporates the prescription in its design.

How do protective eyewear and dress eyewear differ? Safety frames, lenses, and sideshields must pass rigorous testing on a device called an Alderson Head Form, and frames must be marked with Z87-2. Dress frames are not tested.

The safety frame test is designed to test the ability of the frame to retain the lens upon impact and to evaluate the strength of the temple pieces and sideshields. Retained is defined as no more than 25 percent separation of the lens periphery from the frame. It is not effective if the impact or projectile causes the lens to imbed in the eye, which could happen with dress frames.

The High Mass Impact Test uses a 500- gram, pointed projectile that is dropped from a height of 50 inches onto a glazed frame. No piece may be detached from the inner surface of any spectacle component, and the lens must be retained in the frame. The High Velocity Impact Test subjects a frame with lenses to being shot with a 1/4-inch steel ball traveling at 150 feet per second. No contact with the eye of the head form is allowed, and no piece may be detached from the inner surface of any spectacle component. The lenses must be retained in the frame.

Safety lenses must meet special requirements in both the manufacturing and testing to meet the ANSI Z87 requirement. There are two levels of performance testing for prescription lenses, high impact and basic impact. High impact lenses are tested to the High Velocity Impact Test. These lenses made of polycarbonate must be 2mm in minimum thickness. Basic impact lenses, which are plastic or glass, are not subjected to the High Impact or High Velocity testing and can fail. A warning label that can be removed only by the wearer must be attached to all basic impact prescriptions. They must be 3mm in minimum thickness.

Sideshields are designed to provide impact resistance with the intention of protecting the wearer. Lateral protection is assessed using a rotation point 10mm behind the corneal vertex. The sideshield is impacted 10mm and below the plane of the eyes of the head form at a 90-degree rotated angle. The shields are shot while on the frames with a 1/4-inch steel ball traveling 150 feet per second. No contact with the eye of the head form is allowed, and no piece may detach from the inner surface of any sideshield component. The lenses must be retained in the frame. Sideshields meet ANSI standards only when worn on the same frame on which they are tested.

Prescription lenses must meet the ANSI Z87 test requirements before they can be monogrammed with the manufacturer's logo. The logo must be on the lenses to show they meet Z87 standards. This logo identifies the manufacturer and shows the lenses have been tested as described above. For example, a “TC+” inscribed in the upper right and left corner of each safety lens indicates the lenses meet the high impact and velocity testing requirements. Many manufacturers produce prescription safety eyewear without being certified or do not meet the testing standards. Two things occur: The manufacturer cannot produce lenses less then 3mm in thickness regardless of the material, and the lenses cannot be traced back to the manufacturer.

The average cost of a pair of prescription safety glasses usually is about $80. A complete prescription safety eyewear program with 50 employees in prescription safety glasses will cost less than all of the overlooked costs noted above, however.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Bruce Pettengill is a Sales Consultant for Essilor Prescription Safety Eyewear of Dallas.

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