Top-Line Concerns

Head and face hazards are a constant for workers in construction, waste management, and in some manufacturing settings.

Perhaps eye and facial injuries have been and always will be with us. It's not difficult, at any rate, to find data from years past that characterize their severity and frequency. A BLS report about nonfatal 2004 eye injuries says there were 36,680 of them, typically from causes such as metal chips, splinters, or dirt striking the victim's eye.

There were 1.3 million injuries in private industry that year involving days away from work. More than 80,000 of them were head injuries, and two-thirds of the head injuries were facial injuries—injuries to the forehead, eyes, nose, jaw, chin, etc., author Patrick M. Harris explained. The 36,680 eye injuries that year accounted for 69 percent of facial injuries; nearly 45 percent of all head injuries required days away from work, he wrote.

The report said nearly 61 percent of all eye injury cases in 2004 occurred in manufacturing, construction, or wholesale and retail trade. Laborers, welders, and assemblers all faced a higher risk of eye injuries.

Then and now, head injuries are among the most expensive types of occupational injury. The 2016 Edition of the National Safety Council's "Injury Facts" book showed head and neck injuries accounted for 12 percent of the injury-related emergency department visits during 2011 in the United States, and that head and central nervous system injuries were the most expensive workers' compensation claims in 2012-2013. The average total costs incurred for them in 2012-2013 were $78,183, well above the average for all claims of $37,738.

Head injuries are a challenge for workers in other industries, of course, notably logging. BLS reported in January 2018 that in 2016 there were 9.2 lost-time injury cases for head injuries per 10,000 full-time workers in the U.S. beverage and tobacco product manufacturing industries, while the incidence rates for lost-time head injuries that year were even higher for general merchandise stores (14.7 per 10,000 full-time workers), as well as for couriers and messengers (16.2 per 10,000 full-time workers). The rates for waste management and remediation services (9.2 per 10,000 full-time workers) and for hospitals (9.1 per 10,000 full-time workers) were about the same. Back and hand injury incidence rates were higher for all of these industries in 2016, according to the BLS Economics Daily report; the data came from the Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities program.

Prevent Blindness reports that more than 2,000 people per day in the United States suffer an eye injury, and that about 10 percent of these injuries require at least one lost work day for the victim to recover. About 10 to 20 percent of the work-related eye injuries will cause temporary or permanent vision loss.

Wearing protective gear—protective eyewear and also head protection—is the #1 recommendation for preventing these harmful incidents. After all, Prevent Blindness tells us that vision experts believe the right eye protection could have lessened the severity or even prevented 90 percent of occupational eye injuries.

Head & Face Standards
OSHA's 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I, Personal Protective Equipment, contains sections about eye and face protection (at 1910.133) and head protection (at 1910.135). Employers also must make sure each affected employee wears PPE that offers side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects. This section of the PPE regulations requires that eye and face PPE comply with ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015, American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices.

Specifically, OSHA's 1910.133 requires employers to:

  • Ensure that each affected employee wears eye or face protection PPE when he or she is exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.
  • Ensure that each affected employee uses eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects.
  • Ensure that each affected employee who wears prescription lenses while engaged in operations that involve eye hazards wears eye protection that incorporates the prescription in its design or wears eye protection that can be worn over the prescription lenses without disturbing the proper position of the prescription lenses or the protective lenses.
  • Ensure that each affected employee uses equipment with filter lenses that have a shade number appropriate for the work being performed for protection from injurious light radiation.

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

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