Change Your Outlook on Construction Worker Safety

Change Your Outlook on Construction Worker Safety

Ensure safety managers for construction worksites are equipped with the information they need to help foster a culture of safety and avoid eye injuries on the job.  

Construction safety is vital at job sites around the globe to help protect workers. Hazards are everywhere, so taking the proper precautions can prevent injuries and save lives.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace each year, which can lead to severe, life changing consequences such as temporary or permanent vision loss, impacting workers’ ability to perform their jobs and participate in activities they love outside of the workplace as well. On top of that, it can result in financial and productivity costs too. OSHA reports that workplace eye injuries cost about $300 million annually in lost productivity, medical services and worker compensation.2

Sun exposure, haze, flying debris, dust and large particles can harm a construction worker’s eyes if they aren’t wearing the proper safety eyewear. This Eye Wellness Month let's ensure safety managers for construction worksites are equipped with the information they need to help foster a culture of safety and avoid eye injuries on the job.

The Personal Protective Equipment Workers Need

While work-related eye injuries are common, the good news is that they can be avoided. Three major reasons for worker eye injuries include wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job, using eye protection that does not fit correctly and not wearing eye protection at all.

Depending on the work being performed, there are various options workers should consider. Before selecting any type of protective eyewear, safety managers should evaluate the hazards of each activity workers are involved in, including a thorough understanding of the tasks and of the possible exposure to risks which could result in eye injury. Consider all the risks surrounding activities like woodworking, machinery operations, material welding and cutting, to name a few, and then determine the type of PPE necessary to keep workers safe.

Safety glasses. These might look similar to everyday eyeglasses or sunglasses, but they actually have important safety benefits that regular glasses do not provide. Safety glasses are specifically manufactured to provide impact protection. The lenses and frames are stronger than regular glasses and often have side shields or wraparound lenses to protect the eyes from various angles, or can be sealed around the eyes to keep flying dust or debris out. In addition to impact protection, safety glasses also typically include lens tints to provide protection against eye damage from infrared lighting and the sun. For workers who rely on prescription eyewear daily, prescription safety glasses are available as well.

Goggles. Similar to safety glasses, goggles protect the eyes from dust, other foreign objects circulating in the air and chemical splash. They also provide an added layer of protection than safety glasses because of their tight, form-fitting seal around the eyes that serves as a barrier against debris coming in from all directions.

Face shields and welding helmets. For those who work with extreme heat and handle molten materials, face shields or welding helmets are needed to protect against burns. Both face shields and welding helmets are intended to be used with other safety eyewear such as glasses, so that workers’ eyes continue to be protected even when the shield or helmet is lifted.

Proper Fit is Key

After determining which type of protective eyewear is needed for a particular job, it is important to turn focus to quality products that keep the end user top of mind. Effective eyewear solutions should account for unique facial features and should have the ability to be tailored to individual worker needs. Otherwise, wearing ill-fitting safety eyewear can be just as dangerous as wearing none at all.

The face of today’s workforce is changing rapidly; it’s comprised of more women and more ethnicities than ever before. While employers are responsible for providing PPE to keep all their workers safe, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely meets the needs of the diverse head sizes and facial profiles of workers today.

The latest standards for eyewear in the U.S. and Canada are ANSI Z87.1 2020 and CSA Z94.3 2020, which both call for eyewear to fit workers properly, and it’s not just for comfort’s sake. Fit is supremely important because it ensures the eyewear is where it needs to be in the event of impact. Eyewear that slips out of place away from the eyes simply won’t keep objects, particles, light or chemicals out.

Considering the endless variety of head sizes and face shapes—including differences in the height, width and location of cheekbones, nose bridges and ears. It might seem virtually impossible to find a single eyewear style that delivers the ANSI and CSA-required proper fit to each individual worker. That’s where advances in fit and customizability come in.

Well-fitting eyewear stays securely in place, even when workers are out of position or moving vigorously. Look for styles with adjustability features for a personalized fit. Opting for fitted nose bridge and padded temple materials will deliver a no-slip fit and ensure eyewear is where it needs to be to protect the eyes in the event of impact. Properly fitting eyewear also delivers a gap-free fit to keep debris, dust, pollen, smoke and light out of the eyes.

Seek styles made with advanced materials that cushion the temples, nose bridge and brow. Soft materials reduce pressure points, while advanced rubber compounds contribute to a secure, stay-put fit. Ratcheting temples allow the wearer to customize fit so the eyewear sits comfortably behind the ears, against the cheeks and in front of the eyes at an optimum viewing angle.

Comfort Leads to Compliance

It’s a fact: when eyewear doesn’t feel comfortable, workers are more likely to remove it – even in the presence of hazards. When selecting safety eyewear, comfort is a vital consideration. New styles with adjustability features and advanced materials make achieving comfort easier than ever.

Look for eyewear that’s lightweight. Heavy eyewear is prone to sliding down the nose bridge, which is not only distracting but leaves the eyes unprotected. Heavy eyewear also causes painful pressure points and headaches. Instead, eyewear should feel like it is barely there.

Comfort and style go hand in hand. If a worker believes his/her eyewear looks good, they are more likely to feel comfortable putting it on—and leaving it on—all day long. Don’t overlook the importance of choosing modern styles such as sport-inspired sunglass designs or sophisticated metal frames.

Ensure Clarity and Reduce Fogging

As the seasons change, so do the temperatures workers are exposed to. From extreme summer heat to winter’s harsh cold, outdoor temperatures pose major fogging risks to safety lenses for workers on construction sites. Any changes in temperature, even subtle variations, can cause lens fogging. When lenses fog, workers can’t see their work or nearby hazards leaving them few choices but to remove the eyewear to wipe it clear. If they do so in the work zone, work is interrupted and they risk injury. If they do so outside the work zone, productivity takes a hit.

The best solution for combatting fog is to opt for an advanced anti-fog lens coating. Anti-fog coatings are available in a few different formats. Manufacturers can apply anti-fog coatings either through a dipped or sprayed technique directly on the safety lens during production. The benefit of dipped coating specifically is that it provides a more uniform application and greater optical clarity. Or, if workers do not mind applying the anti-fog coating themselves, it can be applied to lenses using a prepackaged anti-fog cloth or gel.

Premium anti-fog coatings are proven to stay on after repeated washings and can stand up best in the hottest, most humid and demanding workplaces. Anti-fog coatings that feature dual-action hydrophilic (water absorbing) and hydrophobic (water repelling) properties deliver the most effective results.

The Unrecognized Risks of Light

Light is an easily overlooked hazard, yet exposure to visible and invisible radiation can cause both short-term and permanent vision loss. Especially when working outdoors, the sun’s glare can cause headaches and can have the potential to reduce workers’ visibility.

Extended exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays has been linked to eye damage including cataracts, macular degeneration, pterygia and photo keratitis. Workers who spend any time outside should be outfitted with eyewear that ensures 99.9 percent ultraviolet protection. Specialized lens tints should be considered as needed to block radiation or support visual function based on the other types of natural and artificial light present.

With the multitude of hazards present on a construction site, knowing how to deliver protective solutions can be daunting. Luckily, incorporating proper eye protection protocols is achievable. Safety managers should equip their workers with eyewear that offers protection, comfort, fit and function to ensure all-day wear among America’s increasingly diverse workforce. By selecting styles that meet all these criteria, workers can safely focus on the task at hand and maintain healthy eyesight. 

This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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