Eye Injury Prevention and Personal Protective Equipment

Job-related eye injuries can not only cost employees the use of their sight, but these injuries can also cost employers and insurance companies millions of dollars a year in medical expenses, workers’ compensation costs, and wage and productivity losses.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), each day about 2000 U.S. workers sustain a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment. About one-third of these injuries have to be treated at the hospital and more than 100 of these injuries result in one or more days away from work.

Eye hazards can be found in almost every industry. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, however, shows that most eye injuries affect men and occur most often in manufacturing, construction, trade, production, and service occupations.

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Many of the workplace eye injuries that require medical treatment are the result of employees who do not wear eye protection, or wear the wrong type for the job. OSHA’s standard 29 CFR 1910.133 requires employers to provide employees with appropriate eye and face protection whenever needed to protect against mechanical, chemical, environmental, or radiological irritants and hazards.

How do eye injuries happen to workers?

  • Flying objects. Many injuries result from flying or falling particles, sparks, or larger objects striking or scraping the eye. These materials are often ejected by tools, blown by wind, or they fall from above. Dust, cement or wood chips, metal slivers, nails, and staples are common culprits.
  • Objects swinging from a fixed or attached position. Tree limbs, ropes, chains, or tools can be pulled into the eye while the employee is using or holding them.
  • Contact with cleaning products and other industrial chemicals. In addition to potential damage from contact with acids, fuels, solvents, cement powder, or other chemicals, the pain from contact may cause a person to close his or her eyes, trapping the irritant, and possibly causing more damage.
  • Exposure to ultraviolet light. Welder’s arc, for example, can cause thermal burns that damage eyes and surrounding tissue.

How can workers do to prevent eye injury?

Workers can protect themselves from eye injury by wearing personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full face respirators.

OSHA standards require that employers provide employees protective eyewear suited to a specific duty or hazard. No onesize-fits-all standard fits every industry, so safety managers must determine what types of safety gear to purchase.

  • OSHA also mandates that any protective eye and face equipment be distinctly marked to allow identification of the manufacturer. Further, safety glasses and goggles should be certified by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 for industrial eye protection, with the ‘Z87’ mark showing on frames and lenses.
  • In certain industries, employees must wear a face shield and goggles to protect against chemical splashes, welding light, and electrical arc. OSHA requires employers to ensure that affected employees use equipment with filter lenses that have a shade number appropriate for the work for protection from harmful light radiation.

What can employers do to prevent worker eye injury and disease?

Employers can ensure engineering controls are used to reduce eye injuries and to protect against ocular infection exposures. Employers can also conduct a hazard assessment to determine the appropriate type of protective eyewear appropriate for a given task.

Eye Protection Definitions

Accessory – An item that is added to a complete device that may or may not affect the performance of that complete device.

Aftermarket Component – A component that may or may not be manufactured by the complete device manufacturer and is not supplied with the original complete device.

Complete device – A product with all its components in their configuration of intended use, subjected to testing for determination of compliance with the standard.

Component – A functional part of a complete device.

Cover Lens – An expendable lens used to protect another lens from surface damage and that is not intended to contribute to user protection. It is not a safety plate.

Faceshield* – A protector intended to shield the wearer’s face, or portions thereof from certain hazards, as indicated by the faceshields’ markings.

Filter lens – A lens that attenuates specific wavelengths of ultraviolet, visible and/or infrared radiation.

Frame – A structure, which holds the lens or lenses on the wearer.

Front – That part of a spectacle or goggle frame that is intended to contain the lens or lenses.

Goggle – A protector intended to fit the face surrounding the eyes in order to shield the eyes from certain hazards, depending upon the hazard type.

Inner Surface –The inward facing portions of any component of a complete device which have a direct line to the eye or lateral coverage area.

Lens – The transparent part of a protector through which the wearer sees.

Lens housing or carrier – That part of a goggle that mechanically houses a lens.

Magnifier – A mass produced lens (non-prescription) that incorporates plus refractive power throughout the entirety of the lens. This includes spectacle lenses but does not include magnifiers inserted into welding devices, which are considered accessories.

Non-Removable lens – A lens and holder that are homogeneous and continuous or a lens that cannot be removed from the frame/front without damage to the device.

Plano lens – A lens that does not incorporate a corrective prescription.

Protector – A complete device meeting, at a minimum the General Requirements of ANSI Z87.1.

Reader – A mass produced non-prescriptive spectacle that incorporates plus refractive power in a portion of the lens.

Removable lenses – Prescription or plano lenses fabricated to fit a single spectacle frame.

Replaceable lenses – Interchangeable lens/fronts designed for spectacle or goggle devices that are directly mounted to the frame or shell of the device.

Sideshield – A component of a spectacle that provides lateral protection.

Spectacle – A protector intended to shield the wearer’s eyes from certain hazards, depending on the type of hazard.

Temple – That part of a spectacle frame commonly attached to the front and generally extending behind the ear of the wearer.

Ultraviolet radiation (UV) – Electromagnetic energy with wavelengths from 200 to 380 nanometers.

Welding Faceshield – A faceshield intended to provide optical radiation protection for limited welding applications.

Welding Goggle – A goggle intended to provide optical radiation protection for limited welding applications.

*Faceshield: Although it would appear from the definition and the various included test procedures (droplet and splash, dust, and fine dust) that faceshields can be used as standalone devices, all references on the Selection Chart refer to “faceshields worn over goggles or spectacles”. The droplet and splash test is intended to determine the capability of a faceshield to keep liquid splashes or sprays from reaching the wearer’s eyes by observing the area of coverage of the faceshield.