I really have problems with anything near my face, so I wasn’t too happy when my boss told me I had to wear the proper safety eye googles for the job I was about to do. Not only that, I was compelled to take the training program on the proper wearing of eye and face gear. How hard can it be to slip a pair of safety goggles on? Anyhow, I wanted to keep my job so of course I did as I had to do. I wasn’t on the job more than an hour before a piece of debris flew up and actually scratched the lens of the safety glasses I was wearing. Needless to say I couldn’t be more thankful to my boss and the safety rules that are in place to keep us workers safe!
Assessing Eye Protection Needs
Every employer has the responsibility of providing a safe environment for each and every employee, and this includes eye and face protection that meet OSHA standards (for more about his obligation, see Employee Rights: What PPE Does My Employer Need to Provide?). The right safety eyewear needs to protect against environmental and radiological hazards as well as mechanical and chemical irritants.
Before determining your safety eyewear needs, you must conduct an assessment of the hazards in your workplace and those related to the individual tasks workers have to perform. Make sure to consider emergency situations as part of your assessment, not just routine work processes.
Common Workplace Eye Hazards
Be on the lookout for these common eye hazards:
- Impact: From flying items, such as sand and dirt or fragments of material
- Hazardous Substances: Molten metal, liquid chemicals, chemical gases or vapors, acids or caustic liquids
- Heat: Any work project capable of creating extreme heat
- Dust: Generated from the environment or created as the result of the work (learn more about risks related to Construction Dust)
- Optical Radiation: From glare, intense lighting, or radiant energy
OSHA Criteria for Eye Protection
All eye and face protection must be in compliance with the American National Standards Institute. (If purchased after July 5, 1994, it must conform to ANSI Z87.1-1989, and if purchased before that date, ANSI Z87.1-1968.)
All eyewear worn as PPE must at the very least:
- Provide appropriate protection
- Have a safe design suited for the work that is going to be carried out
- Be as comfortable as possible without compromising safety standards
- Fit snugly but not impede the movements of the wearer
- Be durable
- Be easy to clean and able to withstand disinfecting
- Only be marked with the manufacturer’s identification
- Used in conjunction with proper training
That last point is important. Employees must be made aware of what type of work situations require protective eye and face wear, as well as what type of eye PPE is appropriate for each job. They also need to be instructed on how to properly put it on, take it off, and adjust it. Also make sure that employees have a clear understanding of the limitations of their PPE so they don't put themselves in danger assuming they are protected.
To ensure optimal protection and to extend the life of your safety products, instruct employees on the proper care and maintenance of safety eyewear.
Some situations will require employees to be retrained in the proper use of their safety eyewear. This happens, for instance, when the work environment changes and the previous training becomes outdated.
Make sure to retrain all employees who will be wearing a particular type of PPE for the first time, or who have not had to wear their newly mandated PPE for a long period of time.
Proper fit is crucial to ensuring eye safety, especially when the safety eyewear is meant to seal against the face. Loose fitting goggles can be ineffective when it comes to protecting against dust, vapors, and chemical hazards. Welding helmets and face shields should also be fitted properly so there is no risk that they will slip during work projects.
Safety eyewear that doesn't fit properly is also uncomfortable, making it more likely that employees decide to take off their PPE while hazards are still present.
Care, Cleaning, and Maintenance
Keeping eye and face PPE clean and sanitary is highly important, and it is against OSHA regulations to use equipment that has any optical or structural defects.
Make sure the lens is free of dirt, pitting, or scratches, since these can hinder the wearer's vision. Moreover, lenses with deep pitting or scratching could break. In some environments, the lenses can fog and should be cleaned as necessary (for advice on this, see How to Combat Fogging).
Headbands must also be in good condition. If they are stretched, wet, or twisted they will not hold the eye protection in its proper position.
If the eyewear is used by multiple employees, it should be properly disinfected before being passed on.
For employees who require corrective glasses, OSHA regulations requires that protective eye equipment must be able to fit over prescription lenses. Employees who wear contact lenses should keep an extra set or a pair of glasses on site in case their contacts are damaged or lost.
If a worker suffers an eye injury, fast action is essential. A swift response is often the only thing that prevents permanent damage.
All work areas with eye hazards should have easy access to emergency eyewash stations. All employees need to be familiarized with the location of these stations so they can find their way to the nearest one even if their vision is restricted. Clear instructions should also be posted at eyewash stations to ensure that the right rinsing procedures are performed in the even of an incident.