The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that “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.” Each day, an estimated 2,000 workers suffer eye injuries on the job, which not only robs many of them of their sight, but also costs employers and insurance companies millions of dollars a year. These injuries incur more than $924 million annually in workers’ compensation, and nearly $4 billion in wage and productivity losses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
OSHA requires employers to ensure the safety of all employees in the work environment by providing eye and face protection whenever necessary to protect against chemical, environmental, radiological, or mechanical irritants and hazards. In fiscal year 2020, of the top ten most frequently cited standards following inspections of worksites by OSHA, the ninth-ranked most cited violation by OSHA was for the lack of or improper eye and face protection.
Measures to protect employees’ eyes and face on the work site should be included in the preparation of a Health and Safety Plan (HASP), a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), an Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA), or a Job Safety Analysis (JSA).
An “Eye Injury Prevention Fact Sheet” produced by the Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Health and Safety (ELCOSH) provides the following information:
What contributes to eye injuries at work?
- Not wearing eye protection. BLS reports that nearly 60 percent (%) of the 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% of the injured workers were wearing some form of eye protection when the accident occurred. These workers were most likely to be wearing eyeglasses with no side shields, though injuries among employees wearing full-cup or flat-fold side shields occurred as well.
What causes eye injuries?
- Flying particles. BLS found that almost 70% of the accidents studied resulted from flying or falling objects or sparks striking the eye. Injured workers estimated that nearly 60% of the objects were smaller than a pinhead. Most of the particles were said to be traveling faster than a hand-thrown object when the accident occurred.
- Contact with chemicals. BLS reported that contact with some type of chemical caused 20% of the eye injuries.
- Other accidents were caused by objects swinging from a fixed or attached position, like tree limbs, ropes, chains, or tools which were pulled into the eye while the worker was using them.
Where do accidents occur most often?
Potential eye hazards can be found in nearly every industry, but BLS reported that more than 40% of injuries studied occurred among craft workers, like mechanics, repairers, carpenters, and plumbers. Over a third of the injured workers were operators, such as assemblers, sanders, and grinding machine operators. Laborers suffered about 20% of the eye injuries. Almost half the injured workers were employed in manufacturing; slightly more than 20% were in construction.
OSHA addresses eye and face protection in specific standards for the general industry, construction, and maritime scenarios. The standards under the general industry scenario are addressed under 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.133, whereas the standards under the construction scenario are addressed under 29 CFR 1926.102. Standards under the maritime scenario are addressed under 29 CFR 1915.153 and 29 CFR 1918.101, and are not discussed in this article.
The general requirements under the general industry and construction scenarios are basically the same.
- The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when 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.
- The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects. Detachable side protectors (e.g. clip-on or slide-on side shields) meeting the pertinent requirements of this section are acceptable.
- The employer shall 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.
- Eye and face personal protective equipment (PPE) shall be distinctly marked to facilitate identification of the manufacturer.
- The criteria for eye and face protection are the same for both scenarios as outlined in 29 CFR 1910.133(b) for the general industry scenario and 29 CFR 1926.102(b) for the construction scenario. Specifically, protective eye and face protection devices must comply with any of the following consensus standards under both scenarios:
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices;
- ANSI Z87.1-2003, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices; or
- ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R-1998), Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection.
- Protective eye and face protection devices that the employer demonstrates are at least as effective as protective eye and face protection devices that are constructed in accordance with one of the previous consensus standards will be deemed to be in compliance with the requirements of this section.
Differences between the standards in the two scenarios are associated with eye protection from injurious light radiation during arc welding and oxygen cutting activities, with slight differences in some of the minimum protective shade number for filter lenses. Also, the construction scenario includes eye protection standards for employees whose occupation or assignment requires exposure to laser beams. The reader is referred to 29 CFR 1910.133(a)(5) and 29 CFR 1926.102(c) for more detail on the differences between the general industry and construction standards for protection from light radiation and laser beams, respectively.
Types of Eyes and Face Protection
There are different types of PPE to protect the eyes and face, depending on the activities being conducted and the associated source(s) of hazard(s). Generally, eye or face protection PPE falls into the following four categories:
- Safety Spectacles
- Safety Goggles
- Face Shields
- Welding Helmets, which are secondary protectors intended to shield the eyes and face from optical radiation, heat, and impact. Welding helmets should be used in addition to primary protection such as safety spectacles or goggles to provide adequate protection.
For safety spectacles, workers are required to use eye safety spectacles with side shields when there is a hazard from flying objects and heat. Non-side shield spectacles are not acceptable eye protection for impact hazards.
Depending on the circumstances of the work activity and associated hazards, it may be necessary to combine one or more of PPE protection to adequately protect the worker. As an example, face shields are considered secondary protectors for heat to be used in addition to primary protection such as safety spectacles or goggles.
During preparation of a Health and Safety Plan (HASP), a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), an Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA), or a Job Safety Analysis (JSA), OSHA has a web-based tool that can be used to assist in the selection of the appropriate and eye and face protection for workers on a job site. This tool is called the “Eye and Face Protection eTool” which is accessed at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/eyeandface/. On this web page, there is a dropdown menu under “Selecting Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the Workplace”, where you can select the hazard (Impact, Heat, Chemicals, Dust, Optical Radiation) and then review information on the appropriate eye and face protection for that hazard.
JSABuilder is a state-of-the-art online job safety analysis app to assist in preparing your Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA). Set up a free trial account today and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter @JSABuilder, where we post and Tweet about Health and Safety, provide Safety tips, and updates on current Health and Safety topics.
Images, links, brands discussed or displayed in this article are not endorsements or recommendations. They are for illustration of various products and types of products. JSABuilder does not recommend or express any opinion as to the applicability to any given use case or job hazards.