Toolbox Topic: Eye Protection
We use our eyes for nearly everything, which is why eye protection is so important. Let’s ensure we take the proper precautions at work to keep your eyes safe. In this episode, we will discuss ways to protect your eyes when performing hazardous tasks at work.
According to OSHA 1910.133(a)(1), The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate face or eye 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.
Eye protection is protective gear for the eyes and /or the face. Its purpose is to reduce the risk of injury. Types of threats to the eye can include: impact from particles or debris, light or radiation, wind, heat, chemical splashes, or impact.
History of Eye Protection
In 1868 Herman Cohn promoted the use of mica for safety lenses. Mica is a mineral name given to a group of minerals called silicate minerals, also known as sheet silicates, because they form in distinct layers. Micas are fairly light and relatively soft, and the sheets and flakes of mica are flexible.
In 1874 The U.S. patent office issued a patent for heat-treated safety glass.
An “eye protector” patent was issued to P. Johnson in 1880.
In 1890 Zeiss produced the first thermally toughened lamp housings and laboratory glassware.
The Julius King Optical Company invented the first safety goggles in 1909.
In 1953 polycarbonate, a transparent, virtually unbreakable plastic, was discovered by Dr. Hermann Schnellby at Bayer’s R&D laboratory. An official patent was granted on Oct. 16, 1953. Polycarbonate is what most safety glasses are made from today.
Eye Protection Statistics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, eye injuries cost an estimated $300 million annually in lost productivity, medical treatment, and worker’s compensation.
Eye injuries make up nearly 45% of all head injuries that lead to missed workdays.
Men ages 25-44 comprise 80% of all workplace eye injury victims.
40% of on-the-job eye injuries happen in manufacturing, construction, and mining industries.
OSHA estimates that if all workers complied with eye protection requirements, it would save companies over $150 million annually. In addition, estimates are that it would prevent four deaths, save 712,000 lost work days and prevent 65,000 injuries every year.
A survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of workers in selected occupations showed:
- Approximately 60% of workers who suffered impact injuries or chemical burns were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident.
- Of the 1,052 eye accidents in one survey, nearly 70% resulted from flying or falling objects striking the eye.
- Contact with chemicals caused 20% of eye injuries.
- 94% of the injuries to those wearing eye protection resulted from objects (or caustics) going around or under the protector.
- 6% had removed their eye protection just before the accident.
- More than 20% of workers indicated that a policy was implemented only after an accident had occurred.
Eye Protection Safety Tips
Safety Tip#1 When to Use PPE
Be Aware of the Hazards and Use PPE when and where required. PPE should be required in areas where there is a risk of eye injury or when tasks create a risk of eye injury. Anyone passing through those areas should also wear eye protection.
Operations that present eye hazards can include:
- Grinding, spraying, sanding, chiseling, woodworking, or any other activity that could cause large fragments or small particles to fly into the eyes
- Painting, spraying, sanding, metalworking, spot welding, or any process that may cause dust, fumes, or tiny particulates to become airborne where they can make contact with the eyes
- Work tasks such as electric welding and cutting with a torch or similar operations
- When working around radiant energy that can blind
- When handling chemicals such as acids and caustics
Tip#2 The Right Eye Protection
Select eye protection that is appropriate to the task, for example:
- Safety glasses with side protection (side shields) if you work around particles, flying objects, or dust
- Goggles and / or face shields if you handle chemicals
- Specially designed safety glasses, goggles, face shields, or helmets if you work near hazardous radiation, such as welding, lasers, or fiber optics
- If you wear prescription eyewear but don’t have prescription safety glasses, use an “Over-The-Glass” type of eye protection which allows you to wear your glasses while also wearing your eye protection.
Tip#3 PPE Fit, inspection, and Maintenance
People will sometimes remove or not wear eye protection if it does not fit correctly. Make sure your eye protection fits properly and is clean. If eye protection gets dirty and keeps you from seeing what you are doing, that is simply creating a new hazard. Keep your safety glasses clean and in good shape. Lenses will scratch, so store them in a case or protector before putting them away. Finally, inspect your PPE and take it out of service if it is cracked or otherwise damaged.
Tip#4 Eliminate the Hazard if Possible
Elimination of the hazard is always preferable. A good real-world example: I worked with a warehousing company that received products in a wooden crate. The crate was nailed together, so when it was opened, nails were left protruding, creating a laceration hazard. Employees started pulling the nails out just- far enough to grind them off, creating an eye hazard. I worked with receiving, and we contacted the manufacturer, who agreed to use screws going forward. A few weeks later, the first crates arrived with screws, and we were able to disassemble the crates using a cordless drill, thereby eliminating both the laceration and the eye hazards.
Tip#5 What to do in an Emergency
- Punctures, cuts, or foreign objects that penetrate the eye, seek medical attention immediately. Please do not attempt to remove objects yourself, as you could make it worse. Also, rubbing the eye could further imbed objects or cause further irritation.
- Use an eyewash station if dust, other small particles, or chemicals enter your eyes. Flush the eye with fluid for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep the eye open for as long as possible, allowing the fluid to flush the eye thoroughly. Look all around while flushing the eye to remove any debris or chemicals trapped under the eyelids.
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