Eye and Face Protection

Choosing the right personal protective equipment can be a complex task. This guide can help you choose equipment that keeps workers safe and healthy, and makes your facility more productive.

Experts claim that more that nine out of 10 eye injuries can be eliminated through the use of eye protection. By any standards, those are pretty good odds.

While no one can predict when and where an eye injury might occur, the proper use of eye protection is an almost sure-fire way to reduce the risk and severity of eye injuries.

Prevent Blindness America, through its Wise Owl Program, has recognized more than 85,000 workers in recent years who were involved in potentially serious accidents but saved their sight by wearing proper eye protection.

Few areas in an industrial or manufacturing facility are totally free of eye hazards, but a 100 percent mandatory program, requiring eye protection throughout all operations of your facility, can guarantee that eye injuries will be kept to a minimum. Under such a program, everyone -- management, visitors, contractors and subcontractors -- must wear eye protection in all but office areas. According to the experts at Prevent Blindness America, this type of program prevents more injuries and is easier to enforce than one which is limited to certain departments, jobs or work areas.

To develop a successful program, start with an eye hazard assessment. The safety department should conduct a thorough analysis of plant operations. Inspect work areas, access routes and equipment. Examine eye accident and injury reports. Identify operations and areas that present eye hazards. For example, does your workplace have any of these hazards?:

  • Large flying particles and fragments.
  • Dust, fumes, mists and small particles.
  • Splashing metals.
  • Gases, vapors and liquids.
  • Radiant energy and/or intense heat.
  • Lasers.

If you answered "yes" to any of those hazards, then your workplace needs an eye protection program, according to Prevent Blindness America.

The first step for any injury prevention program is to eliminate eye hazards through engineering and administrative controls. Use machine guards and shields between workstations or around certain operations; substitute less caustic or hazardous chemicals; eliminate or enclose processes that create dust or particles; and contain processes that create fumes or mists under hoods.

Once every feasible engineering or administrative control is taken, determine the remaining eye hazards and choose the type or types of safety eyewear that will provide employees with effective protection. Base selections on protection needs, quality, comfort and cost, and make sure that employees are properly fitted and trained in the use and maintenance of their eyewear.

The type of protection employees should wear depends on several factors, the most important of which are the hazards found in the workplace, say experts.

Chipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, sanding, riveting and furnace operations call for safety spectacles with sideshields; rigid and flexible goggles; and/or faceshields.

Molten metal or chemical splash call for goggles and faceshields which do not allow liquid to drip or splash under eyewear. Faceshields with or without hoods should be worn around caustic chemicals which could burn eyes or skin in the event of a splash.

Goggles are appropriate during dusty operations, such as sanding. Welding jobs require their own special helmets, either with stationary or lift-front windows, to protect against burns as well as sparks and molten splashes.

Once the appropriate type of eyewear is chosen, then other aspects of choice come into play: whether an employee needs prescription lenses; the use of lenses with special anti-fog or anti-glare coatings; auto-darkening lenses for employees who must wear eye protection both indoors and outdoors; and employee choice.

Don't trivialize employee wishes when choosing eyewear, caution experts. If they don't like it, they won't wear it. There are hundreds of styles of eyewear available, from basic functional to traditional to the most fun and funky imaginable, so employers should be able to offer employees a selection that provide protection, comfort and style.

Once eyewear is selected, ongoing educational programs are necessary to establish, maintain and reinforce the need for the effective use of protective eyewear.

Discuss workplace hazards with employees on a regular basis and remind them that eye protection is mandatory. Include information about the eye protection program in new employee training. Discuss the most common causes of eye injuries at your facility with employees. Explain how eye protection could eliminate or reduce those injury rates.

Make employees responsible for the care and maintenance of their own eyewear and teach them to recognize when eyewear needs to be cleaned or replaced, suggests Tod W. Turriff, vice president, Program and Information Services, Prevent Blindness America.

One important point to remember, said Turriff: Protective eyewear alone does not provide unlimited protection. Manufacturers and distributors of safety eyewear include warnings on product packaging and a removable warning label or tag on the product which further discuss product limitations and liability. It is important to bring these warnings to the attention of employees and discuss the implications in more detail before the devices are distributed for use.

Make sure employees are fully protected from hazards. For some employees, that might include the use of faceshields over protective safety spectacles or the use of safety goggles (which might not seem as comfortable or "stylish" to employees) that seal off the eye area when splash or particulate hazards are a problem. Explain to those employees why the extra measures are necessary to protect their eyes.

Training and education should also include information about the location and use of emergency eyewash stations and showers. Clearly designate the areas in your facility where these stations are located, and make sure they are in working order.

As part of your program, establish eye injury first aid procedures for all the potential eye hazards in your workplace. Train employees in basic first aid for eye injuries, and identify employees, such as occupational health nurses, who have more advanced first aid training and can provide help for more serious situations.

When all the elements of your eye safety program have been established, put them in writing. Review your policy with employees on a regular basis, more frequently if eye injury rates seem to be on the rise. Update it whenever necessary, and make sure employees know and understand any changes. Post the policy in areas frequented by employees, like cafeterias and locker rooms.

Finally, put your money on a winner. Stand behind the policy and enforce it.

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