Every year, eye injuries in the workplace cost workers part or all of their vision, and businesses an estimated $300 million in lost production time, medical expenses and workers' compensation.1 On a daily basis, about 2,000 workers require medical treatment for an eye injury.2
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top contributors to these eye injuries are: 1. Not wearing any eye protection. 2. Not wearing proper eye protection.
Fortunately, there are many options available to protect workers. Choosing the right protection, however, can be a daunting task.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the sea of options from which you can choose and some important factors to consider, with worker safety and OSHA compliance at the top of the list.
If eye hazards are present in the workplace, OSHA requires the employer to ensure that workers exposed to the hazards are using proper eye and face protection, have been properly fitted and have been trained on its use and care (29 CFR 1910.133).
Employers also are obligated to provide PPE to workers at no cost if it's required to safely perform their job (29 CFR 1910.132(h)), with exceptions for items such as steel-toe boots and prescription safety glasses, as long as employees are permitted to wear them off the job.
Most employers choose to cover the cost of even the items that fall under the exception (or, at least, a majority of the cost).
Even if employees wear their prescription safety glasses off the job, it's a good investment. Almost half of the 2.4 million eye injuries that occur every year happen at home, and according to an annual study conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 77 percent of those victims were not wearing eye protection.3
Eye and face protection falls under the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices. As you may know, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved the 2010 version of Z87.1 in April of this year.
Because OSHA allows employers to use products that meet any of the previous three versions of a given standard, you do not need to replace your eye and face protection right away to be compliant. As long as the products you are using meet the ANSI Z87.1-1989, ANSI Z87.1-2003 or ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010 standard, you are compliant with OSHA regulations.
The ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010 standard has some important changes to note. Most significantly, in relation to the product selection process, the 2010 standard represents a complete revamp of the product markings to more clearly indicate the performance capabilities of a product, making it easier to choose the right protector for the job.
In addition, splash, dust and fine dust tests have been added in the 2010 standard to qualify a protector's ability to guard against these hazards. New markings have been introduced that manufacturers can use to identify products, such as splash and dust goggles, that comply with the new requirements.
Also, the “Basic Impact” and “High Impact” designations have been eliminated. Under ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, a protector now is either impact-rated or it is not. Lastly, under the new Z87 standard, all impact-rated protectors must be sold with side protection (permanent or detachable).
Workers who require corrective lenses need to have the same level of protection as their coworkers. About 40 percent of the U.S. population requires corrective lenses, but that number is growing significantly as people stay in the work force longer. This directly translates into an increased percentage of workers needing prescription glasses.
Employers essentially have two options for meeting OSHA requirements for prescription wearers who are exposed to eye hazards. These employees can wear over-the-glass (OTG) eyewear that fits over regular prescription glasses or prescription safety glasses that meet ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 requirements. Note that attaching sideshields to regular prescription glasses or “street wear” does not comply with OSHA requirements.
While OTG eyewear works as a short-term solution for new employees or intermittent wear, it is not typically considered a viable long-term solution for daily use. The reason is that OTG glasses are cumbersome by nature, uncomfortable to wear and often present a challenge in achieving proper fit.
Providing proper prescription safety glasses that meet OSHA requirements is not as challenging or costly as one might think. There are a number of national and regional providers, as well as local eye care professionals who increasingly are including prescription safety glasses in their offerings.
For employers with a larger work force or geographic footprint, a range of options is available, from third-party providers who have multi-location services utilizing a panel of off-site opticians and, in some cases, on-site service at the employer's facility.
WOMEN IN THE WORK FORCE
According to the BLS, the labor force participation rate for women has grown from 51.5 percent in 1980 to 60.2 percent in 2000 and is projected to exceed 62 percent in 2010. Over that same period, the rate for men has been on the decline, falling from 77.4 percent in 1980 to a 2010 projection of just over 73 percent.
Why is this important? Because for decades, women essentially were ignored when it came to designing eye and face protection. Everything was made to fit men and women just had to find whatever worked best. This isn't just a style and comfort issue. Products designed to fit men with larger heads and faces often result in a poor fit when worn by women, which can result in improper positioning of the protector or leave gaps where particles or splash can get through.
Fortunately, things have changed, partly because women are becoming a greater percentage of the work force. Safety manufacturers have taken notice, and there now is a range of products on the market specifically designed for women.
So what do you look for? Many products now are available in smaller sizes. Look for safety glasses in smaller eye sizes or that feature a smaller span (width between the temple tips). Also look for goggles in smaller sizes and faceshields with an adjustable suspension that accommodate smaller heads.
Some manufacturers have gone a step further and addressed the style issue by offering fashion colors, patterns and shapes that appeal specifically to women. Others have even added “bling” (rhinestones or other embellishments) to mimic the latest fashion trends.
Whether you offer your female employees the better fit options or go so far as to “spring for the bling,” you definitely have taken a step in the right direction for safety, and maybe even boosted morale.
Some occupations expose workers to eye and face hazards that are specific to that type of job. BLS statistics show that mechanics, repairers, carpenters and plumbers report 40 percent of eye injuries. Manufacturing accounted for nearly half of eye injuries, while construction-related jobs accounted for about 20 percent. In almost every case, there are specialized products available that will provide the proper protection.
One of the most common sources of eye injuries in the workplace is airborne dust and debris, causing about 70 percent of incidents annually, according to BLS. Small dust particles or metal chips, for example, can go around or under the protector and cause painful irritation or injury — even vision loss.
A wide range of tasks and environments involving airborne debris can pose a risk to workers, and providing adequate protection requires specialized PPE. Protective eyewear and goggles are considered primary protection, while faceshields may be required for secondary protection.
The most serious eye injuries are caused by flying debris that has been accelerated mechanically, such as in grinding and cutting applications. These injuries warrant special attention to the impact hazard and may require impact-rated goggles that form a snug fit, as well as the addition of a suitable faceshield.
Airborne debris often causes eye injuries in windy environments, where surface dust and particles are blown into the air or fall from above. Dust also can be generated from operations such as sanding. A growing trend is foam-lined products that help prevent airborne debris from reaching the eye. These offer a more comfortable alternative to goggles, resulting in better compliance, and typically are more compatible with other PPE, due to their lower profile.
An important criteria for foam-lined eyewear is an effective anti-fog lens coating and good venting, since body heat and moisture can cause fogging, even in mild conditions. Fit, in this situation, is critical as well, since the foam must be in contact with the face in order to perform its function.
Utility workers also require special consideration. Since they tend to spend most of their time outdoors, tinted lenses are a must. But utility workers also need to correctly identify color-coded wires, so the lens tint cannot affect color recognition. Tinted safety eyewear that meets the ANSI Z80.3-2008 requirement for color recognition will address this issue.
Workers exposed to infrared radiation that can cause lasting or permanent damage to vision must be accommodated. Infrared (IR) is perceptible in the form of heat, but is invisible to the unaided eye. Long-term exposure on a daily basis or even short-term, high-intensity exposure can cause retinal scarring, cataracts or blindness.
Welding is the most well known source of IR; however, employees working near welding operations may need protection from secondary exposure. Steel or glass making also are occupations which commonly expos workers to potentially harmful levels of IR. Any operation that involves intense heat can pose a risk. Torch cutting and brazing, as well as furnace and heat curing operations, present significant IR hazards.
Products are available to protect workers from IR hazards. OSHA 1910.133(a)(5) lists shade numbers to be used for various operations. Be sure to select eyewear that is marked with a shade number, according to ANSI/ISEA Z87.1, and don't confuse a tinted lens with a shaded lens.
When selecting eye and face protection, also consider the other types of PPE the worker potentially will be wearing. Hard hats, respirators, face shields, hearing protection and protective eyewear can all interfere with each other if they aren't chosen carefully.
For instance, wearing a half-mask respirator may cause protective eyewear to sit higher on the nose, thereby creating a gap between the wearer's cheek and the lens. In this case, try selecting a half-mask that fits low on the face or try different styles of eyewear until you find one that isn't affected by the half-mask.
Consider whether the fit or performance of each item will be affected by the other PPE items worn by workers. Have workers don their protective gear and demonstrate that they can perform their work without any issues.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PARTNER
Globalization has brought a host of new suppliers to the eye and face protection market over the last 10 to 15 years. Employers and employees alike have benefited from the increased level of competition.
Unfortunately, this also has resulted in some products making their way into the market that do not meet industry standards, even though the manufacturer claims compliance. These products may have the right markings, such as the “Z87” stamp, but may never have been tested to verify their compliance with the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 standard.
This makes it especially important that you choose a reputable supplier, since the Z87.1 standard is self-certifying, meaning it's up to the manufacturer of the product to ensure that their products meet the standard. Manufacturers are required by the Z87.1 standard to provide, upon request, test results showing compliance with the standard, so don't hesitate to ask for it.
Another important factor is the level of expertise your supplier has relative to eye and face protection. It's one thing to give you the lowest price, but the real value that a supplier brings is in helping you choose the best option to protect your workers, keeping you updated on the latest regulatory changes and developing new products that address ever-changing workplace hazards. In the end, the cheapest option isn't always the best when you consider the health of your employees and the cost of an eye injury.
U.S. Department of Labor (Fact Sheet No. OSHA 93-03).
CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/eye.
American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy) and the American Society of Ocular Trauma (ASOT), 2009. “Eye Injury Snapshot, a clinical survey of eye injuries across the U.S.”
J. P. Sankpill is president and CEO of U.S. Safety, the operating division of Parmelee Industries Inc. He serves on the board of the International Safety Equipment Association, chairs the ANSI/ISEA Z87 Committee and serves on the board of the Safety & Health Council of Western Missouri and Kansas.