Face Up to Proper Protection

Make sure workers know how to shield their faces from specific hazards.

It started as a typical work day for Dan Francis. As a caster at Doe Run Co.'s Resource Recycling Division in Boss, Mo., Francis was casting molten lead into 1-ton molds, just like he'd done many times before. But when he put the pouring spout into the mold and opened a valve, 900-degree molten lead hit the side of the mold and splashed toward his face.

The searing liquid hit Francis directly on his face shield. Some of the lead went under the shield, hitting his safety glasses and respirator.

What could have been a disaster on Oct. 10, 1996, resulted in only minor first-degree burns between his eyebrows and on the bridge of his nose. Francis, whose eyelashes were matted together and could not see at first, was kept from further harm because he was wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), including a face shield, required for the job.

The moral of this real-life story: If a work environment calls for protecting the face, start with safety glasses or goggles, then add protection as needed. Because Francis followed that advice, he was awarded the Prevent Blindness America's 1998 Wise Owl Award, which recognizes an individual whose sight was saved by wearing protective eyewear in a serious accident.

"I didn't even have time to think," Francis, now 26 years old, said upon receiving the award. "I know right now I'd probably be blind and have permanent scars on my face if Doe Run hadn't required a face shield on this particular job."

Not all employers, though, have an adequate face protection policy or ensure that their employees adhere to it. Workers injured in the face who were surveyed in a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study indicated that face protection was not normally used in their line of work, or it was not required for the type of work performed at the time of the accident.

Doing a hazard assessment and establishing a policy are prerequisites to providing adequate face protection as part of a worker's PPE, said Tod Turriff, vice president of program and information services for Prevent Blindness America. The policy should be one that meets or exceeds federal regulations and one that employees will accept, he added.

The American National Standard Institute's (ANSI) Z87.1-1989 standard for eye and face protection establishes criteria used by OSHA in its standard, 29 CFR 1910.133. ANSI Z87.1 states that face shields must only be worn over eye protection.

Basic eye protection for anyone who walks into, or works in, a hazardous area includes safety glasses with side shields, said Turriff, chairman of the ANSI Z87.1 committee. "Most people think that the only time they are exposed to a hazard is when they're working on something, and that's not the case," he said. "It's any time they're exposed to a hazard in a particular work area."

Suitable face protectors must be provided where there is a potential for injury to the face from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, potentially injurious light radiation or a combination of these.


For starters, every face protector should be distinctly marked to identify the manufacturer and that it meets ANSI Z87.1 specifications. Then, it's a matter of selecting the proper protector for the situation.

Face hazards in the workplace come from physical, electromagnetic spectrum or biological elements, said Dr. Bernard Blais, an occupational ophthalmologist in Clifton Park, N.Y. Physical hazards include impact, heat, chemicals and dust. Electromagnetic spectrum hazards, found in welding-type applications, are visible light, ultraviolet radiation and infrared radiation. Biological hazards involve spattering of bodily fluids, typically in the health care field.

Each face protector is designed for one or more of the three classes of hazards. When selecting the type and amount of protection, consider the kind and the degree of the hazard.

Once the proper ANSI-approved shield has been determined for the work application, selecting from various models and manufacturers depends on user preference, said Tim Esposito, vice president of sales and marketing for Jackson Products, a manufacturer of face shields. While deciding how much protection is enough can be challenging, Esposito noted that "if the job deals with something like grinding wheels all day, you want to have as much protection as possible. Basing a decision on economics is being short-sighted for that type of application."

Most visors curve around the face, although one-piece models that conform to a face's shape are available. Aluminum-bound shields, often made of acetate, can be shaped to the size of the user's face. A visor, which can be stationary or lift above the head, typically fastens to a head band, a helmet or a hard hat. Some shields include built-in safety goggles to provide all-in-one eye and face protection.


ANSI Z87.1 indicates what types of face protection are needed for a particular hazard. Following is a breakdown of each hazard category:

Impact. The BLS survey noted that the typical injury was caused by flying or falling blunt metal objects. Lacerations, fractures, broken teeth and contusions were common types of injuries reported.

Impact hazards are found in a variety of jobs. ANSI Z87.1 calls for a shield that withstands minimum ballistic impact testing resistance of a steel ball traveling at 300 feet per second. The shield must be a nominal .040 inches thick.

One of the most popular materials used today for impact-resistant face shields is polycarbonate. Although more expensive than other materials commonly used in shields, such as PETG (polythylene terephthalate, glycol modified) and sometimes acetate, many users prefer polycarbonate. It provides high-impact protection and is the best all-around material, said Jack B. Hirschmann Jr., president of Oberon Co., a maker of specialty face shields.

Jackson's Esposito also calls polycarbonate the safest material for impact resistance and said it provides, along with acetate, very good scratch resistance.

Heat. Polycarbonate offers a fair amount of heat resistance, especially against ambient heat. "The ambient temperature your body can withstand is far lower than what a polycarbonate window can withstand," Hirschmann said.

Still, untreated materials will not hold up in high-temperature exposures, where total body protection is needed. "If you're in that type of environment," Esposito said, "you need more than a face shield to protect the user." In high-temperature cases, Z87.1 calls for a reflective or screened face shield.

Chemical. In chemical applications, more than any other, eye and face protection should start with a goggle to seal the eye area from hazards. Then, a chemical-resistant face shield would be in order for chemicals that harm skin.

It is important to protect the worker's eyes, ears, mouth and nose from chemicals, Esposito said. "Some chemicals will eat right through any of the materials. With other chemicals, degradation of the visor will be slowed down."

Optical radiation. The important thing to remember with the electromagnetic spectrum is that it includes visible light, ultraviolet and infrared hazards. Whether a goggle, face shield or welding helmet is appropriate depends on the type of exposure when welding, cutting, torching or brazing.

"You not only have to protect your eyes, you have to protect your face," said James R. "Rusty" Franklin, vice president of sales and marketing for Sellstrom Manufacturing Co., a manufacturer of welding protectors. "It's a function of spatter and the amount of ultraviolet. You can get a sunburn in an exposed area if you don't have that protection."

Equipment fitted with appropriate filter lenses is needed to protect against light radiation. Tinted and shaded lenses are not filter lenses unless marked or identified as such.

Filter lenses have a shade number appropriate for the work being performed. Base the shade selection, once the proper range is determined, on eye sensitivity and arc density, Franklin said.

By choosing the appropriate eye and face protection, employers can eliminate blindness and disfigurement that results from these preventable workplace incidents.

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