Magazine article Occupational Hazards

How Much Eye Protection Is Enough? Too Many Workers Who Wear Eye Protection Still Suffer Injuries. Here's Help on How to Determine When More Protection Is Needed

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

How Much Eye Protection Is Enough? Too Many Workers Who Wear Eye Protection Still Suffer Injuries. Here's Help on How to Determine When More Protection Is Needed

Article excerpt

Most safety professionals agree that work-place eye injuries are preventable. Yet, OSHA estimates that 1,000 eye injuries occur every day in U.S. workplaces, at an annual cost of $300 million in lost production time, medical expenses and workers' compensation.

OSHA lists two major reasons for eye injuries at work: not wearing eye protection or wearing the wrong kind of protection for the job.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey of workers who suffered eye injuries revealed that nearly three out of five were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. These workers most often reported that they believed protection was not required for the situation.

About 40 percent of the injured workers surveyed by BLS were wearing some form of protective eyewear when the accident occurred. More than 90 percent of the injuries to workers wearing protection resulted from objects or chemicals going around or under the protector.

Hazard Assessment

Because workers who wear protective eyewear still suffer injuries, how much protection is enough? To answer that question, begin with a hazard assessment to determine which of several eye hazards exist for each job:

* Dust, concrete, metal and other particles;

* Chemicals such as acids, bases, fuels, solvents, lime and wet or dry cement powder;

* Falling or shifting debris, building materials and glass;

* Smoke and noxious or poisonous gases;

* Welding light and electrical arcs;

* Thermal hazards and fires; and

* Bloodborne pathogens (hepatitis or HIV) from blood, body fluids and human remains.

Phil Johnson, vice president of research, development and quality assurance for Bacou-Dalloz's Uvex, advises against relying on a call to a manufacturer to determine what type of protective eyewear will work for a specific situation. An onsite hazard assessment is necessary, Johnson says.

When Metal Seal & Products in Willoughby, Ohio, did a hazard assessment in 1999, it noted eye hazards for every job and the type of protection needed. The company's 200 workers now have a better understanding of when eye protection is required and what type of protector to wear, says Dale Diemer, the precision machining company's purchasing manager who also is in charge of safety.

For example, in the machining area, workers know to wear safety glasses for impact protection. In the plating area, however, exposure to chemicals and liquids calls for more side protection with goggles and, in some cases, face shields.

A hazard assessment at Oberfield's, a Delaware, Ohio, a maker of concrete structural and architectural blocks, parking blocks, precast steps, lintels and landscape products, turned up varying degrees of eye hazards. Dan Hodge, OHST, the human resources/safety specialist, determined that the most hazardous job was cleaning mixers, hoppers and mold parts. The workers are exposed to flying particles when they use air chisels to chip off hardened concrete.

The assessment took 1 1/2 years, during which time Oberfield's used trial and error and employee input to come up with the best eye protection for each situation, says Hodge, industrial eye safety chairman for Prevent Blindness Ohio and a national member of the eye safety advisory committee for Prevent Blindness America. Now, even less hazardous jobs require eye protection. An example is fleet maintenance, especially when working under vehicles.

Types of Protection

To ensure that workers wear the proper type of protective eyewear, the following list from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health provides a starting point:

Safety glasses. Safety glasses with side protection provide minimum protection and are for general working conditions where there may be minor dust, chips or flying particles. Side protection includes side shields and wraparound-style safety glasses. …

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