Impact Protection: Protecting Workers from Eye Injury

Barbara T. Nessinger, Chief Editor

Eye injuries in the workplace are very common. In fact, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports about 2,000 U.S. workers daily sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment. Safety experts and eye doctors agree that the right eye protection can lessen the severity or, according to the American Optometric Association, even prevent 90% of these injuries.

Chemicals or foreign objects in the eye, as well as cuts or scrapes on the cornea, are common work-related eye injuries. Other common injuries come from splashes with grease and oil or steam burns. In general, workers experience eye injuries on the job for two major reasons. Either they weren’t wearing eye protection, or they were wearing the wrong kind for the job they were performing.

In fact, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of workers who suffered eye injuries, nearly three out of five workers 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.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to use eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented by such equipment. OSHA’s eye and face protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.133, requires the use of eye and face protection when workers are exposed to eye or face hazards—such as flying objects, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) aims to make choosing the right eye protection an easier and safer process. Its standard for eye protection, ANSI Z87.1-2015, establishes the criteria for using, testing, marking, choosing and maintaining eye protection to prevent or minimize injuries from eye hazards. ANSI updated the standard most recently in 2015; the most important part of the update is organizing equipment by hazard it counteracts.

Personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses or full-face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists. The necessary eye protection depends upon the type of hazard; the circumstances of exposure; other protective equipment used and individual vision needs.

Eyes on the Hazards

Workplace eye protection is needed when the following potential eye hazards are present: projectiles (dust, concrete, metal, wood and other particles); chemicals (splashes and fumes); radiation (especially visible light, ultraviolet radiation, heat or infrared radiation, and lasers); and bloodborne pathogens (hepatitis or HIV) from blood and body fluids.

The type of safety eye protection that should be worn depends on the hazards in the workplace:

  • If workers are in an area that has particles, flying objects or dust, workers must (at least) wear safety glasses with side protection (side shields).
  • If working with chemicals, goggles must be worn.
  • If working near hazardous radiation (welding, lasers or fiber optics) special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shields or helmets designed for that task are required.

Side shields placed on conventional glasses do not always provide enough protection to meet the OSHA requirement for many work environments. OSHA’s standard 1910.133(a)(2) states: “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects. Detachable side protectors (e.g., clip-on or slide-on side shields) meeting the pertinent requirements of this section are acceptable.”

In addition, employers need to take steps to make the work environment as safe as possible. This includes conducting an eye hazard assessment of the workplace; removing or reducing eye hazards where possible; and providing appropriate safety eyewear and requiring employees to wear it.

Another hazard of which to be aware is UV radiation. UV radiation can cause significant damage to the eyes. Protective eyewear will effectively block the harmful rays from reaching the eyes, similar to how sunscreen is used to protect the skin. UV eye protection can help avoid health problems such as retinal burns, cataracts, blindness, or acute pain and discomfort.

Another hazard comes in the form of dust. Many workers in dusty environments who wear traditional safety glasses still face challenges with dust and debris getting into the eyes. This has created a demand for foam-lined safety eyewear. Eyewear that meets ANSI Z87.1 requirement for droplet (splash) or dust protection will be marked with a code that begins with the letter “D”.

The Blues of Blue Light

In addition to the above hazards, it is estimated that the average American worker spends seven hours on the computer, either in the office or working from home, each day. This has given rise to Computer Vision Syndrome (aka, Digital Eye Strain), which refers to a group of eye and vision-related problems resulting from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone usage.

Specialty lenses are now developed to aid the computer user. These lenses provide greater convenience than other multifocal lenses. Computer lenses are made to filter out the harshest light, or “blue light.” The more bright, blue light that is filtered out, the less eyes have to strain to look at a display.

These lenses are available to also give the eyes a comfortable focusing distance from 20-26in away from the face. Other lenses may also be prescribed to give the user task-specific glasses designed for near and intermediate work. Another enhancement for the computer user is anti-reflective (AR) coating.

High Marks

ANSI Z87.1 requires markings on eye protection that relate directly to the device’s ability to defend against specific hazards. Eye protection that is Z87.1-compliant is marked with “Z87.” Additional markings fall into three categories: Impact vs. Non-Impact; Splash and Dust Protection; and Optical Radiation Protection.

ANSI Z87.1 classifies eye protection as impact- or non-impact-rated. Impact-rated eye protection must pass certain high-mass and high-velocity tests and provide eye protection from the side. Impact-rated eye protection will have a plus symbol (+). Impact-rated flat lenses, for instance, are marked “Z87+.”

A lenses’ ability to protect against radiation is indicated by a letter designation; this is often followed by a rating number.

It’s important to note that eye protection might have several markings, if it meets requirements for two or more categories. Lenses marked “Z87+L8D3D4,” for example, provide impacted-rated eye protection, glare reduction, and protection against droplets and dust. WMHS