Each day, across the U.S., almost 2,000 workers suffer eye injuries that require medical treatment. Along with the potential personal devastation that comes with an eye injury, OSHA estimates that these types of accidents cost businesses over $300 million per year. Sadly, experts believe that, in as many as 90% of these cases, eye damage could have been lessened or completely avoided—if workers had been wearing personal eye protection.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, small objects, such as wood chips, metal slivers, sparks or dust, cause the majority of workplace eye injuries. Larger objects, such as nails, staples and screws, and some tools, also pose a significant threat to the unprotected eye. While less frequent, burns from chemicals and even cleaning products may be just as serious.
How to Find the Optimal Protective Eyewear
For the most part, protective eyewear comes in two types: safety glasses and safety goggles. Finding the best protection for any given situation requires an evaluation of the workplace environment and its potential hazards.
Typical safety concerns fall into at least one of four different categories: mechanical, temperature, chemical or radiation. Mechanical hazards consist mainly of flying particles generated by tools or machines. Metal splashes, hot liquids and intense heat radiation fall into the temperature category. Laser light or UV radiation are two examples of radiation dangers. Chemical hazards include cleaning fluids, gasses, chemical splashes and, at times, even dust.
In general, safety glasses work fine in preventing most mechanical and radiation injuries. Environments where chemical or temperature hazards come into play usually require the more comprehensive coverage that goggles provide.
Lens material also plays an important part in choosing the proper personal eye protection. Acrylic, polycarbonate, NXT polyurethane and optical glass are the four most common materials used in protective lenses. Each has its own set of pros and cons.
Polycarbonate lenses provide excellent impact and scratch resistance; are light in weight; and offer good UV protection. However, their optical clarity falls below that of NXT polyurethane or optical glass. Also lightweight and scratch-resistant, NXT Polyurethane (Trivex) offers excellent optical clarity. Acrylic lenses protect best against solvents, but tend to scratch easily and don’t hold up as well as the others. Heavier optical glass lenses provide excellent scratch resistance and distortion-free vision, but have poor impact resistance. Optical glass and polyurethane lenses typically cost more than their acrylic and polycarbonate counterparts.
To provide sufficient coverage, protective eyewear should be either adjustable or fitted to each worker. Along with the proper level of protection, comfort also matters when choosing proper workplace eyewear. Safety glasses sitting on the shelf or in the shirt pocket serve no purpose. Some comfort enhancing features found on today’s safety eyewear include:
- Cushioned brows
- Adjustable lenses
- Anti-fog lenses
- An interchangeable head strap
- Padded or gel nose-bridges
- Vented frames
- Flexible temples
Looks are also a factor to consider when it comes to protective eyewear and worker compliance. Features such as mirrored lenses, wraparound frames and sport styling encourage workers to put their glasses on and keep them on—especially on outdoor job-sites.
Another Good Reason to Provide Proper Eye Protection
Aside from the personal devastation that eye injuries cause, companies that don’t provide proper safety gear and enforce safety protocols may find themselves financially liable, as well.
In one recent settlement, a construction worker received $2.65 million for permanent damage incurred when a nail ricocheted backward and struck his left eye. The worker claimed that he had requested protective eyewear, but was instructed to work without it. Another case highlights the importance of enforcing safety rules. In this case, a 20-year-old electrician was standing on a ladder and working on a ceiling and not wearing eye protection, when another employee grabbed his leg as a prank. Startled, the man pulled his wire cutters into his right eye.
Although the injured man wasn’t wearing the required eye protection, a jury found both the construction company and their employee 80% at fault, and they awarded $1.6 million dollars. Although the company provided the injured party with safety glasses, and he chose not to wear them, a jury still found him only 10% liable for the incident.
Considering that safety eyewear for most applications costs less than $5 per pair, employers have no excuse not to provide workers with the proper protection. Providing the correct safety gear and enforcing safety protocols protects workers from personal injury; saves money; creates a professional workplace atmosphere; and, most of all, is the right the thing to do. WMHS