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The How and Why of OSHA’s eTool for Eye and Face Protection

By Maureen Paraventi, Editor

As workplace eye protection has improved and evolved, the task of selecting the right safety glasses or goggles has become much more complicated. Trying to choose the eye protection that is right for both the application and the user means taking into account hazards, materials and regulations that are relevant to this form of personal protective equipment (PPE). It can be a daunting task, especially since making the wrong choice or failing to adhere to regulatory requirements can result in a worker being injured and a company being fined. Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection.1

Among the many eTools in OSHA’s online toolbox is one which applies to operations involving potential eye and face hazards. This resource can simplify the selection process for safety managers.

Here is What the eTool Offers

The Eye and Face Protection eTool1 is designed to provide compliance assistance information to employers and employees. It includes:

  • What should be included in a hazard assessment
  • Regulatory requirements on fitting and maintenance of eye protection, along with training workers on how to use it
  • How to deal with contacts or prescription lenses

Standards for general requirements, general industry and the maritime and construction industries are all referenced.

The Hazard Assessment Module

Before assigning PPE to workers, the employer must first assess the workplace and determine if hazards that necessitate the use of eye and face protection are present or are likely to be present.

Hazards that can cause eye injuries range from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals and acids or caustic liquids to chemical gases or vapors, as well as injurious light radiation.

The Hazard Assessment Module identifies tasks that are commonly related to specific hazards. For example, flying objects such as large chips, fragments, particles, sand and dirt can occur when a worker is performing chipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, wood working, sawing, drilling, chiseling, powered fastening, riveting or sanding. While handling acids, chemicals or blood, or doing degreasing or plating, a worker’s eyes and face can be exposed to splashes, fumes, vapors and irritating mists. Furnace operations, pouring, casting, hot dipping and welding pose heat hazards, and woodworking and buffing can send harmful dust into the eyes. Radiant energy that can damage the cornea, glare and intense light are produced by welding, torch-cutting, brazing, soldering and laser work.

It’s important to keep in mind that hazard exposures may not be isolated. Potential combinations of hazards must be taken account. Employers must also make efforts to protect workers’ eyes against the highest level of each hazard.

Training Workers on the Use of Eye Protection

Using safety eyewear sounds intuitive, doesn’t it? The worker should just…put it on. However, as OSHA spells out in 29 CFR 1910.132(f), there’s more to it than that. For instance, employees need to be trained on when eye protection is necessary as well as what eye protection is necessary. Do they need to don it only for specific tasks or when they’re in certain areas of the facility? (Both of those questions can be answered by using the results of the hazard assessment.) Training must also include how to properly don, doff, adjust and wear PPE, as well as how to take care of it (and how to tell when its useful life is over).

Retraining is required if there are changes in the workplace, changes in the type of eye protection being used or, if the employee doesn’t appear to understand the training he or she has already received.

If Eye Protection Doesn’t Fit, it Won’t Protect

Fit gets considerable attention in 29 CFR1926.102(a)(6)(iii) because it is key to both comfort – so that workers won’t be tempted to remove safety eyewear – and efficacy. A proper fit keeps the device in the correct position and, when appropriate, forms a protective seal to keep out dust and chemical splashes. Welding helmets and face shields that don’t fit properly may fall off during work operations. The Eye and Face Protection eTool covers who should do the fitting and how prescription safety spectacles and devices with adjustable features should be fitted.

There’s lots more information available online, like what to do if an eye injury does occur, which standards eye and face protection must comply with and what minimum requirements it must meet. Maintenance, cleaning and storage are also covered in detail. These three are not throwaway items. Damaged eyewear can reduce visibility, for example, and safety glasses that were previously used by one employee must be disinfected before assigned to another – especially with the prevention of COVID-19 transmission being of paramount importance. Careful storage of goggles and spectacles will help keep items clean and free of damage – both of which can affect their ability to provide protection to wearers. WMHS

  1. osha.gov/SLTC/etools/eyeandface

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