A company might issue you tools, safety equipment, and some kind of protective clothing, but there is one thing that cannot be issued - a new set of eyes. If something happens to your eyes, there is no quick fix. Medical science can replace a lot of things on and in your body, but when your eyes are gone, they are gone forever.
Each day nearly 2,000 American workers suffer the pain of avoidable workplace eye injuries that require medical treatment. Despite the elevated risk of eye injury in some industries, many workers skip the precautions who could protect their eyes. In fact, nearly three out of every five workers that experience an eye injury are wearing either the wrong kind of eye protection, or no protection at all at the time of the accident.
In addition to the physical toll exacted by these injuries, they also come at a great cost to businesses, amounting to an estimated $300 million annually in medical bills, compensation and downtime.
Lost productivity is another significant consequence. Among private industry employees in 2008, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) there were more than 27,000 reported days away from work due to eye injuries.
You need to take the proper precautions and protect your eyes. If you don’t, it’s possible to lose the precious gift of sight, meaning you may never see your wife, husband, or children again.
Our eyes are amazing and as a single part of the human sense spectrum are used to evaluate and respond to our environment. The eye allows us to see by reacting to light particles via an arrangement of rods and cones situated in the retina.
We use them for more than just vision. Not only do they allow conscious light perception and colour differentiation, they also send messages to the brain to enable us to perceive depths and distance.
Any potential injury can have a high cost as permanent damage to one eye may result in the loss of these combined functions.
Eye protection and the law
In the UK, the wearing of eye and face protection in hazardous areas is a requirement under Regulation 4 of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations, 1992.
These regulations have replaced the Protection of Eyes Regulations, 1974, which have now been repealed. Regulation 4 requires employers to provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees who may be exposed to risks to their health and safety.
It is a good thing to remember that OSHA - the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the United States - rules establish minimum standards for both employer and employee. Below is a portion of the standard which deals with eye and face protection.
“The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metals, liquids, chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapours, or potentially injurious light radiation.”
What are the potential hazards?
Potential eye hazards against which protection is needed in the workplace are:
• Projectiles - dust, concrete, metal, wood and other particles
• Chemicals - splashes and fumes
• Radiation - especially visible light, ultraviolet radiation, heat or infrared radiation, and lasers
• Blood borne pathogens - hepatitis or HIV - from blood and body fluids
The best methods of eye protection differ for each type of hazard. The protector must be matched to the potential hazard.
High risk occupations for eye injuries include:
• Auto repair
• Electrical work
The type of safety eye protection you should wear depends on the hazards in your workplace:
• If you are working in an area that has particles, flying objects or dust, you must at least wear safety glasses with side protection, or side shields
• If you are working with chemicals, you must wear goggles
• If you are working near hazardous radiation - welding, lasers, or fibre optics - you must use special purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shields, or helmets designed for that task
What contributes to eye injuries?
• Not wearing eye protection. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that nearly three out of every five workers injured were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident
• Wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. About 40 of the injured workers were wearing some form of eye protection when the accident occurred. These workers were most likely to be wearing eyeglasses with no side shields, although injuries among employees wearing full-cup or flat-fold side shields occurred as well
Causes of eye injuries
• Foreign particles such as dust, dirt, metal, wood chips, even an eyelash can cause eye damage. These get into the eye from the wind or activities like chipping, grinding, sawing, brushing, hammering, or from power tools, equipment, and machinery. Flush the object out with water. Never rub or try to remove objects embedded in the eye. This can cause further damage. Loosely bandage eyes to stop movement then seek professional care
• Chemical splashes from solvents, paints, hot liquids, or other hazardous solutions can cause great damage. Go immediately to the nearest emergency shower or water source. Look directly into the stream of water. With fingers hold eyes open and flush eyes for at least 15 minutes
• Light burns can be caused from exposure to welding, lasers, or other radiant light. Their effect may not be felt until hours later when the eyes begin to feel gritty and become sensitive to light, then redness or swelling may occur. Keep eyes closed while awaiting medical attention
• Bumps and blows to the eyes can be helped if a cold compress is applied for 15 minutes to reduce pain and swelling
• Cuts in or around the eyes should be loosely bandaged to stop any eye movement until professionally attended. Don’t rub, press, or wash the cut - this can cause further damage
How can I protect my eyes?
There are four things you can do to protect your eyes from injury:
• Know the eye safety dangers at your workplace
• Eliminate hazards before starting work by using machine guards, work screens or other engineering controls
• Use proper eye protection
• Keep your safety eyewear in good condition and have it replaced if it becomes damaged
Common risk factors
Factors in the workplace that increase the risk of eye injury may include:
• The employer doesn’t supply any eye protection
• The employer supplies eye protection but workers won’t wear it
• The employer doesn’t enforce the use of eye protection or train the workers in how to use protection equipment
• Neither the employer nor the workers appreciate the potential for injury and don’t think to use eye protection
• The eye protection is inadequate, such as the use of glasses when the job requires a face shield
• The eye protection doesn’t fit properly; for example, the glasses are loose and allow particles to enter from the sides
• Only the operator of the machine wears eye protection, so anyone in the vicinity who is not wearing eye protection is at risk from flying particles
• The workers don’t know how to properly operate the equipment or tools
• The equipment isn’t maintained in good repair
• Work involves the use of metal on metal, such as hammer and chisels
Every day an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces. The financial cost of these injuries is enormous - more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and workers’ compensation. No dollar figure can adequately reflect the personal toll these accidents take on the injured workers.
OSHA requires the use of eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented by such equipment. Personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists.
The eye protection chosen for specific work situations depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, other protective equipment used, and individual vision needs.
How to prevent eye injuries
Always wear effective eye protection. OSHA standards require that employers provide workers with suitable eye protection. To be effective, the eyewear must be of the appropriate type for the hazard encountered and properly fitted.
For example, a survey showed that 94% of the injuries to workers wearing eye protection resulted from objects or chemicals going around or under the protector. Eye protective devices should allow for air to circulate between the eye and the lens. Only 13 workers in the aforementioned BLS report who were injured while wearing eye protection reported breakage.
Nearly one fifth of the injured workers with eye protection wore face shields or welding helmets. Only six percent of the workers injured while wearing eye protection wore goggles, which generally offer better protection for the eyes. Best protection is afforded when goggles are worn with face shields.
Better training and education
Most workers are hurt while doing their regular jobs. Workers injured while not wearing protective eyewear most often said they believed it was not required by the situation, suggesting better training is needed.
Even though the vast majority of employers furnished eye protection at no cost to employees, about 40% of the workers received no eye safety training on where and what kind of eyewear should be used.
Eye protection devices must be properly maintained. Scratched and dirty devices reduce vision, because of glare and may contribute to accidents.
Types of eye protection
Selection of protective eyewear appropriate for a given task should be made based on a hazard assessment of each activity. Types of eye protection include:
1. Non-prescription and prescription safety glasses - although safety glasses may look like normal dress eyewear, they are designed to provide significantly more eye protection. They have lenses and frames that are much stronger than regular eyeglasses. In the United States, safety glasses must meet standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Look for the Z87 mark on the lens or frame.
Safety glasses provide eye protection for general working conditions where there may be dust, chips or flying particles. Additional side protection can be provided by the use of side shields and wraparound style safety glasses.
2. Goggles - Goggles provide impact, dust and chemical splash protection. Like safety glasses, safety goggles are highly impact resistant. In addition, they provide a secure shield around the entire eye and protect against hazards coming from any direction.
Goggles can be worn over prescription glasses and contact lenses to provide protection from flying objects and chemical splashes, and in dusty environments.
3. Face shields and helmets - full face shields are used to protect workers exposed to chemicals, heat, or blood borne pathogens. Helmets are used for welding or working with molten materials. Face shields and helmets should not be used as the sole means of protective eyewear. They need to be used in conjunction with safety glasses or goggles. Wearing safety glasses or goggles under face shields also provides protection when the shield is lifted.
4. Special protection - other types of protection, such as helmets or goggles with special filters to protect the eyes from optical radiation exposure, should be used for tasks such as welding or working with lasers.
One way to ensure that safety glasses provide adequate protection is to be sure they fit properly. Also, eye protection devices must be properly maintained. Scratched and dirty devices reduce vision, cause glare and may contribute to accidents.
Protective eyewear works best when you know how to use it properly. Combined with machine guards, screened or divided work stations, and other engineering controls, using the correct protective eyewear can help keep you safe from any type of eye hazard.
Choosing appropriate protection
Many injuries in industrial workplace settings occur due to improper eye safety, whether because the worker was wearing the improper safety eyewear or not wearing eye protection at all.
Understanding the possible eye hazards and the types of protection available is critical to ensuring a safe workplace. Molten metal, harmful liquids and chemicals, and intense light radiation are just a few examples of dangers that can lead to serious injury through direct contact or exposure.
With various styles, types and features, protective eyewear can prevent injuries from occurring. Be sure to choose the right protective eyewear for the job.
What should be done in an eye emergency?
Seek medical attention as soon as possible following an injury, particularly if you have pain in the eye, blurred vision, loss of vision or loss of field of vision. There are several simple first aid steps that can and should be taken until medical assistance is obtained.
First aid for eye emergencies:
1. Chemicals in the eye
• Immediately flush the eye with water for at least 15 minutes. Place the eye under a faucet or shower, use a garden hose, or pour water into the eye from a clean container
• If you are wearing contact lenses, do not wait to remove the lenses. Begin flushing the eye immediately. This may wash the lens out of the eye
• Do not try to neutralise the chemical with other substances
• Do not bandage the eye
• Seek immediate medical attention after flushing
2. Particles in the eye
• Do not rub the eye
• Try to let your tears wash the speck out or irrigate the eye with an artificial tear solution
• Try lifting the upper eyelid outward and down over the lower eyelid to remove the particle
• If the particle does not wash out, keep the eye closed, bandage it lightly and seek medical care
3. Blows to the eye
• Gently apply a cold compress without putting pressure on the eye. Crushed ice in a plastic bag can be placed gently on the injured eye to reduce pain and swelling
• In cases of severe pain or reduced vision, seek immediate medical care
4. Cuts and punctures to the eye or eyelid
• Do not wash out the eye
• Do not attempt to remove an object that is stuck in the eye
• Cover the eye with a rigid shield, like the bottom half of a paper cup
• Seek immediate medical care
Once again, remember you are on your last pair of eyes. OSHA and company rules demand the use of eye protection for certain jobs. Different jobs and locations require different kinds of eye protection. All employees should be told what kind of eye protection to wear, when to wear it, and where it should be worn.
In the end, all the company does to protect your eyes will not be effective unless you cooperate. You are the only person who can make sure you wear the proper eye protection at the necessary and required times.
You should never neglect eye protection just because a specific job does not demand it. This is where you must use common sense and exercise good safety practises to provide yourself with that extra margin of safety for your eyes. If there is ever any doubt in your mind about the eye protection needed on any job or in any location, consult your supervisor. Don’t guess and possibly spend the rest of your life with the ultimate consequence of blindness.
Published: 19th Dec 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East