Safety Articles

Article # 4103

Courtesy of: Uvex Safety

OSHA cites a shocking statistic in its Eye Protection Fact Sheet. The report indicates that an estimated 9 out of 10 occupational related eye injuries can be avoided through the use of proper protective eyewear. This regular occurrence of avoidable injuries underscores the critical need for industry to actively promote widespread use of safety eyewear.

To reduce the incidence of avoidable eye injury, OSHA requires employers and workers to use properly designed eye protection. To that end, the eye and face protection standards require employers to ensure that employees wear appropriate eye protection when exposed to eye hazards such as flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapor, or potentially injurious light radiation. Sideshields also are required in situations where employees are exposed to the hazards of flying objects.

In addition, employees who regularly wear prescription lenses must have eye protection that either incorporates their prescription into the safety lens or they must wear eye protection that can be worn over prescription lenses without disturbing the proper positioning of either the prescription lenses or the protective lenses.

The standards are straight forward, but according to a market study conducted by Future Technology Survey in 1995, at least 40 percent of the 20 million employees required by these standards to wear eye and face protection, do not. The next logical question is, "Why not?"

Studies continue to show that workers suffering eye injuries often believe protective eyewear is not required for the task that they are performing. Beyond the implementation of the OSHA standards, employee education is key to reducing on-the-job eye injuries. Each employee needs to fully understand how to determine when a situation calls for protective eyewear and how to choose the safety eye best suited for that situation. Comprehensive training materials have been made available through Prevent Blindness America and certain manufacturers now provide training videos, hazard assessment surveys or other supplemental materials that can be used to help establish on-the-job training programs.

Design is another important factor that affects whether workers wear protective eyewear. In general, employees tend not to wear protective eyewear that fits poorly, is uncomfortable or is unattractive. In fact, statistics show 57 percent of workers suffering from eye injuries are between 20 and 34 years of age. Technological and design improvements have allowed for the development of safety eyewear that resembles popular sport and sunglass styles. Because these designs are more appealing to workers, they are more likely to wear safety eyewear.

Comfort and Fit
Aside from the look of the eyewear, comfort and fit also are critical design features. Heavy or uncomfortable protective eyewear tends not to be worn. Lightweight frames, weighing less than 50 grams, and comfort cushioned adjustable temples relieve pressure at the sensitive area behind the ear.

Many safety spectacles are "one size fits all," but one size does not necessarily fit all employees. Although a standard frame is suitable for many employees, an employee with a slender facial profile may need a slim frame. Custom bridges have been designed for employees with a low profile nasal area.

Even though prescription eyewear is available for corrective lens wearers, over-the-glass (OTG) eyewear is available for those employees who prefer to cover their personal prescription lenses with safety spectacles. Employers should offer a full range of sizes, so employees have the option to choose eyewear that is best suited to their needs.

Lens fogging is another serious issue because it can blur or distort vision. Many workers remove, if only temporarily, their safety eyewear when it fogs and frequently do not replace their spectacles until the task is completed. This contributes to eye injuries. Today, a new antifog coating that combines hydrophilic (water absorbing) and hydrophobic (water shedding) features in one permanently bonded dual action coating to minimize fogging in the most extreme work environments reduces the incidence of fogging. If employees work in environments where fogging could be a problem, employers must provide eyewear with a permanent antifog lens coating.

Off-the-job Injuries
These technological and design improvements should have a positive impact on employee compliance, but eye safety "off-the-job" and around the home also should be considered. It is vital that employers stress the importance of eye safety in both work and non-work environments.

Employers ultimately pay a price for all eye injuries regardless of where they occur. Whether an eye injury occurs on the job or in the home, it can cause an employee to suffer temporary or permanently impaired vision and lose time from work. According to Prevent Blindness America, 41 percent of all eye injuries occur "after hours" and employee injuries can result in sick or disability leave, lost productivity, higher workers' compensation costs and increased medical insurance costs.

It is always in the best interest of employers to reinforce proper eye safety habits by encouraging employees to practice safe sight at home. Company sponsored family outings or picnics present opportunities to distribute complimentary safety eyewear. In addition, some employers offer employees the opportunity to purchase safety eyewear for home use at a reduced price.