A keen eye is the mark of an excellent craftsman: The perfectly balanced level, the even bead of caulking, and the expertly laid shingle are a testament to this invaluable talent. But the worksites where these skills are on show are also packed with dangers for your eyes: More than 65,000 work-related eye injuries and illnesses, causing significant morbidity and disability, are reported in the United States annually. These injuries can be caused by:
- Flying shards of fragmented material
- Stray nails
- Molten metal
- Acids or caustic liquids
- Fine particles like grit and dust that scatter when mixing cement
Without proper eye protection, debris can cause a wide range of injuries - like irritation, temporary loss of vision, and permanent blindness. In the worst-case scenario, these irritants can even lead to the loss of an eye.
The full impact of an eye injury can be hard to recognize until it’s too late. The obvious consequences are physical: discomfort, pain, and loss of sight. However, the damage can be far-reaching. Workers who suffer an injury to their vision may:
- Struggle to enjoy activities they loved before their accident
- Find their freedom limited by not being able to drive or complete household tasks
- Find themselves unable to work - and unable to provide for their families
Workers and employers alike should do all they can to educate themselves in the proper procedure for preventing these accidents. Many safety experts claim that proper eye protection can prevent over 90% of serious workplace eye injuries. In fact, some statistics have shown that nearly 3/5 workers who suffer eye injuries are wearing the wrong protection or none at all.
So why do these accidents happen?
Below are the three most common reasons workers do not wear safety glasses, and what you can do to handle them.
Complaint: “I’ve done this task a thousand times without eye protection and never got hurt before.”
Solution: Remind workers that they are not the only factor at play
Proper safety training is crucial to protecting your team - especially your veteran workers. Most construction professionals are comfortable with the equipment they use every day, and know how to properly deploy it on site. Unfortunately the reality is, there are countless external factors that can cause an accident. Coworker may set up equipment incorrectly (causing debris to fly in an unexpected way), equipment may fail, handled material could be manufactured unevenly (causing normal procedures to go poorly).
You never know when issues will occur, so even if a dangerous task has been completed without eye protection in the past, you should thank your lucky stars and not think yourself immune to workplace hazards. The best course of action is to regroup and enforce stricter policies going forward.
Complaint: “My safety glasses are uncomfortable so I don’t like to wear them.”
Solution: Have alternative styles and listen to feedback.
Feedback is essential to make sure every team member is comfortable wearing the safety equipment they are asked to use. If a particular type of safety glasses is causing irritation (because they are too tight, pinching the nose, etc.), the supervisor should provide alternative options.
OSHA requires eye protection that is reasonably comfortable, so it is imperative to listen to staff. If eye protection is comfortable and appropriate, employees are far more likely to comply with safety requirements.
Complaint: “My glasses kept fogging up so I took them off.”
Solution: Invest in higher quality lenses.
We all know foggy lenses are the worst. If you can’t see clearly, the situation is just as dangerous as having no eye protection. Imagine driving a car with the windshield completely fogged!
Without 100% clear vision, workers may accidentally stick their hand into rotating equipment and lose a finger or get burns from touching hot materials they can't see properly. The best way to combat this threat is to invest in better lenses. Anti-fog and Indoor/Outdoor lenses are manufactured specifically to reduce these problems and keep your team protected in situations that create fog or glare.
Whatever reason your team members have for refusing eye protection, it is essential to listen to their feedback and deal with the problem immediately. It is wise to have several types of eye protection available on-site as a backup and have regular check-ins with your team to understand how their current PPE is (or isn’t) working.
Glasses, Goggles, or Face Shield?
The three basic levels of eye protection are safety glasses, safety goggles, and face shields. Below is a basic guideline for what each level is used for, highlighting the major differences between the three.
The least protective but most comfortable. Goggles guard the eyes from flying debris and scattered materials. They should be used when the eyes do not need to be fully enclosed, but still require a protective layer. Understand - and explain to your team - that workplace eyewear must meet ANSI Z87 standards (this means standard sunglasses are not sufficient)! Safety glasses should be impact resistant to protect the face from fast moving debris.
Necessary on jobsites where workers may encounter high densities of small particles or when working with molten metal/hot liquids. Goggles provide a tight seal around the eyes to prevent hazardous materials from slipping behind the lens and getting into the eye.
Goggles tend to fog up more than glasses, so investing in anti-fog lenses or ventilated goggles is advised - despite the added cost - to ensure the equipment is safe and comfortable to use in diverse work environments.
Offer the most coverage of all standard eye protection equipment. Instead of just protecting the area immediately surrounding the eyes, face shields guard the whole front of the skull.
Kettle operators and sheet metal shop workers should always use full face shields. Face shields are a great option when there are particles spraying at high speed from many directions. In some cases, the job at hand requires two layers of protection, and goggles can be worn underneath a face shield to ensure workers’ safety.
Even if you have provided all of the necessary equipment, do not neglect to have an eye wash station available on-site in case of emergency. Every person on the job should know where this station is in case of emergency. While the focus should be to prevent these emergencies from happening, a clear plan of action should be explicitly communicated to your team so they know what to do if something goes wrong. We will be covering this contingency in a later blog post
More than 700,000 Americans injure their eyes at work every year. 630,000 of these injuries can be prevented with due diligence. Look out for your team by getting the right eye protection for every job, every time.
Wishing you a happy and safe workplace,
Wryker’s Safety Team