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Ultimate Eye Protection Guide for the Workplace

A pair of IR safety glasses

In the workplace, eye injuries can be a shockingly commonplace occurrence. Each day 2000 workers in the United States alone experience job-related eye injuries that call for medical treatment.

Eye doctors and safety experts all agree that proper eye protection can prevent the vast majority of these injuries, or at the very least lessen their severity a great deal. 

It’s therefore important for organizations and workers to ensure that they use the right eye protection for their particular workplace and the hazards they may encounter therein. 

One of the most dangerous forms of eye injuries that can occur is a foreign object entering the eye, either in the form of chemicals or physical objects that can scrape or damage the cornea.

Oil and grease splashes, steam burns, IR or UV exposure, and flying wood or metal chips are all common hazards that we need to protect our workers against. 

The employees who at the highest risk of sustaining eye-related injuries are janitorial staff, laboratory staff, and healthcare workers. A worker should be extra-cautious of safeguarding their own eyes against all injuries, because, beyond physical injury, the transmission of some infectious diseases may also take place through the eye’s mucous membranes. This may result from touching your eyes with contaminated fingers, contact with respiratory droplets resulting from coughing, or exposure to blood splashes.

As we mentioned, there are two main reasons eye-related injuries still occur in the workplace:

  1. Workers not using eye protection
  2. Workers using the incorrect type of eye protection 

Let us take a closer look at the importance of using eye safety equipment at work.

How to choose the right eye protection for your workers

Workers should obviously be adequately protected for the environment that they’re expected to work, particularly when there are high odds of an injury occurring. These odds are significantly reduced in all cases when wearing the proper eye protection equipment.

The type of equipment varies by additional protection that the workspace requires, and can include full-face respirators, safety glasses, face shields, and goggles. 

For instance:

  1. Side shields, or safety glasses with side protection, are ideal for any working area with flying particles or dust.
  2. When working with chemicals, a worker should wear fully enclosed goggles to prevent splash damage. 
  3. When working close to any hazardous radiation, such as fibre optics, lasers, or welding, one should wear helmets, face shields, goggles, or special-purpose safety glasses required for the task.

Other things to consider include the worker’s other vision-related needs, such as wearing glasses, and any other equipment they need to wear which may get in the way of their eye protection.

Potential eye hazards to safeguard against at the workplace

1. Projectiles

Projectiles may be particles such as dust, wood, metal, and concrete chips. 

2. Chemicals

Dangerous chemical fumes released by chemical reactions, or splashes of chemicals harmful to the human eye. 

3. Radiation

Lasers, infrared radiation, heat and ultraviolet radiation are all forms of radiation that can potentially be harmful during prolonged or extreme exposure. 

4. Bloodborne pathogens

Many deadly diseases can be transmitted through blood or other bodily fluids, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.

May workspaces will in fact have multiplied types of eye hazards. The right eye protection for the job is the one that protects from all applicable hazards, in that case.

Who needs eye protection in the workplace?

A few of the high-risk occupations particularly vulnerable to eye injuries include:

  • Construction
  • Plumbing
  • Carpentry
  • Electrical work
  • Mining
  • Maintenance
  • Manufacturing
  • Auto repair
  • Welding

Man welding something while wearing a full-face welding mask for eye protection

How to protect workers from eye injuries:

In general, always take the following steps to protect workers from eye injuries.

  1. Be aware of the eye safety-related dangers at your workplace – do a comprehensive audit of any potential issues and their severity.
  2. Before initiating work, eliminate the hazards with the use of engineering controls, work screens, and machine guards.
  3. Only use eye protection in cases where controls can’t eliminate the hazard entirely. 
  4. Maintain all safety eyewear in a good condition. If it gets damaged, replace it immediately. 

The types of eye protection equipment:

Let’s take a look at the main types of eye protection equipment:

1. Safety glasses: Prescription and non-prescription

Safety glasses can look like normal everyday eyewear. But, they are worn to provide an additional degree of eye protection. The lenses and frames of safety glasses are significantly stronger than regular eyeglasses.

Safety glasses are useful for providing eye protection in general working conditions. They are particularly useful in work environments where there are flying particles, chips, or dust. Side shields render additional protection, for wraparound-style safety glasses.

Safety glasses are available in a range of materials, such as polycarbonate, plastic, and glass. Regardless of the material used, the safety glasses should meet or exceed the minimum requirements for eye protection. Polycarbonate lenses are known to provide the highest degree of protection against impact.

2. Eye protection goggles

Unlike glasses, goggles completely enclose the eyes in order to better protect against dust, impact and chemical splashes. Goggles can feature high impact resistance, just as in the case of safety glasses. Additionally, goggles will provide a secure shield that encompasses the entire eye and safeguards against hazards coming from any direction.

Goggles may be worn over contact lenses or prescription glasses.

3. Helmets and face shields

Full face shields are used to safeguard workers exposed to bloodborne pathogens, heat, or chemicals. Helmets, similarly, safeguard workers when their work involves molten metals or welding. 

Face shields and helmets, however, should not be the only protective eyewear that a worker uses. They should instead be used in conjunction with goggles or safety glasses. When one uses goggles or safety glasses, the protection will still be there if they need to lift the shield for any reason. 

4. Protective eyewear for harmful light or radiation

Other types of protection, in the form of goggles or helmets, which feature special filters, should be used by workers as needed.

They are used for tasks such as working with lasers and welding. For the safety glasses to provide sufficient protection, they should fit properly and be maintained in good working order. 

In cases where these glasses become scratched or dirty, they will reduce the worker’s visibility of other workplace hazards or even become ineffective at protecting against glare and radiation.

Workers also need to be trained in how to use their protective eyewear properly. They should also know about any engineering controls, or screening procedures, that are in place to supplement or replace their use of protective eyewear in case it malfunctions.

Special use-cases of protective eyewear

1. PPE and Eye Protection

Even while eye protection is an important part of PPE, goggles and glasses do not ensure full protection. The face, head, and the rest of the body can also be exposed to hazards at times. Therefore, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as hearing protection, gloves, respirators, and protective garments can also be essential in some workplaces. 

For instance, a worker may be required to combine a mask with goggles or glasses. Similarly, for protecting one’s mouth, eyes and nose, one may use a full-face respirator, half-face respirator, or a face shield. It is important to ensure that all PPE is compatible with your safety eyewear. 

2. Face shields and other face protection

Face shields, quite literally, are there to protect the workers face against workplace hazards. Face shields can safeguard workers against chemical splashes that can cause immediate skin or tissue damage. Many laboratory settings can require face shields, such as sonicating tissue samples, dispensing liquid nitrogen, and working with concentrated acids.

In most cases, face shields need to be worn along with chemical splash goggles. Similarly, respiratory protective equipment is also required in certain cases. 

A face shield typically spans from below the chin to the eyebrows. When a face shield is used for UV protection, it should safeguard the eyes and face against hazardous radiation.

Fluid-resistant shields are a category of face shields. These shields are both impact and fluid resistant. They ensure splash protection against biological or chemical fluids that can be harmful to the worker. 

Welding shields are usually made of fibreglass feature a filtered lens. This safeguards the eyes against the intensely bright light created by welding tools. The shields also safeguard the eyes and the face against slag chips, metal splatter, and sparks that are produced during cutting, soldering brazing, and welding.

3. Anti Fog Eye Protection

The vast majority of workplace-related eye injuries could be avoided with the use of the right kind of safety eyewear. Why then would workers refuse to wear them? 

One of the most common reasons is fogging. Workers become tired of constantly taking off and wiping safety glasses to clean them. In addition, every time they do take it off they expose themselves to the hazards that the glasses are meant to protect them from. This obviously needs to be avoided.

The solution is a combination of ensuring proper fit and anti-fog technology.

Fogging is exasperated in cases where:

  • Safety glasses do not fit properly
  • Workers are under physical exertion
  • In workplaces with high humidity 

Anti-fog safety eyewear features an anti-fog coating applied over the lenses during the manufacturing process. This makes the eyewear better suited for working in hot and humid conditions.

Glasses that feature sufficient ventilation can also prevent fog. If you struggle with getting workers to comply with wearing eye protection, try investing in anti-fog eyewear. 

4. Full-Face Respirator

As an advanced form of PPE, a full face respirator combines respiratory and eye protection. The degree of protection provided by a full-face respirator for eyes, mouth, and nose is superior to the protection provided by half-mask respirators and N95 respirators.

The use of a full-face respirator will safeguard a wearer against exposure to infectious diseases. They may be transmitted in the air through chemical or particulate vapours, dust, splatters, or blood droplets. Typically, the cartridge that you use for the mask will determine the degree of protection that a respirator provides, against acid gas, organic vapours, or dust filtration. 

Are contact lenses safe to use for industrial jobs?

In the case of any ocular hazards, contact lenses are not sufficient protection against them. Where they do help is in cases where improved vision can benefit the worker in complying with safety measures or spotting problems in the workplace.

There is no evidence showing wearing contact lenses boosts the risk of eye injury in the workplace, just that they don’t offer protection when it does occur.

Two of the main reasons a worker would want to wear contact lenses over glasses are:

  1. People who use contact lenses have a wider field of vision as compared to people who use eyeglasses
  2. Contact lenses have a smaller degree of visual distortion, as compared to eyeglasses, especially in the case of high power lens prescriptions

Another important advantage of using contact lenses over eyeglasses is that eye safety equipment such as full-face respirators and goggles are difficult to fit and use over eyeglasses. 

There is a range of environmental and work situations wherein the use of contact lenses is safe. But there are some cases, such as, when hazardous chemical fumes are present, in which they may not be. 

We recommend checking with your employer and any applicable safety engineers in your workplace. A qualified optometrist can also advise you and your employer.

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