Injuries and Illness

Common Workplace Eye Hazards and What to Do About Them

Flying objects, chemicals, and dust are among the most common workplace eye hazards. Today, we highlight requirements for protecting employees against these hazards.

OSHA requires you to assess the hazards faced by your employees in order to determine the appropriate eye and face protection for the job (29 CFR 1910.133).
 
Three of the most common workplace eye and face hazards are flying objects, hazardous chemicals, and dust. And the most common of these three is flying objects.

Flying objects are believed to cause the majority of workplace eye injuries, and more than half the objects involved are smaller than the head of a pin.

Hazards might include:

  • Fragments
  • Chips
  • Particles
  • Sand and dirt

Depending on operations these objects may be bits of wood, metal, plastic, or other material.

Work processes that might put workers at risk of flying object eye and face injuries include:

  • Chipping
  • Grinding
  • Machining
  • Masonry work
  • Wood working
  • Sawing
  • Drilling
  • Chiseling
  • Powered fastening
  • Riveting
  • Sanding

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Suitable eye protection for flying object hazards depends on the type and extent of the hazard. For example, safety glasses with side shields are appropriate protection for many jobs. On the other hand, safety goggles are preferred for jobs with many flying objects.

Polycarbonate lenses provide the best impact resistance and can also be coated to resist scratches.

A face shield should be required for jobs in which flying objects could injure the face as well as the eyes.

Hazardous Chemicals

Chemicals in the workplace can pose a significant risk to eyesight if proper precautions are not taken. There are many types of chemicals used in manufacturing, construction, and other jobs that can blind or severely injure eyesight if proper eye protection is not worn.

Some of the most hazardous chemicals, such as acids and other corrosives, can injure worker’s eyes within minutes, if not seconds, upon contact. These injuries are more likely to be permanent, and a worker could end up losing sight in one or both eyes.

Splashes, sprays, mists, and vapors could all cause harmful exposures to unprotected eyes and faces. Any employee who handles chemicals on the job or works in an area where chemicals are used or stored is at risk.

Required eye protection for hazardous chemicals includes:

  • Chemical-resistant goggles
  • Face shield over goggles for severe exposure risk

Make sure workers understand that a face shield alone is never adequate protection when working with hazardous chemicals. Goggles must always be worn under a face shield. Be sure to enforce this rule!

Dust

Depending on the type of dust, and the amount in the air, these tiny particles can pose a real threat to eyesight. As a result eye protection is often required for employees who work in dusty conditions.

Dust can cause eye irritation, redness, and abrasion. While irritation and redness can be uncomfortable, abrasions to the cornea of the eye are more serious and may require medical follow-up. Such injuries can even put a worker on the sick list for days.

Goggles with a tight seal around the eyes provide the best eye protection for dusty work environments.


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Inspection

To be sure eye and face protection does the job and prevents injuries, employees must be trained and required to inspect this essential PPE before each use.

Employees should check:

  • Lenses and shields for cracks and scratches
  • Frames, nose pieces, goggle body, and side shields on safety glasses for damage and proper fit
  • Head bands for fit and condition

Workers should be instructed to replace any eye or face protection that is not in good condition. Be sure to explain the procedure for acquiring new PPE and proper disposal of damaged or worn items so that they won’t be mistakenly used by someone else. And make it easy for workers to get new equipment or they’ll just keep using the old eyewear, which will greatly increase the risk of injury.

Tomorrow, we’ll turn the spotlight on eyewash stations.

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