Health and Wellness, Personnel Safety

A Look at Eye and Face Protection

Have you provided your employees with the appropriate level of eye and face protection? Eye hazards include chemicals, lasers, objects and particles, and arc welding, which show up across a wide spectrum of industries, and employers are subject to one or another of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for eye and face protection.

eye and face protection

In fact, the agency’s construction industry eye and face protection standard (29 CFR §1926.102) is OSHA’s ninth most frequently cited standard. OSHA cited 1,369 violations in fiscal year 2020 (October 2019–September 2020).

In addition to a construction industry standard, there also are federal general industry (§1910.133), shipyard (§1915.153), and longshoring (§1918.101) standards for eye and face protection.

During OSHA construction site inspections, agency inspectors often will cite eye and face protection violations along with other frequently citated violations, like those for fall protection, head protection, and ladders standards. This past spring, the agency cited a Philadelphia homebuilder for willful, serious violations of the eye and face protection standard when inspectors found employees lacked eye and face protection, exposing them to struck-by hazards posed by pneumatic nailers and portable circular saws. Inspectors also found employees were exposed to fall hazards, and they cited the contractor for serious violations of the electrical safety, head protection, and ladder safety standards.

OSHA cited another builder with willful violations of the eye and face protection standard, along with exposing employees to fall hazards at three separate worksites in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, area, seeking $605,371 in penalties.

The agency cited a Maine roofer with a serious violation of the eye protection standard for not ensuring employees performing nailing had safety glasses to protect their eyes from flying objects. It was just 1 of 17 cited egregious willful, repeat, and serious workplace safety violations, with the agency proposing nearly $1.8 million in penalties.

Work-related eye injuries

The proper selection and use of eye and face protection can prevent occupational eye injuries. Thousands of workers are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries, according to OSHA.

Eye injuries include getting scraped or struck by an object. Most eye injuries result from small objects or particles such as cement chips, dust, metal slivers, and wood chips scraping or striking the eye. Such materials often fall from above a worker, are ejected by tools, or are windblown. A worker may run into an object, causing blunt-force trauma to the eyeball or eye socket, or large objects may strike the eye or face.

Objects like nails, staples, or slivers of metal or wood may penetrate the eyeball, resulting in a permanent loss of vision. Other eye injuries include chemical or thermal burns. Cleaning products and industrial chemicals are common causes of chemical burns to one or both eyes.

Thermal burns to the eye can occur, often among welders. Thermal burns routinely damage workers’ eyes and the surrounding tissue. OSHA’s welding, cutting, and brazing standard contains its own eye protection requirements (§1910.252(b)(2)). These include goggles, helmets, and shields. All welding operations require a specific level of shading for lenses.

Eye and face hazards may include acid or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, flying particles, liquid chemicals, molten metal, and potentially injurious light radiation (lasers, torches, welding).

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) at a multispecialty hospital, where employees exposed to a new cleaning product reported symptoms that included burning eyes, nose, and throat; cough; dizziness; exacerbation of asthma; headache; nausea; nose bleeds; runny nose; and skin burns and rashes. Investigators looked at the use of a sporicidal product containing hydrogen peroxide, peracetic acid, and acetic acid, finding all three ingredients in all full-shift air samples. Researchers also found that splashes and spills of the cleaning product resulted in eye or skin irritation.

The institute recommended that employees wear goggles or a face shield, as well as extended-cuff nitrile or rubber gloves, when using cleaning supplies.

For occupations or work tasks that involve exposure to lasers, you must provide employees with suitable laser safety goggles designed for protection for the specific wavelength of the laser and that are of an optical density (O.D.) adequate for the energy involved. §1926.102(c)(2)(i) contains a table for selecting appropriate laser safety glasses. Laser safety glasses must be marked with the laser wavelengths for which they are intended, the O.D. of those wavelengths, and visible light transmission.

Industrial equipment standards

Eye and face protection devices must meet one of the industry consensus standards for safety gear:

  • ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices;
  • ANSI Z87.1-2003, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices; or
  • ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R-1998), Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection.

Eye protection must be maintained in good condition, and you must clean and disinfect an eye protection device before issuing it for another employee’s use. If an employee wears prescription eyeglasses, the eye protection you provide must be a type that can be worn over glasses. Your employee may wear prescription-ground safety glasses instead if they provide an equivalent level of eye protection.

Side protection must be attached to or integrated into each eye protection device but can include clip-on or slide-on side shields. Eye and face protection gear must be clearly marked with the manufacturer’s identity and provide adequate protection from the hazards for which it is designed. It must fit snugly but must be reasonably comfortable and not interfere with the wearer’s movements or work tasks. Gear must be durable, easily cleanable, and capable of being disinfected.

This past spring, OSHA cited a Waterville, Maine, auto body manufacturer with a serious violation of the agency’s general industry eye and face protection standard. Agency inspectors found employees working with hazardous liquids were provided with safety glasses that did not seal between the glasses and face. Employees working with a liquid containing phosphoric acid should have been provided with chemical splash goggles. Along with citations for fall protection and occupational noise violations, the company faced fines totaling $393,992.

You may also need to provide eyewashes for eye protection.

You can find guidance for workplace eyewashes and emergency showers in the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1, Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment consensus standard, which covers location and flow specifications.

Microorganisms can grow in stagnant water, and eyewash stations in facilities or worksites shut down during the start of the pandemic may have become contaminated. Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease, is a common contaminant in stagnant water. Others include amoeba, which can cause a harmful eye infection known as Acanthamoeba keratitis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Eyewash stations may need to be flushed as part of reopening procedures in facilities and sites that have remained dormant. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) included remedial water system actions as part of its “Recovering from COVID-19 Building Closures” guidance.

Bloodborne pathogens (BBP)

OSHA’s BBP standard (§1910.1030) also requires the use of eye protection devices, such as chin-length face shields, glasses, or goggles worn with masks, to protect healthcare workers from eye, nose, or mouth contamination whenever droplets of blood or splashes, sprays, spatters of blood, or other potentially infectious materials may be generated. Personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements under the BBP standard also include protective clothing such as aprons, clinic jackets, gowns, hoods or surgical caps, lab coats, or similar garments.

The BBP standard relies heavily on the use of engineering and work practice controls like needlestick prevention devices and sharps disposal as part of an exposure control plan developed through a hazard determination process. BBP requirements for PPE, such as eye face shields, goggles, and masks or respirators, apply to dental practices, as well as medical facilities.

California’s aerosol transmissible disease (ATD) standard includes PPE requirements. Last year, the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued guidance clarifying the rule’s requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ATD standard applies to correctional and healthcare facilities, as well as emergency services. Appropriate PPE under the rule includes coveralls or gowns, eye and face protection, gloves, and respirators.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend the use of face shields or goggles as a substitute for face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. While a face shield may reduce the wearer’s exposure to aerosols, a face shield is intended as eye and face protection, not respiratory protection. A face covering primarily functions as a source control, trapping the wearer’s aerosolized respiratory droplets.

However, eye protection such as face shields or goggles may be used in healthcare settings, along with other PPE such as gloves, gowns, masks, or respirators. Under certain circumstances, full facepiece elastomeric respirators and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) may be used for respiratory protection, but because of their design, they also provide highly effective eye protection.

If reusable eye protection devices become contaminated, they must be cleaned and disinfected. Contaminated eye protection devices must be reprocessed in an area where other soiled PPE is handled. Eye protection must be physically cleaned and disinfected with the designated hospital disinfectant (the manufacturer should have provided appropriate guidance), rinsed, and allowed to air dry. Gloves must be worn during cleaning and disinfection of eye protection devices.

Whenever PPE is used, you must have a PPE program. A compliant PPE program must address the hazards present; the selection, maintenance, and use of PPE; training; and monitoring of the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.

You need to provide training whenever you issue employees PPE, including eye and face protection, and require its use. Training for PPE must cover when PPE is necessary; what kind is necessary; how to properly put it on, adjust it, wear it, and take it off; the limitations of the equipment; and proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the equipment.

When PPE must be used to comply with OSHA standards, the agency requires the employer to pay for face shields, gloves, goggles, hard hats, safety glasses, and welding helmets and goggles. The few exceptions to employer payment for PPE include safety-toe protective footwear and prescription safety glasses considered to be very personal in nature and often worn off the jobsite.

Make sure your employees have appropriate protective gear for eye hazards inherent to their occupations and tasks.

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