Back to Basics, Personal Protective Equipment

Back to Basics: Eye and Face Protection

Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine OSHA’s requirements for eye and face protection.

Eye and face protection is essential for many workers as part of their personal protection equipment (PPE). According to OSHA, thousands of employees are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that are preventable with the proper equipment. Eye and face protection must be provided when necessary to protect workers from chemical, environmental, radiological, or mechanical irritants and hazards.

Eye safety

According to NIOSH, about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment every day, one third of which are treated in hospital emergency departments. Additionally, more than 100 of these injuries result in one or more days away from work.

Worker eye injuries are caused by three main hazards: striking or scraping, penetration, or chemical and thermal burns. NIOSH says that the majority of eye injuries result from small particles or objects striking or scraping the eye, such as dust, cement chips, metal slivers, and wood chips. These objects are usually ejected from tools, blown by wind, or fall from above a worker. Employees might be struck by large objects, or they might run into an object causing blunt-force trauma to the eyeball or eye socket.

Eye injuries caused by penetration happen when objects such as nails, staples, or slivers of wood or metal go through the eyeball and cause permanent loss of vision. Chemical burns can occur in one or both eyes if they are exposed to industrial chemicals or cleaning products. Thermal burns often occur to welders, and they routinely damage the worker’s eyes and surrounding tissue.

As for eye diseases, NIOSH says they are often transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye due to direct exposure to things like blood splashes and droplets from coughing or sneezing, or from touching the eyes with a contaminated finger or object. Eye diseases can cause minor reddening or soreness of the eye, or life-threatening diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B virus, or avian influenza.

Workers should wear personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full-face respirators to prevent eye injuries and diseases. Eye protection should be chosen specifically for the nature and extent of the present hazards, the circumstances of exposure, the other PPE used, and personal vision needs. It must be fit to the individual or adjustable to provide the proper coverage, and it should be comfortable while also allowing for peripheral vision.

Employers are responsible for making sure the proper engineering controls are in place to reduce eye injuries and to protect against ocular infection exposures. They must also conduct a hazard assessment to determine the appropriate type of eye and face protective equipment that is needed for each task. They can do this by following OSHA’s standards for eye and face protection.

Standard requirements

OSHA outlines the standards for eye and face protection in the general, maritime, and construction industries. According to the standard, employers are responsible for making sure that each affected employee uses the appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.

Each affected employee must use eye protection that provides side protection from flying object hazards. In these cases, detachable side protectors, such as clip-on or slide-on side shields, that meet the standard requirements are acceptable.

Employees who wear prescription lenses while engaged in operations that involve eye hazards must wear eye protection that incorporates the prescription into its design. Alternatively, workers can wear eye protection that can be worn over the prescription lenses without interfering with the proper position of the prescription lenses or protective lenses.

Eye and face PPE must be distinctly marked to identify the manufacturer, and the employer must ensure that workers are using equipment with filter lenses that have a shade number that is appropriate for the work being performed and that will protect them from injurious light radiation.

OSHA provides a table that lists each operation and the requirements needed to determine shade number for PPE in the eye and face protection standard. The following are the minimum protective shade numbers for certain operations, depending on electrode size and arc current:

  • Shielded metal arc welding – 7, 8, 10, 11
  • Gas metal and flux cored arc welding – 7, 10
  • Gas tungsten arc welding – 8, 10
  • Air carbon – 10
  • Arc cutting – 11
  • Plasma arc welding – 6, 8, 10, 11
  • Plasma arc cutting – 8, 9, 10
  • Torch brazing – 3
  • Torch soldering – 2
  • Carbon arc welding – 14

OSHA requires that eye and face protective equipment comply with any of the following consensus standards:

  • ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices, incorporated by reference in § 1910.6
  • ANSI Z87.1-2003, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices, incorporated by reference in § 1910.6
  • ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R-1998), Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection, incorporated by reference in § 1910.6

Eye and face PPE that the employer can prove are at least as effective as protective eye and face protection devices that are constructed in accordance with one of these consensus standards will be considered in compliance with these requirements.

According to OSHA, employees whose work involves laser beam exposure must be provided with suitable laser safety goggles which will protect against the specific wavelength of the laser and be of optical density (O.D.) adequate for the energy involved. All protective goggles must have a label that identifies the laser wavelengths for which use is intended, the optical density of those wavelengths, and the visible light transmission.  

For more information, click here for OSHA’s full list of standards and resources for eye protection.

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