ANSI-compliant safety glasses are appropriate and required for general hazards such as particulates and dust. Because goggles fit tightly on the face and provide protection around the eyes, they are necessary for high dust concentration, risk of chemical or liquid splash, or significant vapor concentrations. Depending on the hazard, there are different types of goggles to choose from -- direct vented, indirect vented, or non-vented. If there is a splash hazard, goggles and a face shield may by appropriate. If impact is also a risk, impact-tested goggles should be worn under face shields, since not all face shields are rated for impact resistance. The selection of safety glasses is infinite now as manufacturers like Harley-Davidson, Orange County Coppers, Smith and Wesson, and Body Glove have stepped up to meet employee demand. If the worker wears reading glasses with basic magnification, ANSI-approved safety glasses and goggles with reading magnifiers in the lenses are an option. It’s also possible to buy prescription safety glasses and goggles that are compliant with the ANSI standard. ANSI-compliant goggles and safety glasses are also available to fit over prescription glasses; but, I don’t recommend these for long-term use because they are uncomfortable and less likely to be worn.
Contact lenses can be a problem. If subjected to a chemical exposure, some chemicals can absorb behind the lens and hold the substance onto the eye causing further damage. If contact lenses must be worn, the worker should bring an extra pair in case of contamination or better yet, avoid contact lenses in hazardous situations altogether and use prescription goggles instead. Each chemical’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) should indicate if goggles are needed in addition to other required PPE.
All PPE, including eye and face protection, has a usable life-span. Most manufacturers recommend how frequently eye and face protection equipment should be replaced. If eye or face protection becomes damaged or distorted, it must be replaced to work properly. As far as the usable life of a product, a good rule of thumb is if your safety glasses are more than five years old, you need new ones since they may not be compliant with the latest ANSI standards.
The written eye and face protection program should also include information about when PPE is necessary, how to wear it, adjust it, take it on and off and care for it, as well as the limitations of the equipment. The program should also outline training guidelines.
BLS reports that most workers are hurt while doing their regular jobs. Workers injured while not wearing protective eyewear most often say they believed it was not required by the situation. Even though the vast majority of employers furnish eye protection to employees at no cost, about 40 percent of workers report they receive no information on where and what kind of eyewear should be used.
There is no annual requirement for retraining; the onus of ensuring that employees understand when and how to use their eye and face protection is on the employer. However, common sense dictates that any employee wearing PPE improperly or not at all needs retraining, as does any employee involved in a new activity that is assessed as hazardous.
OSHA mandates that if the hazard exists, a means for flushing the eye must be provided. OSHA can cite an owner if he fails to provide that, regardless of whether he’s complying with a specific standard, under the General Duty Clause (obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace). The eye and face protection program should include considerations for emergency eyewash stations that provide a full 15-minute flush. There are ANSI standards (Z358) for eyewash stations. In the field, eyewash bottles can be on hand for interim assistance until an eyewash station can be reached. There are also portable eyewash stations available that can dispense water for 15 minutes.
One final thought, it is estimated that 90 percent of eye injuries are preventable through the proper use of protective eyewear.
Anticipating health and safety issues and taking action to prevent them is a long-term and profitable investment for companies. For more information on industrial hygiene and methods for promoting health and safety in the workplace, as well as a listing of industrial hygiene consultants, please visit the American Industrial Hygiene Association website at www.aiha.org.
Victor J. D'Amato, CIH, CSP, is director of Atrium Environmental Health and Safety Services, LLC, Reston, VA.
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