Per OSHA, eye injuries alone cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker compensation. Eye injuries are very painful, and can result in permanent damage, vision loss, and blindness. According to NIOSH, around 2,000 work-related eye injuries occur each day. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of these serious job-related eye injuries could have been prevented. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 3/5 of those workers injured were not wearing eye protection.
BLS reported that most workers who suffered eye injuries due to lack of eye protection reported they “did not think it was necessary for the situation.” When considering whether or not to use eye protection for a job or task, it is best to err on the side of caution. Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, can’t serve its purpose if it is not used, or if the type of protection is not the right one to protect against the job hazard.
It can be difficult to determine what type of work does or does not require the use of eye protection. It might be obvious that hammering, using a staple or nail gun, sawing, welding or working around flying sparks, pouring or working with chemicals, janitorial work, and mining work is a potential eye hazard. But other jobs might not be so obvious. So, OSHA makes it easy to determine the “appropriate” eye protection for the job. OSHA has an online Hazard Assessment module. Here, each hazard type is listed with hazard examples and common work-related tasks. For each type of hazard, there is a drop-down list of lenses, frames, face/side shields, or other types of safety equipment to prevent that job hazard.
Per OSHA’s Regulation 29 CFR 1910.133 I, employees should ensure that workers use “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.” If your work involves projectiles, chemicals, radiation, or bloodborne pathogens, you can use OSHA’s Hazard Assessment Tool to determine the proper eye protection.
If you are interested in learning more, are a supervisor, or need to create an Eye Safety Program, NIOSH’s Eye Safety webpage has links to several resources, including an Eye Safety Checklist, information about Eye Safety during Emergency Response & Disaster Recovery, Eye Protection for Infection Control, an Eye Safety Tool Box Talk, and guidelines for Contact Lens Use in a Chemical Environment. Additionally, the American Optometric Association has a very helpful webpage dedicated to Protecting Your Eyes at Work which outlines first aid steps for chemicals in the eye, particles in the eye, blows to the eye, and cuts and punctures to the eye or eyelid.