More than 700,000 Americans injure their eyes at work each year. Most of these injuries are caused by dust, cement chips, metal slivers, or wood chips striking or scraping the eye. However, other eye injuries include blunt-force trauma from running into objects; penetration of nails, staples, or slivers of wood or metal through the eyeball; or chemical and thermal burns to one or both eyes. Fortunately, most workplace eye injuries are preventable when companies implement and strictly enforce the key elements of an eye safety program:
1 Survey the work area.
Observe work areas, access routes, power machinery, and heavy equipment for possible eye hazards and sources of possible injury. Study eye accident and injury reports to help detect hazards.
2 Identify sources of hazards.
List all tasks and operations that include hazards caused by power machinery, heavy equipment, or moving tools. Detail all hazards associated with chemical exposure, optical radiation (welding, brazing, ultraviolet lights, etc.), heat, electricity, and flying particles. Include sources of hazards caused by workplace layout and location of personnel.
3 Organize and analyze data.
Next, determine the risk of injury from the identified hazards. For some hazards, like stored, unopened chemicals, the risk of injury may be low. The following categories may be used to make a risk assessment:
- Likely – the risk is clear, and an injury is likely.
- Possible – while unlikely, it is reasonable to conclude that an injury could occur.
- Negligible – there is no reasonable way for an injury to occur.
4 Select proper safety eyewear.
OSHA requires employers to provide workers with eye safety protection designed for specific jobs and hazards. Ensure employees always wear the right safety goggles, face shields, welding helmets, or full-facepiece respirators as required by OSHA’s eye protection standards. Look for eyewear that has the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 787.2 labeling and a “Z87” or “Z87+” mark to indicate that the lenses, frames, and side shields meet high-impact standards.
5 Provide training programs.
Conduct new employee orientation and ongoing training on how to properly use eye protection. Include information on eye injury statistics and guidelines to prevent eye injuries. Teach employees how to give basic first aid for eye injuries in an emergency.
6 Install emergency eyewash stations.
Place eyewash stations in easy-to-access areas, especially where chemicals are used. Stock first aid cabinets with eyedrops, gauze, and eyewash.
7 Encourage workers to get regular eye exams.
An annual eye exam can help employees correct vision problems that can cause accidents. It can also help them identify potential eye diseases that can result in damaged vision. As an eye protection measure, regularly remind employees about the importance of eye exams.