Safety eyewear how much are your eyes worth

Safety eyewear image

Issue 32 – October 2011

Safety eyewear has advanced considerably compared to the safety eyewear available 40 or 50 years ago. Eyewear style, comfort, adjustability, and variety ensure that eye hazards are minimised. So this begs the question, why are there still so many eye injuries in New Zealand each year?

In New Zealand the compulsory wearing of eye protection within a work environment is uncommon. Usually eye protection is specified if the hazard assessment of a task deems it necessary. The enforcement of wearing eye protection is often then left to the workers to self-manage. Enforcing the correct use of eye protection, even by making it compulsory, would make a very large difference in the injury rate.

ACC statistics for the last couple of years indicate there have been over 10,000 injuries each year to the eye or area immediately surrounding the eye. The two biggest industry groups with eye injuries in New Zealand over this time were the building trades (18%) and metal works/machinery industries (22%). This is a disturbing figure as the majority of eye injuries are preventable.

One company who have made eye protection compulsory in recent times for all staff and sub-contractors is Naylor Love Construction. This step was undertaken following a serious harm eye incident and the realisation that recorded eye injuries were unacceptably high. Naylor Love group health, safety, and environmental manager Ian Alsiweiler says it was a real step change for the onsite staff and subcontractors to wear eye protection. The result has been a sustained drop of reported eye injuries of at least 60% since implementation.

Employers' responsibilities for eye protection are as follows:

  • during hazard assessments of workplace or tasks, giving consideration to eliminating or isolation eye hazards where possible
  • considering what type of eye protection is most suitable to minimise the hazard
  • providing the appropriate safety eyewear for each task and requiring all employees to wear it.

The most common reasons given by employees for not wearing eye protection include:

  • the usual, 'I forgot' or 'I lost them'
  • the worker feels or thinks they look silly wearing certain types of eye protection
  • the eye protection lens is scratched, dirty, they fog up, or are unserviceable
  • the eye protection doesn't fit properly
  • the worker gets a headache from wearing the eye protection
  • the worker normally wears prescription glasses and didn't have suitable 'over glasses' available.

The major reasons workers experience eye injuries on the job are because they were not wearing eye protection, they were wearing the wrong kind for the job, or not wearing it properly.

To make the correct decision on the type of protective eye wear to be worn; a thorough understanding of the potential hazards is needed in each workplace. The key hazards are:

  • projectiles (concrete, metal, wood, and other objects such as staples, nails, or shards of broken material)
  • chemicals (splashes, fumes, and dust particles)
  • radiation (visible light, ultraviolet radiation, heat or infrared radiation, and lasers)
  • biological (for example, hepatitis or HIV) from blood or other bodily fluids

Once the hazards are identified the correct choice of safety eyewear can be made. It should be remembered that in a few instances more than one maybe necessary.

Non-prescription and prescription safety glasses

Although safety glasses may look like normal dress eyewear, they are designed to provide significantly more eye protection. Safety glasses must meet AS/NZS 1337. Safety glasses provide eye protection for general working conditions where there may be light dust, chips, or flying particles. Additional side protection should be provided by the use of side shields or the wraparound-style frame and lens. Most safety glasses are rated for medium impact situations. High impact eye protection needs to be used in situations where possible projectiles can travel at high speed, such as when using nail guns or grinders.

Goggles

Goggles provide the same benefits as glasses but with better dust and chemical splash protection. In addition, they provide a secure shield around the entire eye and protect against hazards coming from any direction. Goggles are the best option for biological and chemical hazards as they provide a better seal around the eye.

Face shields

Face shields are used to protect workers exposed to chemicals, heat, blood borne pathogens, and projectiles. They are generally rated high impact and being further away from the face provide some enhanced protection from high speed projectiles such as ricochet nails or shattered angle grinder disks. They should not be worn alone but in conjunction with safety glasses or goggles as some shields have gaps around the edge, especially those that clip onto the common styles of safety helmets.

Helmets

A helmet is the best option from when working near hazardous radiation such as welding, situations when grinding, and working with molten metals. Fully automatic welding helmets are a good example of the protection available these days.

Summarised from an article by Mike Spekreijse that first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of ISN and is reproduced here with their permission. Spekreijse is safety, health, and environmental advisor for Site Safe New Zealand.

Related Standards

Published in consumer and occupational safety.