Eye and face protection: 7 key considerations
Dave Murphy grew up wearing prescription eyewear, so his awareness of eye and face protection at work admittedly had a head start.
Still, “some folks, they just don’t seem to get used to (having to wear) it,” said Murphy, safety director at the Indianapolis office of Pepper Construction. “They’re uncomfortable – they’re fighting it all the time.”
A diverse cross-section of jobs require eye and face protection, and neglecting to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment is one common mistake workers make.
With insight from Murphy and other safety experts, Safety+Health takes a look at seven key considerations to keep in mind when selecting eye and face protection.
Where’s your PPE?
OSHA data shows that the most frequently cited section of the agency’s standard for Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment – Eye and Face Protection (1926.102) during fiscal years 2018 and 2019 reflected an absence of proper PPE.
Section 1926.102(a)(1) states that “the employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses 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.”
Additionally, employers must make sure side protection is included when hazards from flying objects are present. “Detachable side protectors (e.g., clip-on or slide-on side shields) meeting the pertinent requirements of this section are acceptable,” section 1926.102(a)(2) states.
“It’s not a choice, it’s a rule,” said Ricky Rollins, a longtime steel industry supervisor who is now a motivational speaker in the safety field.
Stay up to date
For guidance on the most current eye and face protection, OSHA refers to the consensus standard ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices. An annex to an update of that standard, ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015, includes a selection guide “intended to aid in identifying and selecting the types of eye and face protectors that are available, their capabilities, and limitations for the hazards listed.”
The guide provides examples of five common hazards – impact, heat, chemical, dust and optical radiation – that require eye and face protection.
“That’s a very quick way to get an idea of what’s available and what they might need for their situation,” said James Harris, an engineer at NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory. “But, definitely, if they’re not a safety professional themselves, working with somebody who’s familiar with hazard/risk assessment for their situation is very important.”
Conducting a pre-job hazard assessment on PPE is “paramount” for workers and employers, Harris said. However, a shifting work climate in which many employees balance multifaceted job responsibilities can create extra challenges.
As an example, Harris said to consider a manufacturing worker who completes a similar set of tasks on a production line each day. Every two weeks, though, he or she must undertake a maintenance task that may present a different set of hazards than what the worker is typically accustomed to during a shift.
In these instances, the worker should pause and rethink the situation and what PPE is appropriate.
“The hazards that may pose the highest risk are those that are not typical operations,” Harris said. “It seems like it’s these non-routine situations that can often lead to injuries.”
“PPE should be comfortable and fit the user,” Garnet Cooke, Oregon OSHA pesticide coordinator, wrote in an email to S+H. He added that if it is loose, “chemicals will leak inside.”
Apply this same principle to various hazards in other industries, experts say. Ill-fitting equipment can only enhance the risk of an incident.
Although it might seem elementary, it can still be easy for employers to overlook the fact that workers’ faces come in all shapes and sizes, Rollins said. There should be no such thing as one-size-fits-all eye and face protection, whether a job requires five people or 50.
“The width, the angle of the face, the angle of your eyes going back to your cheeks – everything is different,” Rollins said. “The key is to be well-fitted to each individual’s face to get the maximum protection for that person, no doubt. I think that’s probably the biggest mistake some people make, is that they don’t have a number of different styles for people to have fitted to their face to know which one feels best, which one fits best to protect (them).”
Prescription eyewear probably won’t protect you
Employers and workers need to remember that prescription eyewear typically differs from safety eyewear.
“Sometimes people think, ‘Well, if I have eyeglasses, that is eye protection,’” Harris said. “That’s not necessarily true because you need special materials, especially if you’re exposed to impact-type hazards.”
For example, Harris said, polycarbonate plastic is commonly used in safety eyewear and has different performance characteristics than glass.
Under section 1926.102(a)(3), employers are required to ensure workers who wear prescription lenses use eye protection that includes the prescription in its design or allows PPE to be worn over the prescription lenses without compromising lens positioning and function.
Employers also need to monitor workers who don’t require an optical prescription, as well as frequently communicate the ways that safety eyewear is different.
“People want to go out and buy $400 glasses and wear them on a jobsite,” Murphy said. “Just because they cost a lot of money doesn’t mean that they’re going to protect your eyes from impact. So that’s a constant issue.”
When is it appropriate for workers to remove eye and face protection?
“Not when the job is done,” Rollins said. “When you leave the shop is when you take your [PPE] off.”
During pesticide use, Cooke said workers can take off PPE when they’re no longer exposed to the hazard, meaning the job is complete and they’ve been decontaminated.
Murphy suggests employers remind workers to be extra cognizant of their surroundings when using faceshields. If dust or other debris pose a hazard, for example, wipe the top of the hard hat where it meets the faceshield before flipping up the faceshield.
“We’ve had a few incidents where we’ve had to flush some eyes out just from that circumstance,” Murphy said. “Trying to do the right thing and ending up hurting yourself.”
Experts say they occasionally see improper storage of PPE, and note that it can lead to a reduction in the equipment’s effectiveness and lifespan.
“PPE must be stored in a clean and sanitary location, free of temperature extremes – for example, not left in a vehicle,” Cooke wrote. “Totes that are small enough to accommodate clean PPE make excellent storage containers – easily grabbed for the day’s events. Taping a list of the items that the tote should contain on the bottom of the lid makes resupply a breeze.”
For PPE cleaning guidelines, “rely on the manufacturer’s instructions there,” Harris said.
OSHA says shared protectors must be disinfected between uses by workers.