Eye protection Personal protective equipment

Eye and face protection

Make sure workers are safe

Photo: kali9/iStockphoto

Each day, around 2,000 workers suffer an eye injury severe enough to require medical treatment, according to NIOSH. Despite this, a lack of appropriate eye or face protection has made OSHA’s “Top 10” list of most frequent citations each year since 2018.

What can you do to help ensure workers are protected and your organization is staying in compliance with OSHA standards? We asked experts for advice.

When is eye/face protection necessary?

OSHA requires a hazard assessment to determine if personal protective equipment is needed – and what type. Employers have discretion as to how that assessment is conducted, but PPE is required “if hazards are present, or are likely to be present.”

Appendix B to 1910 Subpart I has nonmandatory guidelines on how to conduct an assessment.

In its standards on eye and face protection, OSHA references some of the potential hazards: flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, and potentially injurious light radiation.

If potential hazards include flying objects, employees must use eye protection with side protection. “Detachable side protectors” such as clip-on or slide-on side shields are acceptable if they meet all other regulatory requirements.

Associate Editor Alan Ferguson discusses this article on the June 2023 episode of Safety+Health's “On the Safe Side” podcast.


It’s important to document the process of assessing hazards and choosing proper PPE, said David Consider, senior safety consultant at the National Safety Council.

“For example, if one reviewed the Safety Data Sheet, contacted the manufacturer, hired a consultant, asked a third party to review and/or conducted one’s own research, they need to document the process leading to their decision,” he said. “In the event of an OSHA inspection, one needs to be able to ‘tell a story’ of what they did and how they did it. One cannot simply verbally tell an OSHA inspector that they reviewed the SDS. One must be able to show documentation of what they did and how they made their assessment.”

The documentation of a hazard assessment is required under 1910.132(d)(2), with a written certification “that identifies the workplace evaluated, the person certifying that the evaluation has been performed and the date(s) of the hazard assessment.”

Fit and comfort

Reasons why employees may not wear eye or face protection include fit issues, fogging or damage. The good news is many new safety glasses or goggles are fog- and scratch-resistant. In the most recent ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 standard, published in 2020, testing, performance and marking criteria for anti-fog lenses were among the changes included.

When it comes to fit issues, the bridge of the nose and the ears are some areas that can experience the most discomfort, said Michael Vitale, chair of the ANSI/ISEA Z87 Committee.

Asking workers for feedback can help stay ahead of those issues, according to Vitale and Jim Harris, branch chief of the Protective Technology Branch in NIOSH’s Division of Safety Research.

“If your employees are comfortable and wearing the eye protection correctly, they’re more likely to stay protected, and you’ve made the right choice,” Vitale said.

Training and setting a good example

Another potential obstacle? Employees not knowing why they need to wear eye or face protection.

“There has to be a training and education process,” Consider said. “This should include an explanation of why there is a need for the PPE, what the hazards are and what are the consequences of the exposure without PPE.

“This is a slow process, and it does take time to get everybody on board.”

Employers also need to set a good example by ensuring all managers and visitors wear proper PPE when on a jobsite.

Prescription eyewear

For workers who normally wear prescription eyewear, OSHA requires that they be provided eye protection that “incorporates the prescription in its design, or wear eye protection that can be worn over the prescription lenses without disturbing the proper position of the prescription lenses or the protective lenses.”

Fortunately, prescription safety eyewear is “a standard item and readily available,” Vitale noted.

He added: “The availability of attractive safety eyewear makes the previous objections to wearing prescription safety eyewear a moot point.”

Reassess PPE periodically

To gauge if your eye and face protection program is working, if you made the right choice in PPE, or if you need to change it up, it’s important to reassess the program periodically.

“On any jobsite, one finds that things do change, procedures change, materials change, amounts of materials change, new employees are brought to the job and/or the number of employees doing the task is reduced,” Consider said. “All these add changes to the work and may or may not warrant a change in the level or type of PPE.”

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