Protective eyewear ranges from simple, impact-resistant safety glasses to ultraviolet (UV) or chemical-resistant eye protection. It is, therefore, important to use the correct eyewear for the application

Eye protection serves many functions including protecting employees from flying objects, heat, UV rays and chemicals. However, while it is essential, finding the correct eyewear for the application and the employee can be a challenge.

Velibanti Nhlanhla Sukati, in his 2014 paper titled: Workplace Eye Injuries: A literature review, for the School of Health Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, notes that in the absence of adequate safety precautions, eye injuries in the workplace can be caused through exposure to chemicals, lasers, or heat.

He writes: “Previous studies have reported that the workplace is the most common location in which adults experience eye injuries.”

According to Sukati, there are about 70 000 reported cases of temporary or permanent visual loss due to an eye injury in the United States (US) each year, with about 1 000 preventable injuries occurring in the workplace every day.

Sukati notes that the construction industry is one of the most at-risk sectors with 71 percent of injuries. These are caused by welding, grinding, cutting, hammering and drilling. Around 60 percent of incidents are caused by high-speed machinery.

Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) suggests a few basic safety measures that can be put in place to prevent eye injuries.

The first of these is maintaining equipment and safety features such as machine guards. Bystanders also need to be a safe distance from machinery, and employees should be fitted with eye or face protection that fits properly and stays in place.

The eye protection should always be kept in a clean working condition and employees should be adequately trained in using the particular eyewear.

OCSA also suggests that personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hard hats and eye protection, be dusted off before it is removed to avoid dust particles entering the person’s eyes.

“Employees should avoid rubbing their eyes with dirty hands or clothing; first-aid procedures for an eye injury should be put in place; and an eye-wash fountain or quick-deluge shower should be provided,” OCSA adds.

In addition to implementing these basic safety procedures to avoid eye injuries, companies need to invest in eye protection that fits the application and employee. The company needs to first establish whether the application requires safety glasses, goggles or a face shield.

Safety glasses, for example, might be sufficient for an employee working in a dusty environment (along with a half-face shield to avoid inhaling dust particles), while a full-face shield is required for an employee using welding equipment. The main factors to consider are impact, heat, chemicals, dust and optical radiation.

The latter is a risk to workers operating any form of laser (or comparable equipment) during which they are exposed to high heat, and/or UV, infrared and reflected light.

It is always advisable to contact a PPE supplier for expert advice when purchasing eyewear. Most suppliers can also fit the protective eyewear with prescription lenses.

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