OHS Canada Magazine

All Eyes on Eyes

March 13, 2018
By Greg Burchell

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That is certainly the case when it comes to protecting an organ as fragile as the eyes from hazards at work.

The best prevention is to avoid getting anything in the eyes in the first place, and the most effective way of achieving that is to have a layer of protection over it. Eye protectors are designed precisely to protect against three types of hazards: impact, splash and radiation.

Eye protectors are grouped into six classifications based on the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) Z94.3-07 Industrial Eye and Face Protectors standard. The six classes, with the protective function increasing in ascending order, are spectacles (which incorporate side protection), goggles, welding helmets, welding hand shields, hoods and face shields. Prior to purchasing safety glasses, employers should conduct a hazard assessment as safety glasses and goggles are hardly one-size-fits-all.

The most common danger to a worker’s eyes is an object ricocheting at a high speed and lodging itself in the eyeball, potentially causing permanent damage, says Claudio Dente, president of Dentec Safety Specialists Inc. in Newmarket, Ontario. This risk is present in a variety of tasks that include grinding metal, cutting wood, hammering or pounding on hard materials like concrete or metal, and working around lathes and equipment that cut hard material.

“The CSA certification impact and testing process states that if you are selling a safety glass or goggle, it has got to meet that impact test so you know you are being protected,” Dente says.

In the event that a small foreign body embeds itself in the eyeball, it should be removed as quickly as possible, because the longer the foreign object remains lodged, the harder it is to remove as the eye will heal over the object instead of releasing it. A piece of metal that gets into the centre of the eye can cause permanent damage, create scarring and lead to vision loss almost immediately.

In addition to impact hazards, there is also the threat of chemical splashes, which may require CSA Class Two protection. This means donning a pair of eye goggles that cover a larger area of the face and fit snugly to the skin through suction to keep unwanted liquids from dripping down into the eyes. Dust and other airborne contaminants can be neutralized with the use of foam-lined glasses — a hybrid between glasses and goggles.

Donning glasses with side shields helps to prevent objects from entering the eye from the side. Foam-lined glasses, such as those offered by Guard-Dogs® line of products by Encon Safety Products in Houston, Texas, provides a seal against the skin when worn properly.

“A lot just depends on what you are doing and the environment you find yourself in,” says Hardy Sides, business unit manager of personal protective equipment with Encon Safety Products, who reports that foam-lined glasses are marketed towards the industrial sector. “They are meant for high debris areas, if you have got a lot of particulate in the air and you really need to seal off the eye portion of your face.”

Erica Osley-Brown, director of marketing with Honeywell Safety Products in Smithfield, Rhode Island, says foam-lined eyewear is becoming very popular in foundries and the oil and gas industries — any sector where dust and fine particles are generated. Foam-lined glasses offer a good medium for industries that require more protection than those offered by conventional safety glasses, but do not want to go to the extent of having their workers don eye goggles.

That said, there are work environments in which goggles do not provide adequate protection. They include workplaces that involve handling acid and alkali, degreasing, plating operations, glass breakage, chemical spray, liquid bitumen, sand blasting and shot blasting.

For these jobs, two styles of goggles are available: indirect vent goggles with perforations on the side to protect against impact and dust, and chemical-splash goggles with baffled vents to prevent liquid from seeping into the eye. In the event of a chemical splash, the goggles serve as a temporary barrier while the worker runs to an eyewash facility.

A proper seal is imperative, as a pair of ill-fitted safety glasses cannot perform its protective function. Osley-Brown says Honeywell’s eye protective equipment is tested to ensure proper fit on different head forms and shapes, and solicits feedback from an end-user panel who participates in the designing stage.

Dente notes that universal fitting glasses will fit about 95 per cent of the population. For wearers who may require more extensive custom-fitting, glasses with telescopic or ratcheting temple arms and nose bridge adjustments that allow for more microscopic adjustments are also available. Many companies are beginning to offer glasses, which feature a lower nose profile than traditional glasses, to better conform to Asian bone structures, he adds.

Visibility is also an important factor for employees who toil in work environments with high heat or humidity. Safety glasses that offer anti-fog or scratch-resistant coatings may be required, as protective eyewear that fogs up and scratches easily are the most common problems cited.

Once the type of eye protective equipment has been identified, the wearer’s preference needs to be considered to ensure compliance. “They have a say in many cases of what they’d like to wear,” Dente adds.

The verdict from workers seems to indicate that if glasses do not look good or fit comfortably, it does not matter how good their protective function is — they will simply not be worn. As a result, manufacturers have responded to that need by expanding the style and options of safety glasses available.

Letting go of something that has outlived its usefulness can be a hard thing to do. But when it comes to safety glasses, it is advisable to have them replaced sooner rather than later. Prescription safety glasses should be given a good inspection every year and replaced as soon as soon as they are scratched. For safety glasses bought offthe-shelf, they may need to be replaced more frequently. Those who work with solvents will also need to be cognizant of the impact that fumes and liquids have on lenses.

Ultimately, the job of safety glasses is to guard against hazards from coming into contact with the windows to our soul.

Greg Burchell was the former assistant editor of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News.