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Eye Protection

Posted by Dr. P. Anderw Karam on 6/13/2017
Not sure about you, but I value my eyes – glasses and all. Whether it’s reading, appreciating a lovely view, watching TV or a movie…it’s all good! I know there are a lot of people who go through life with impaired vision – even blind – but I have to say that I hope I never have to make this adjustment. So, yes, I’m pretty serious about eye protection. Let’s start with what the regulations require, and then I’ll mention a few other things to keep in mind as well.

Any eye safety program has to look at a couple of things – how to keep harmful agents (splinters, for example) from getting in the eye and how to get them out if the first part fails somehow. In addition, if you’re working around source of light that can be harmful (lasers, for example) then you need to guard against that. Oh – and don’t forget things that pose multiple threats! Welding, for example, not only exposes you to incredibly bright light (including ultraviolet, in some cases), but it also throws sparks and the like into the air; stuff you don’t want to get in your eyes.

Nationwide, eye protection is under the jurisdiction of OSHA and the regulations covering it are found in various sections of 29 CFR. This is all pulled together on an OSHA eye and face protection web page, including links to various parts of the regs. OSHA also has some industry-specific regs, including those aimed at the construction industry (29 CFR 1926), Longshoring (29 CFR 1918), and shipyard work (29 CFR 1915).

All of these standards have some things in common – in particular, that the eye protection be adequate to keep foreign objects out of the eye (including, for example, molten metal, liquid chemicals, and so forth). But there’s a little more to it than just this – after all, you could put a piece of plastic wrap over a person’s eyes and claim it protects from, say, grinding sparks. But OSHA also references some specific standards that the eye protection has to meet – these are objective standards that whatever you buy will have to meet, and if your eyewear hasn’t been certified to meet these standards then it can’t be used to meet regulatory requirements. In particular, the OSHA regs include references to a series of ANSI standards (Z87.1-2010, Z87.1-2003, and Z87.1-1989) – if your eyewear doesn’t meet the appropriate standards you’re not only out of compliance with the regs, but you’re also putting people’s vision at risk (not to mention opening the door for possible lawsuits if someone gets hurt). Oh – and don’t forget side shields too! It’s not likely that a splinter (or whatever) will come in from an odd angle, but you never know. And let’s face it – we only have two eyes and even a low-probability accident can happen. I’d prefer not to risk one half of my vision on the assumption that a low-probability accident will never happen.

The last thing I want to mention goes a little beyond the strict regulatory requirements, but I think it’s important to mention. I was in the Navy for awhile. I wore contacts when I first joined (well, not during Boot Camp) and really liked them – after having been tied to glasses (and clip-on sunglasses) since age 8, it was great to be able to not be tied to prescription lenses, and to wear sunglasses that actually looked normal. After a few years in the Navy I started work as a water chemist, including working with strong acids and bases, along with other chemicals such as ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and so forth. During some of our laboratory safety training we were shown photos of eye damage from such chemicals, and I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the pics were of people who had been wearing contacts at the time a chemical splashed into their eye. What happened was that chemicals that splash (or spray) into the eye can become trapped behind the contact where tears can’t flush them away. Not good. I stopped wearing contacts in the lab right after that lecture.

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