See the Dangers and Use Eye Protection

Goggles are all it takes to guard against the most common construction hazards.

Construction workers are susceptible to every type of eye hazard known to the safety industry, and too many of them suffer eye injuries every day. Impact injuries from wood and paint chips, concrete pieces and the like are common. Less common are injuries from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, liquid splashes and infrared radiation.

In the handbook Personal Protective Equipment, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says many eye injuries occur because employees either wore improper or ill-fitting eye protection or wore none at all. In fact, an OSHA study estimates that only 34 percent of workers in building and construction wear non-prescription safety glasses, and just 22 percent wear goggles. Workers who get injured because they didn't wear eye protection usually say they thought it wasn't necessary.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 1,000 eye injuries occur every day in workplaces across America. When medical expenses, lost time and workers compensation costs from eye injuries are factored in, the total cost adds up to more than $300 million. And most of these injuries can be prevented with the use of proper eye protection.

Here's a quick rundown of common eye hazards on job sites:

  • Splashes from such chemicals as highly toxic cleaning fluids, paints and adhesives, which can cause everything from momentary vision loss to blindness.
  • Exposure to invisible UV light when working outdoors. Sunlight reflected off sand, snow or pavement can produce a burn on the surface of the eye. Like sunburn on skin, eye-surface burns are painful but temporary. Long-term UV exposure also is a risk factor for long-term damage to the eye, including cataracts and macular degeneration. While cataracts are routinely removed through surgery, there's no cure for macular degeneration, which eventually leads to blindness.
  • Infrared radiation caused by torch welding and cutting, which can damage the cornea and retina of the eye. In extreme cases, infrared radiation can blind a worker.

OSHA requires employers to ensure that employees have appropriate eye or face protection if they're exposed to flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, potentially infected material or harmful light radiation. Good-quality sunglasses block UV light and prevent long-term damage, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. For other kinds of dangers, the OSHA handbook lists the most common types of eye-and-face protection: safety spectacles, safety goggles, welding shields, laser safety goggles and face shields. For most residential construction workers, the danger of eye injury is posed by flying particles such as sawdust and by paints and adhesives. Appropriate eye protection for such hazards falls into the categories of spectacles and goggles—probably the most comfortable and least expensive equipment on OSHA's list.

"When you distribute eye protection, make sure your workers understand which types of eyewear should be used for various types of jobs," advises Dave Roll, vice president of marketing for H.L. Bouton Co. Inc., a protective-eyewear manufacturer based in Wareham, Mass. "If the employer takes eye protection seriously, so will the employees."

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