Every year, construction workers suffer from eye injuries ranging from temporary sight loss to long-term impaired vision and even blindness. Julien Clair, product manager for eyewear at Honeywell Industrial Safety, outlines the key measures required for effective eye protection.
What are the hazards?
Construction sites create a significant risk for eye injuries. Every day, workers face a myriad of hazards whether it’s flying objects like nails, wood splinters or metal fragments or finer particles like dust and grit created by construction activities like cement mixing, sawing or chipping. The implications can be serious, ranging from temporary blurred vision, irritation or burns, to severe and long-term impaired vision or even blindness. In other cases, where direct contact with substances such as liquid mists or sources of radiation may not cause instant injury, it can have a slow, steady and ultimately damaging effect on the eyes. The tragedy is that most eye injuries are entirely preventable, which highlights the importance of ensuring effective protection.
Every day, workers face a myriad of hazards whether it’s flying objects like nails, wood splinters or metal fragments or finer particles like dust and grit
The causes of eye injuries will depend on the type of work undertaken on site so the first line of defense should be to carry out a risk assessment to identify the potential risks. Ideally, the priority would then be to remove any eye safety hazards. However, this isn’t always practicable due to the nature of work carried out. For example, flying objects are very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate. As a result, safety eyewear is critically important for eye protection.
Employers have legal duties that cover the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). They must choose the PPE carefully and make sure that workers are trained to use it correctly, and know how to detect and report any faults. The first consideration for employers is to provide the correct eyewear solution for the work environment. There are different types of eyewear and managers will need to assess the risks that workers face and then provide the most appropriate eyewear to protect the worker against the hazards they face. Safety spectacles, goggles and face shields are all used in construction environments and each has a specific use.
Spectacles, goggles or face shields?
Safety spectacles are suitable when full enclosure of the eye area is not required. Similar to normal spectacles, they should be tested to ensure they meet EU safety standards and provide a level of impact resistance against high speed particles. In addition, they should benefit from a range of advanced lens treatments such as anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings. The anti-fog technology enables construction workers to carry out tasks indoors and outdoors without worrying about the spectacles fogging up as this can increase the risk of an accident.
Goggles should be selected when workers come into contact with more serious eye hazards such as dust, flying particles, molten metal and hot liquids – in other words, whenever a tight seal is required to protect the eyes. This prevents any objects or liquid from slipping through the space between the face and the eye wear and damaging the eyes. It’s advisable to look for goggles with anti-scratch and anti-fog ventilation or with an anti-fog lens coating as this provides additional benefits.
Goggles should be selected when workers come into contact with more serious eye hazards such as dust, flying particles, molten metal and hot liquids – in other words, whenever a tight seal is required to protect the eyes.
The final level of protection is the face shield, which protects not only the eyes but the full face. This is the best protection when workers are coming into contact with hazards such as solid particles flying at high speed. It may also be important to opt for a face shield tested to withstand strong impacts from objects and that also provides protection against arc flash, molten metal, hot solids and chemical droplets, which may be a hazard in certain construction environments.
Working outdoors or indoors can make the difference when it comes to selecting safety eye wear. The contrasting work environments will require different lens tints and shades to block out sunlight, to enhance colour or to accommodate the diverse work applications. UV protection is really important and it is always advisable to purchase eye wear that offers 99.9% UV protection and are K&N marked, which means the product has superior anti-scratch and anti-fog properties.
Will workers wear it?
Another important consideration is ensuring worker buy-in. It is all very well providing the correct eye protection but the worker needs to wear it. While it may be an obvious point to make, it is important to remember that PPE is not always comfortable to wear, especially eyewear if workers aren’t used to wearing spectacles daily for personal use.
To resolve this issue, many proactive employers will involve employees in buying the kit. This gives the user the opportunity to test out the eyewear and to provide feedback before a final decision is made. Workers should also provide feedback once the eyewear has been bought and if they have any issues. Two important points that influence user buy-in are comfort and style. Any eyewear needs to provide maximum comfort as this is a significant factor in determining worker acceptance and uptake. Remember, the construction worker needs to wear the eyewear over the course of an entire day, in what can be tough, uncomfortable environments. Style also needs to be taken into account because workers are more likely to wear something that looks good.
Is it compatible with other PPE?
On a building site, construction workers will also be required to wear other PPE such as hard hats, hearing protection and gloves. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the PPE is compatible and the use of one item does not negate the use or performance of another. The interoperability of the PPE is therefore an essential consideration and the best eyewear will be designed with this in mind.
It is crucial to ensure that the PPE is compatible and the use of one item does not negate the use or performance of another
Another important consideration is a demographic one. Like other European countries, the UK has an ageing workforce and research reveals that most over 40-year-olds wear spectacles all or part of the time. Some workers choose to wear their regular prescription glasses in place of protective eyewear. This does not protect them as regular prescription glasses do not provide the right level of safety and protection required. Others choose to wear their regular prescription glasses under protective googles. However, this can be uncomfortable and at worst can impair overall vision, which compromises their safety. PPE manufacturers like Honeywell have been working to overcome this challenge, introducing prescription safety eyewear, which combines a corrective lens with a safety frame. This tailored eyewear solution provides vision correction while also keeping the workers safe.
Training & supervision
Training and supervision are also important considerations. While safety eyewear may not be as complicated as respiratory or fall protection, employers should still provide information on how the eyewear works, particularly if they are adjustable spectacles. Adjustable spectacles allow workers to reduce the space between the face and the eyewear and as such reduce the risk of objects or liquids getting into the worker’s eyes. They also need to supervise construction workers on-site and make sure they are wearing the eye protection and remind them if they are not. Hanging posters in common areas like the changing rooms or regular safety briefings can help to alert workers to the potential risks.
Finally, workers need to undertake regular checks to make sure that the eyewear is still usable and if necessary they should replace the eyewear with a new one in order to ensure a good level of protection and safety. Eye protection may not seem like an important priority on a busy construction site compared to other risks but the consequences of failing to take action can literally change lives.