Every year, thousands of people are blinded by work-related injuries.

On any given day in the United States, about 2000 workers sustain eye injuries serious enough to require medical treatment.

Yet despite these disturbing statistics, lack of proper eye protection remains an issue. A Kimberly-Clark Professional survey found that 85% of industrial workers have observed incidents where co-workers weren’t wearing the appropriate eye protection.

Is Prevention Possible?

But there are positive statistics to share as well. The US Department of Labor estimates that 90% of eye injuries suffered in the workplace could be prevented by proper protective eyewear. And when workers are asked to rank personal protective equipment in order of importance, eyewear often tops their list. So if everyone agrees on the obvious benefits of protective eyewear, why do we continue to see so many instances with too little or no protection?

Is Eye Protection Necessary?

Part of it has to do with improperly assessing the dangers inherent in a particular job and the appropriate eye protection needed. According to OSHA, Many workers who were injured doing their regular jobs without protection reported not knowing eyewear was necessary. And while the cost of personal protective equipment is often covered by the employer, many employees aren’t given the proper information on what kind of eyewear is best suited for their job.

Comfort and visibility also play a large part in whether eye protection ends up being worn consistently. Fogging is one of the most common complaints that leads to its own particular set of safety issues. And cheap eyewear can dig into the wearer’s skin and pull at their hair. Buying high quality equipment can prevent this and ensure workers aren’t eschewing safety because of comfort issues.

Let’s go through some of the available options that help protect eyes from flames, sparks, and particulate.

Safety Glasses

What to look for:

  • Anti-fog coating.
  • A wrap-around design or side shields. It is essential to minimize gaps! 94% of cases where workers wearing eye protection were injured involved matter getting around or under the protector.
  • Safety glasses should only be used in low danger environments or when combined with other eye protection like face shields or welding helmets.

Safety Goggles

What to look for:

  • Anti-fog lens coating.
  • Appropriate venting – goggles with direct venting (a mesh of small holes around the side) are sufficient for most situations where sparks may occur. Indirect vented goggles should be used in cases where liquids or chemicals are present, and are the venting design of choice for firefighting goggles.

Face Shields

What to look for:

  • Polycarbonate (PC) material gives a high level of impact resistance and heat resistance while still offering high visibility and good scratch protection.
  • Anti-fog coating.
  • A mirrored or aluminized coating helps reflect and dissipate radiant heat in hot environments, but can be expensive.
  • It is important to note that faceshields on their own are not considered adequate protection. They should always be worn in conjunction with safety glasses or goggles.

We’ve written this article with an emphasis on protecting your eyes from sparks and flame. But if you work in an area where impact injury is a concern, investing in high impact eye protection should be a consideration. Occupations requiring high impact eyewear include carpenters, plumbers, pipe fitters, machinists, millwrights, and laborers. You can tell if your face shield, glasses and goggles are high impact by looking for the Z87+ mark on the front or side of the lens.

When selecting the appropriate eyewear for your workplace, you should perform a hazard assessment to determine what dangers are present. When in doubt, choose more safety over less.

OSHA recommends goggles combined with a face shield to give the wearer a high level of protection. Workers in environments where explosions, fire, or arc flash are a possibility should also wear appropriate flame-resistant clothing.

In the end there are no solutions that will completely guarantee your safety in the event of an accident. But with the proper personal protective equipment and eyewear, you can greatly increase your chances of avoiding serious injury.