Eye Safety in Construction

Originally published 03/07/2018

Construction is one of the largest and most dangerous industries in the United States. Bodily harm because of misusing equipment or through plain negligence can range anywhere from cuts and scrapes to loss of sight or limbs and even death. Because of all the hazards we encounter in a typical day, injuries occur regularly. Of those injuries, eye injuries, are one of the most common.

Two main reasons for eye injuries on the job are: not wearing eye protection or wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. Not wearing eye protection is dangerous. Most workers don’t realize that wearing the wrong kind of eye protection can be just as hazardous. Unfortunately, construction workers contact with just about every eye hazard known to the safety industry: impact, ultraviolet radiation, liquid splash, and infrared radiation just to name a few, are common exposures in construction. Many construction tasks generate flying debris such as: wood, paint chips, dirt, concrete particles, and even nails.

While working outdoors, UV rays are present in ordinary sunlight and can cause damage to the eyes. Construction often takes workers both indoors and out, not realizing the hazards faced can be a serious problem. Workers also come in contact with highly toxic cleaning chemicals, paints, and adhesives that can cause liquid/chemical splash hazards. Contact from these substances can cause momentary vision loss or even blindness, not to mention burning and discomfort in the eyes.

Lastly is infrared radiation. Torch welding and cutting produces an invisible hazard that can damage the cornea and retina of the eye, and in extreme cases it can cause blindness.

By wearing appropriate eye protection workers should be able to avoid injuries to their eyes however, there is still a possibility that you or those around you might need first aid. Listed below are a few points to remember in case of an eye injury:

  • Wash hands before examining the eye, this will help prevent infection.
  • Avoid rubbing the eye, this may force the particle deeper into the tissue.
  • Do not attempt to remove a particle that is embedded in the eye, you can cause serious damage. Place clean, preferably sterile, patches over both eyes and get to a physician as soon as possible.
  • In case of a chemical burn to the eye, do not close your eyes as it can trap the chemical causing further damage. Rinse the eye for 15-20 minutes with clean water, get medical help as soon as possible.
  • Get periodic eye examinations. This is often the only way people learn that their vision is defective.
  • If you’ve had an eye injury, contact your doctor if you: have changes in your vision, have blurry vision, see flashing spots or lights, have eye pain that becomes worse or pain with the movement of your eye(s).

Clean your safety glasses daily, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Store them in a case when they are not being worn. Replace glasses that are scratched, pitted, broken, bent or ill-fitting.

Use only safety glasses that are manufactured to meet the American National Standards Institute’s standards for Eye and Face Protection Standard.

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Eye Safety

The construction industry has the highest rate of eye injury, with approximately 120 workers disabled or forced to miss work daily. The two most common causes of vision loss in construction workers are: 1) metal slivers entering the eye, and 2) nails that rebound during normal carpentry.

Other causes of eye injury include:

  • Flying debris, chips and dust from grinding and windy conditions;
  • Chemical splashes from acids and cleaning solutions; and
  • Loose straps, cords or branding that breaks under extreme tension.

These hazards can cause a corneal abrasion, a scratch on the eye’s cornea (the clear, protective covering over the iris and the pupil). The cornea helps you see and protects the eye.

To remove a particle from your eye, flush the surface of the eyes with clean water or sterile saline solution and seek medical attention. If the abrasion is deep enough, the physician might prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment to prevent infection and other drops to ease pain and inflammation. A minor scratch should heal on its own within a few days. Severe abrasions may take longer to heal.

Eye injuries can occur at any time on the job. Some injuries occur simply by passing a work area or working next to someone who is grinding, sawing or welding.

Because some injuries can occur even when you’re wearing eye protection, it is important to wear properly fitted protective equipment at all times. Types of personal protective equipment include:

Safety goggles – These enclose the whole area around the eyes to prevent debris from entering.

Safety glasses and side shields – These should be made of impact resistant material to provide protection against airborne particles.

Grinding shields – Shields can help protect from grinding debris, flying projectiles and chemical splashes.

Protective eyewear should have the stamp “Z87” on the frame or lens. To test safety glasses, manufacturers shoot a quarter-inch BB traveling at 100 miles per hour at the lens and drop a one-pound, pointed weight from a height of four feet. If the glasses break during the testing, they won’t receive the Z87 rating.

Do everything in your power to protect your eyes. Remember – your properly fitted protective eyewear only works when you wear it.