Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the eyes and face is designed to prevent or lessen the severity of injuries to workers. The employer must assess the workplace and determine if hazards that necessitate the use of eye and face protection are present or are likely to be present before assigning PPE to workers. Employers should be aware of the possibility of multiple and simultaneous hazard exposures and be prepared to protect against the highest level of each hazard.
There are five primary types of hazards for which protective eye and face equipment may be required: impact, heat, chemicals, dust, and optical radiation. Each of these hazards poses unique risks and may require different protection.
Impact. The majority of impact injuries result from flying or falling objects, or sparks striking the eye. Primary protective devices such as safety spectacles with side shields or goggles must be worn. Secondary protective devices such as face shields are required in conjunction with primary protective devices during severe exposure to impact hazards.
Heat. Heat injuries may occur to the eye and face when workers are exposed to high temperatures, splashes of molten metal, or hot sparks. Protect your eyes from heat when workplace operations involve pouring, casting, hot dipping, furnace operations, and other similar activities. Working with heat hazards requires eye protection such as goggles or safety spectacles with special-purpose lenses and side shields. However, many heat hazard exposures require the use of a face shield in addition to safety spectacles or goggles. When selecting PPE, consider the source and intensity of the heat and the type of splashes that may occur in the workplace.
Chemicals. Chemical hazards come from splash, fumes, vapors, and irritating mists. When working with or around chemicals, it is important to know the location of emergency eyewash stations and how to access them with restricted vision. Injuries often result from an inappropriate choice of PPE that allows a chemical substance to enter from around or under protective eye equipment. However, when fitted and worn correctly, goggles protect your eyes from hazardous substances. A face shield may be required in areas where workers are exposed to severe chemical hazards.
Dust. Working in a dusty environment can cause eye injuries and presents additional hazards to contact lens wearers. Either eyecup or cover-type safety goggles should be worn when dust is present. Safety goggles are the only effective type of eye protection from nuisance dust because they create a protective seal around the eyes.
Optical Radiation. Optical radiation can be a hazard found with radiant energy, glare, and intense light. Unprotected laser exposure may result in eye injuries including retinal burns, cataracts, and permanent blindness. When lasers produce invisible ultraviolet, or other radiation, both employees and visitors should use appropriate eye protection at all times. Determine the maximum power density, or intensity, lasers produce when workers are exposed to laser beams. Based on this knowledge, select lenses that protect against the maximum intensity. Workers with exposure to laser beams must be furnished suitable laser protection. When selecting filter lenses, begin with a shade too dark to see the welding zone, and then try lighter shades until one allows a sufficient view of the welding zone without going below the minimum protective shade. Control glare with special-purpose spectacles that include filter or special-purpose lenses to provide protection against eye strain. Alternatively, glare can be reduced with changes in your work area or lighting, tinted eyeglass lenses or a visor-type shade.
For more information on Eye and Face Protection, see this OSHA e-tool for reference.