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 Keeping Off-the-Job Eye Safety in Your Sights

Promoting off-the-job eye safety is a benefit everyone can see.

 The proper use of safety eyewear significantly has reduced the number of eye injuries in the workplace over the last 20 years. Today, workplace eye injuries average 800,000 per year, and that number continues to drop. This success is due to a number of factors including regulation by OSHA, improved product offerings and better-informed safety professionals.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about off-the-job eye safety. Eye injuries occurring at home average a startling 125,000 per year – a number that’s on the rise. Common household dangers are present everywhere, from the bathroom to the garage and even the backyard. Fortunately, experts agree that more than 90 percent of all eye injuries can be prevented through the proper knowledge, safety practices and use of protective eyewear.

By encouraging workers to bring safety practices from the workplace into the home, you can improve off-the-job eye safety. Suggest that workers conduct an audit of the potential hazards around their homes and share the guidelines below. Your work force will be better equipped to avoid injury, you’ll help decrease lost time at work and you can help protect employees’ vision – a benefit everyone can see.

Outdoor Hazards

As summer draws near, consider the many common – and often unrecognized – eye hazards outside the home. Rocks, branches, debris and dust, as well as ultraviolet exposure, all can pose significant risks to unprotected eyes.

Before mowing, inspect the lawn and remove debris and rocks that could kick up. Cut back limbs that rest at eye level. When trimming or performing other tasks that could produce airborne debris, wear safety eyewear to protect eyes from flying limbs, particles and dust.

Regular sunglasses do not offer the same level of impact protection as safety eyewear, so remind your workers to look for eyewear marked with Z87+ on the frame and lens, which indicates that the eyewear meets the requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). When applying fertilizer and pesticide, chemical goggles should be worn to protect from particle contamination and splashes. Store paint, oil, fertilizer and other chemicals in a secure, ventilated area where they cannot be tipped over or accessed by children or animals. Finally, maintain tools to ensure proper performance, just as you would at work.

Whether you’re outside for brief periods or all day, protecting your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is critical. While brief stints in intense UV light can cause redness, itching and general irritation, long-term exposure to UV can lead to lasting damage such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. Lenses that provide full spectrum UV protection can prevent such damage and come in many forms including polarized, photochromic, tinted and reflective. Polarized lenses reduce surface glare from water, snow and roadways, while photochromic lenses quickly transition from clear to dark when exposed to natural light. All UV-filtering lenses help shield eyes from harmful rays and diminish glare that can cause distractions. No matter which style of eyewear you choose for outdoor wear, be sure the lenses deliver a high level of UV protection.

Indoor hazards

While the trend of “do-it-yourself projects” is gaining in popularity, such projects can expose individuals to unfamiliar challenges and increased risks. Many do-it-yourself projects take place inside the home and may involve rented tools or cramped workspaces.

Encourage your employees to protect themselves by reading and following the safety guidelines on tools. For many home-based projects, a basic pair of well-fitting safety eyewear will provide protection from impact. However, consider the hazards specific to the job to determine whether goggles or even respiratory protection are required, as in the case of high-particulate projects like sanding drywall.

Finally, encourage your workers to keep single-use eyewash bottles on hand at home to safely flush nuisance irritants such as dust and sand.

Chemical hazards

Be aware that many everyday household products are hazardous, especially when they make contact with the eyes. When using any solvents, detergents or other household chemicals, chemical safety goggles should be worn. Designed to provide complete protection from splashes and harmful vapors, chemical goggles protect the eyes by creating a seal with the face; regular eyeglasses do not offer an adequate level of protection.

Contact with acids and alkalis particularly is hazardous to the eyes and can cause severe damage. Acids commonly found in household cleaners include hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid and oxalic acid. Products such as drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, metal cleaners and battery fluid often contain such acids. Alkalis commonly exist in household chemicals such as lime, lye, industrial-strength ammonia, potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide. Products that are labeled as drain cleaners, oven cleaners, bathroom cleaners or industrial cleaners should be assumed to contain alkali until proven otherwise, though household bleach and household ammonia typically are weak alkalis that won’t cause harm.

Avoid mixing cleaning agents, and read and follow all manufacturer instructions and warning labels. Many labels include instructions for flushing eyes for 15 minutes in case of emergency. If you’re using such a product and it comes in contact with the eye, it is advisable to seek medical attention immediately following irrigation. If chemical contact with the eyes is left untreated, it can cause serious, lasting damage including permanent vision loss.

Selecting Safety Eyewear

Studies show that individuals are less likely to wear protective eyewear when it does not fit properly, is uncomfortable or causes even minor vision distortion. Fortunately, a broad selection of protective eyewear styles, sizes and colors is available today to meet the safety and comfort needs of every individual.

By raising awareness of the many options available, safety managers can help their employees find the protective eyewear that works for them – and improve eye safety both on and off the job. Companies that recognize the value of home safety as an extension of their overall safety culture can benefit from conducting workplace training on home safety and even offering safety equipment for use at home.

Like the workplace, home is not necessarily a safe haven for our eyes. Consider your workers’ safety both on and off the job to help keep overall injuries and health care costs down, keep productivity up and empower employees to live in a culture of safety everywhere they go.

Johnson, Phil (2010, June 18), Keeping Off-the-Job Eye Safety in Your Sights. Retrieved July 2, 2014 from http://ehstoday.com/safety/keeping-job-eye-safety-your-sights

Phil Johnson is director of technology for the Eye & Face Protection Group of Honeywell Safety Products. He has worked extensively in the area of product development for a variety of applications including industrial safety, laser safety and military combat protection. He has directed research in lens technology, particularly optics and light management. Johnson is a member of several standards development groups including the ANSI Z87.1 Committee for Occupational Eyewear.